Inter Press ServiceInequity – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 20 Sep 2017 23:53:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 Taking Stock of SDG Actions on UN’s Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/taking-stock-sdg-actions-uns-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taking-stock-sdg-actions-uns-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/taking-stock-sdg-actions-uns-development-agenda/#respond Mon, 11 Sep 2017 05:47:38 +0000 Peter Thomson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152006 Peter Thomson is President of the UN General Assembly

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Peter Thomson is President of the UN General Assembly

By Peter Thomson
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

Taken together, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, provide humanity with a masterplan for a sustainable way of life on this planet.

Peter Thomson

If we maintain our fidelity to this masterplan, we will end extreme poverty and create economic growth and prosperity that is more equitably shared both between and within countries. And in so doing, we will empower billions of women and girls; advance human rights and reduce the risk of violent extremism. Most importantly, we will restore balance to our relationship with the planetary ecosystem, both on land and in the Ocean, while addressing the realities of Climate Change.

We set the bar high with the Agenda because conditions, both today’s and those to come, demand that we do so. Thus the goals we have set ourselves present enormous challenges and require of us huge transformations of systems and behavior.

Their realization demands political foresight, collaboration and the deployment of resources, expertise and technology on a scale that has perhaps never before been seen. But we do have these qualities and resources. Potentially, we have reserves of them sufficient to well exceed the goals before us. Thus it is a matter of deployment, of marshalling our forces, both morally and practically, to undertake the tasks at hand in a spirit of inclusivity and universality.

In these early years of the 2030 Agenda, it is essential that we generate an unstoppable momentum towards the way stations of 2020 and 2025, and ultimately on to our 2030 destination. In November last year, I presented to you my PGA plan to generate such momentum. As you know, I assembled a high-quality team of SDG experts within my office, supported by Chef de Cabinet, Ambassador Tomas Anker Christensen, my Special Adviser on SDGs, Ambassador Dessima Williams, and the PGA’s Special Envoy on SDGs and Climate Change, Ambassador Macharia Kamau, to help me implement that plan.

Over the course of the last twelve months, we have pursued activities to bring progress to each of the 17 SDGs. This work has been captured in the report prepared for today’s meeting, a copy of which should now be with you.

I will summarize a sample of those activities now, by talking to three main streams of work.

The first work-stream relates to SDG Advocacy.

In order to keep the SDGs at the top of the global agenda, my office travelled to 32 countries across every region of the world. This was a time-consuming exercise, and I particularly want to thank Ambassadors Kamau and Williams for putting in the hard yards attained. From COP22 in Morocco to Habitat III in Ecuador; from the World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and the OECD in France; from the African Union in Ethiopia to the European Union in Belgium, to the Belt and Road Forum in China and to the SIDS Symposium in the Bahamas, we were present at the forefront.

We visited the UN Offices in Bangkok, Nairobi, Vienna, Rome and Geneva to convene with them on the Sustainable Development Goals. On each occasion, we drove home our key 2030 Agenda messages, urging all actors to get on board the SDG train, to get the wheels of implementation turning, and to join the journey to a better world by 2030.

During the 71st session, we placed particular focus on engaging young people, believing them to be the most effective agents of transformation given the importance of the 2030 Agenda to their lives. We met with groups of young people at every given opportunity and I wrote to every Head of State and Government encouraging them to incorporate the SDGs into national school curricula, making a similar request to the heads of over 4,000 universities.

In addition, we strove to bring the attention of the global public to the SDGs. As part of this effort, we organized a series of SDG Media Zones to allow the global social media community to engage with leaders and speakers at the High Level Week in September and other High Level Meetings. All this to burn the candle of enlightenment better and brighter.

The second work-stream has focussed on generating collaboration across a range of SDGs.

Here, we convened a host of meetings in New York and elsewhere. You will recall the five SDG Action Events convened during the resumed session. Cognizant of the busy GA, ECOSOC and Security Council schedules, many of these action events were organized back to back with other meetings.

The first of them was held in January; when in keeping with the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention and in advance of next year’s High Level Meeting on Sustaining Peace, we looked closely at the links between the 2030 Agenda and the concept of Sustaining Peace. We emerged from that day with the mantra, ‘There can be no sustainable development without sustaining peace, and no sustaining peace without sustainable development.’

In March, we held a meeting with UNFCCC on the SDGs and Climate Change. It was hugely reassuring to observe at this meeting that the great mass of humanity, along with the governments that lead us, are united behind the Paris Agreement. The meeting made clear that proactive Climate action will have direct positive impacts across all of the SDGs, with a lack of Climate action having the opposite effect.

In April, with a view to identifying the steps required to unlock the massive resources required by the 2030 Agenda from international private finance, we held an SDG Financing Lab. This event illustrated how different goals require different sources of finances; how action must be taken to bring key financial stakeholders together on a UN platform to get investments flowing; and how the financial system must be aligned with the SDGs in order to facilitate the financing of the Goals.

In May, we held a memorable meeting on Innovation, kick-starting a reflection on how the UN system and Member States alike can embrace innovation for the benefit of SDG progress. We concluded that the fourth industrial revolution will be a boon to the 2030 Agenda, but that we must manage both the benefits and the risks associated with exponential technological change.

As we engaged with both the worlds of finance and technology during the 71st session, it became clear to us that there is a strong demand from outside the UN for a port of call, a docking station at the UN, for partnerships to be structured in support of the implementation of the SDGs.

And then in June, to bring a fresh spirit of collaboration and action to one of the most crucial SDGs, we held the SDG Action Event on Education and SDG 4. The meeting brought together key stakeholders to discuss what it will take to realize the Education Goal, looking at financing needs, at empowering youth, at education in humanitarian and emergency settings as well as at education for sustainable development, and at how connectivity and exponential technology advances can transform the way we educate for progress.

Finally, there was The Ocean Conference, held in support of the implementation of SDG14. Working with the Co-Chairs, Fiji and Sweden, with DESA, OLA, DOALOS, UNDP, UNEP, FAO, IOC and the entire UN membership, agencies and programmes, we raised global consciousness on the plight of the Ocean and produced a huge work plan of solutions from the congregation of world expertise assembled. The conference generated almost 1400 voluntary commitments for Ocean action and a global community of actors now committed to working with us in reversing the cycle of decline in which the Ocean has been currently caught.

I am very proud of what The Ocean Conference achieved. Ahead lies the implementation of the work plan, with the necessary discipline of the proposed 2020 UN Ocean Conference to work towards in support of SDG14.

The third work-stream has been the implementation of SDG-related mandates within the General Assembly.

Here, resolutions were passed on key issues like the Technology Bank for LDCs, and the Global SDG Indicator Framework. Lengthy consultations were conducted on the alignment of the GA Agenda with the SDGs, and important GA meetings were held on the UN’s response to individual SDGs such as those relating to biodiversity, water and urbanization. During the session, we advanced preparations for major meetings on SDG-related matters including migration, human trafficking, and South-South cooperation.

Having analyzed and reflected on what we have busied ourselves with during the 71st session, I draw a few key conclusions that I would like to share with you.

First, I believe that together we have generated momentum across the SDGs. Through our advocacy efforts, the New York element of the 2030 Agenda has been properly applied to ensuring the SDGs are at the forefront of the global agenda. Through our SDG action events, we have brought new actors to the table and encouraged those already involved to collaborate more actively with others. And through our work here at the General Assembly, we have strengthened the overall architecture for implementing and following up on the SDGs, and broadened global awareness of the SDGs.

Second, based on our experience and on all of the above-mentioned efforts and more, the outlook for SDG implementation is positive.

Headway is being made in many key areas, as captured in this year’s UN SDG Progress Report. Governments have made great strides in incorporating the SDGs into their national development plans, as was further evidenced by the strong interest in voluntary national reviews at this year’s HLPF.

Meanwhile it is heartening to see the business sector becoming increasingly aware of the SDGs and expressing a desire to play an active part in their implementation. Progressive actors in the financial world see that the future is green and that the 2030 Agenda presents incredible investment opportunities.

An army of innovators are at their keyboards and in their labs ready to unleash their ideas and new technologies to support the SDGs. And civil society actors, many of whom helped us to conceive this masterplan, are ready to push us forward day in day out.

Here at the UN in New York we see positive signs. The High Level Political Forum is growing in strength year on year. The appointments of Secretary General Guterres; of DSG Mohammed; of UNDP Administrator Steiner; and of UN DESA’s Mr Liu and many more, means that the UN has recruited an inspiring team to lead the charge of the 2030 Agenda.

The Secretary General’s report on the UN System that was released in July demonstrates his resolve to do what is needed to ensure the UN is fit to discharge its mandates to best effect and to better support Member States in realizing the SDGs. In this regard, I urge Member States to get behind the Secretary General’s efforts, to look beyond the pain of short-term changes and embrace the systemic shift needed to move us closer to the achievement of our universal goals.

My third conclusion is not yet an alarm bell, more in the nature of an early morning wake-up call. Two years after the momentous adoption of the 2030 Agenda, implementation is not yet moving at the speed or scale required to meet our ambitious goals.

Progress on individual goals is at best uneven, as evidenced on the ground where it matters most. This mixed picture is reflected across regions, between the sexes, and among people of different ages, wealth and locales, including urban and rural dwellers. Thus a much greater focus on leaving no one behind, on empowering women and girls, young people and vulnerable groups is asked of us at all levels.

UN DPI, the SDG Action Campaign and Project Everyone are diligently performing their respective roles in bringing the SDGs to the people. But popular awareness of the SDGs at individual and community levels across the world remains far too low. This is a serious flaw, for without knowledge of the rights and responsibilities inherent in the SDGs, people are not directly motivated to work on the transformations of thought and action the 2030 Agenda requires.

To correct this, further emphasis is needed in national plans and policies – be they in the global North or South – to better promote the central demands of the 2030 Agenda. These should include a focus on inclusion; an integrated approach across the three dimensions of sustainable development; and an emphasis on participation, transparency and accountability.

As indicated in the Secretary-General’s report, big gaps also exist in the UN’s current approach, particularly in the areas of partnership, finance, data and innovation.

More broadly, it is clear that we have yet to see the levels of collaboration and collective action that helped governments make major inroads on the MDGs. There is clearly a need for a more systematic approach to SDG partnerships and collective action across the range of SDGs and the UN has a critical role to play in making this so. The Ocean Conference demonstrated the power of bringing together a wide-range of actors to support the implementation of a particular SDG, and this model can be replicated elsewhere.

Similarly, we have yet to witness the dramatic shift in financing and global economic policy that is necessary to align the financial system with the SDGs. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda must be implemented, say it loud and say it clear. A shift away from unsustainable investments and a surge of private investment into developing countries, particularly in areas such as energy and infrastructure, is urgent business at hand. We need to see a significant increase in development assistance; a dramatic improvement in global tax cooperation; and meaningful review of macroeconomic policies to align them with the SDG’s focus on inclusion and sustainability. The UN has a more proactive role to play in promoting these issues, given its status as a trusted convener.

In conclusion, the UN needs to build a capacity, a docking station capacity, to convene, engage and create coalitions for collective action across the Means of Implementation, be it partnerships with the private sector, harnessing the potential of exponential technological change or convening the titans of public and private finance to support achieving the SDGs.

During the 71st session, we tried to leave no stone unturned in the search for SDG momentum.

I want to thank you, the Member States, for your support and good advice throughout. For those among you who at my request took on onerous roles of facilitation and chairmanship, I applaud you here in front of your peers. I congratulate the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General for grasping the baton of responsibility and leadership without breaking stride.

I thank UN DESA and many other parts of the Secretariat, especially those in the field in the service of the UN system, for putting their shoulders to the wheel; likewise, the wonderful team at the Office of the President of the General Assembly for doing all that was possible to keep us moving forward on the 2030 Agenda.

As you begin your preparations for the High-level week of the 72ndsession, I urge you to give this message to your capitals: we have achieved momentum on the SDGs, but there can be no rest. To get to the promise of the 2030 Agenda, we now need a shift in gears. It is time to crank it up a notch, for time is not on our side.

The message should also be that we find ways to collaborate better with non-governmental actors. Partnerships at times may involve risks, but if we partner right and partner strong, the rewards far outweigh them. And the message should include strong support for the Secretary-General in bringing forward his reforms of the UN System, so that we are in best possible shape to help others along the journey to 2030.

We have the resources, the ideas, the technology and the motivation. Add leadership, courage and an unwavering commitment to progress and we will reach our 2030 destination with goals fulfilled. As I have said many times, together we are strong.

When it comes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we succeed or fail together, for we are addressing the sustainability of our planetary ecosystem, the integrity of our global economic system, and the equity of humanity. We will not fail because we love our grandchildren. We will succeed because we have not come this far only to be defeated by greed.

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UN Analytical Leadership in Addressing Global Economic Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 07:42:45 +0000 Jose Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151552 José Antonio Ocampo was Executive Secretary of the UN-ECLAC from 1998 to 2003 and UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs from 2003 to 2007. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development from 2005 to 2015.

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International solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata/IPS

By José Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations recently released the 70th anniversary issue of its flagship publication, the World Economic and Social Survey (WESS). First published in January 1948 as the World Economic Report, it is the oldest continuous publication analyzing international economic and social challenges. The 2017 issue reviews 70 years of WESS policy recommendations, many of which remain relevant today to address global challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals.

Created in 1945 to ensure world peace, the United Nations charter recognized that economic and social progress for all is fundamental for ensuring sustainable peace. The UN has thus been monitoring socio-economic developments globally since the 1940s. Its analyses have long highlighted the interdependence of the global economy, and advocated international policy coherence and coordination for sustainable, inclusive and balanced socio-economic progress.

The picture which emerges is that the UN has been ahead of the curve on many issues, especially on closing gaps in human well-being between and within countries. From early on, it has urged developed countries to support socio-economic progress in developing countries, not only in their own interest as trading partners, but also to maintain conditions for greater economic stability and more equitable global development. It has also long called for predictable transfers of finance and technology to developing countries, and for opening up developed country markets to developing countries’ exports.

The UN has also pioneered innovative multilateral institution building to fill lacunae. In the 1960s, WESS provided the analytical rationale for establishing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to support developing countries seeking to equitably benefit from international trade and investment, and to industrialize.

The 2017 review of issues WESS has underscored the importance of its analyses. The 1951-52 issue identified three major challenges: “maintenance of economic stability, those concerned with persistent disequilibrium in international payments, and those arising from the relatively slow advance of the under-developed countries”. Needless to say, these challenges remain relevant today.

The 1956 issue warned against monetarism and monetary policy solutions, arguing that “a single economic policy seems no more likely to overcome all sources of imbalance … than is a single medicine likely to cure all diseases”. Along these lines, the 1959 issue acknowledged the “evils of large-scale inflation”, but argued that “economic stagnation or large-scale unemployment is not an acceptable cost to pay for price stability or equilibrium in the balance of payments”.

The 1965 issue warned that tying aid would reduce aid effectiveness, external debt burdens were rising rapidly, and capital would flow from developing to developed countries.

The 1971 issue warned of the “unsettling effects of massive movements of short-term capital” and argued for an “international code of conduct and mechanism for surveillance” to curb their disruptive effects. It also warned that IMF governance arrangements dangerously limited developing country voice, and called for Special Drawing Rights to be used to provide development finance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, WESS repeatedly warned that putting the burden of adjustment on deficit countries alone would not only stifle their growth, but also exert deflationary pressure on the world economy. The UN urged provision of additional finance by surplus countries and international financial institutions on less stringent terms and conditions to support robust recoveries and prevent widespread welfare losses.

The 1982 issue warned against the reluctance to undertake expansionary policies at a time of a global crisis for fear of undermining investor confidence: “without more vigorous expansionary policies, recovery will lack strength, levels of demand will not be sufficient to bring present productive capacity into full use, and the incentive to undertake new investment will remain weak”.

WESS’s rich legacy reminds us of the continuing relevance of multilateral institutions, especially in facing major challenges. The global economy needs strong institutions and coordinated international actions, with adequate voice and participation by developing countries. This is particularly true for ensuring international monetary stability and trade dynamism, which remain crucial for global development.

It also underscores that international solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Sustainable development is necessarily multidimensional and often context-specific; requiring strengthened state capacities and capabilities, strategic development planning and appropriate adaptation to local conditions.

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US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 05:16:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151496 The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced […]

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The United States is refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced its decision to ban amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. The ban comes into effect July 2018.

“In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has done nothing to protect these vulnerable populations from exposure to amalgam’s mercury,” says a petition filed by Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), which has been vigorously campaigning for mercury-free dentistry, since its founding back in 1996.

In Norway and Sweden, dental amalgam is no longer in use, while it is being phased out in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In Mauritius and EU nations, it is banned from use on children. Denmark uses dental amalgam for only 5% of restorations and Germany for 10% of restorations.

In Bangladesh, it is to be phased out in 2018, and in India, there is a dental school requirement of eliminating amalgam in favour of alternatives.

In Nigeria, the government has printed and distributed consumer-information brochures while the government of Canada has recommended that all dentists stop its use in children and pregnant women — and those with kidney disorders.

Dental amalgam has been described as a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. And it is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.

In its petition, addressed to the FDA Commissioner, CDC says the United States – the only developed nation with no warnings or restrictions on the use of dental amalgam in children – is the outlier.

“Why are other countries protecting their children while the FDA lets American children be exposed to dental mercury? In order to catch up with other developed nations, the Commissioner must amend FDA’s mercury amalgam rule,” says the lengthy petition replete with facts and figures—and worthy of a research project.

The petition presents its case citing several sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

According to the Wall Street Journal last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, in a sweeping regulatory overhaul of Big Tobacco, has cracked down on tobacco companies, demanding that all cigarettes should have such low levels of nicotine so they no longer are considered addictive.

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, told IPS that with all the modern mercury-free dental fillings available today, it is inexcusable that FDA remains the world’s chief defender of implanting neurotoxic mercury in children’s mouths – mere centimeters from their developing brains.”

It’s time for FDA to catch up to the European Union and ban amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” he added.

Michael Bender, Director, Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, USA, told IPS: “During negotiations, the U.S. stated position was ‘to achieve the phase down, with the goal, the eventual phase out’ of dental amalgam. FDA should stop acting like a rogue agency and follow the US position.”

In its petition, CDC urges the Commissioner to take three key measures to stop amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers:

Firstly, issue a safety communication warning dentists, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Secondly, require manufacturers to distribute patient-labeling that includes warnings against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Thirdly, develop and implement a public information campaign (including FDA’s website, social media, press releases, and a press conference) to warn dentists, dental associations, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

The petition also says the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury requires nations to “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

The U.S. government signed and accepted the Minamata Convention on 6 November 2013. FDA’s official support for “change towards use of dental amalgam” and its rejection of “any change away from use of dental amalgam” in its 2009 dental amalgam rule is contrary to the Minamata Convention’s requirement that parties “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

FDA’s push for phasing up amalgam use has raised major concerns in the international community, says the petition.

The Convention enters into force – and becomes legally binding– on 16 August. On 18 May the 50th nation ratified, and with that threshold reached, the Convention enters into force in 90 days– namely, 16 August. Jamaica was the 71st nation to ratify the convention last week.

Asked for an FDA response, Stephanie Caccomo, Press Officer, Office of Media Affairs & Office of External Affairs, told IPS the FDA has neither promoted the use of dental amalgams nor supported an increase in their use.

FDA serves as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead representative to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and takes very seriously the Convention’s objective of protecting human health from the possible adverse health effects of mercury exposure, she added.

“The U.S. actively supported the Convention throughout its development and the FDA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of State on how the United States will implement the treaty obligations.”

She pointed out that the U.S. government is committed to complying with the Convention by taking at least two of the nine specific measures set forth in Part II of Annex A of the Convention with respect to dental amalgam.

Elaborating further, she said in an email message, that dental amalgam contains elemental mercury. It releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.

“FDA has reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the low levels of mercury vapor associated with dental amalgam fillings are a cause for concern. Based on this evidence, FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.”

The weight of credible scientific evidence reviewed by FDA does not establish an association between dental amalgam use and adverse health effects in the general population. Clinical studies in adults and children ages 6 and above have found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems, she noted.

“The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical data is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed. Pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist.”

However, the estimated amount of mercury in breast milk attributable to dental amalgam is low and falls well below general levels for oral intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, she added.

“Despite the limited clinical information, FDA concludes that the existing risk information supports a finding that infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

Some individuals have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or the other components of dental amalgam (such as silver, copper, or tin). Dental amalgam might cause these individuals to develop oral lesions or other contact reactions.

“If you are allergic to any of the metals in dental amalgam, you should not get amalgam fillings. You can discuss other treatment options with your dentist,” she advised.

To the extent there are any potential risks to health generally associated with the use of dental amalgam, FDA issued a final rule and related guidance document establishing special regulatory controls to mitigate any such risks.

“Moreover, while FDA does not believe additional action is warranted at this time, FDA continues to evaluate the literature on dental amalgam and any other new information it receives in light of the 2010 advisory panel recommendations and will take further action on dental amalgam as warranted,” Caccomo added.

Asked for a response to the FDA statement, Charlie Brown said: “Consumers for Dental Choice’s petition demands that FDA carry out its duty to provide American children the same protection from amalgam’s mercury that the European Union does over there.”

He pointed out that FDA admits repeatedly that no evidence exist that amalgam’s mercury is safe for young children, yet FDA will not stop being the world’s most stubborn defender of implanting mercury into children’s mouths (and bodies).

“FDA must now fish or cut bait. With our petition in its lap, FDA must choose between, on the one hand, doing its duty as a federal agency, and, on the other hand, keeping in place its four-decade-long program of putting profits for pro-mercury dentists ahead of lives of American children,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Consumers for Dental Choice says its campaign goal for Mercury-Free Dentistry is to phase out the use of amalgam, a 50% mercury product — worldwide. The recently concluded draft mercury treaty requires each signing nation to phase down its use of amalgam, and it provides a road map how.

“We aim to: educate consumers about the use of mercury in dentistry so they can make informed decisions; stop dental mercury pollution; protect consumers – especially vulnerable populations such as children and the unborn – from exposure to dental mercury; empower dental workers – dental assistants and hygienists – to protect themselves from mercury in the workplace; and promote access to mercury-free alternatives to amalgam.

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Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151443 The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity. And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development […]

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An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity.

And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development aid or diverting funds to boost domestic security.

“The danger of sea level rise is very real and threatens not just the Maldives and other low-lying nations, but also major coastal cities like New York and Miami,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the outgoing Permanent Representative of the Maldives, told IPS.

Sareer, who held the chairmanship of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over two years, said that even though projections vary, scientists anticipate at least three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would be problematic for the Maldives, SIDS and many other coastal regions. We are currently building coastal defences to mitigate the danger, but need more support,” said Sareer, currently Foreign Secretary of the Maldives.

Along with Maldives, there are several low lying UN member states who are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Micronesia.

Asked if the United Nations and the international community were doing enough to help alleviate low-lying small island states, Sareer told IPS: “There has been a heightened focus on the risks SIDS face in recent years, not just from climate change but economic challenges as well. We are grateful for the progress, of course, but it is fair to say we still have much further to go.”

Beginning July 31, the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS), one of the major US television networks, is planning to do a series of stories on “Sinking Islands” threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of over 390,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The island nation was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of tsunami damage estimated at over $400 million.

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsumani.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic publicity gimmick back in October 2009, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers in scuba diving gear, to highlight the threat of global warming.

And earlier, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told delegates that if his country is to host the annual meeting in the foreseeable future, the meeting may have to be held underwater in a gradually disappearing island nation.

The World Bank has warned that with “future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged”.

But still, the Maldives which graduated from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing nation in 2011, is very much alive – and currently campaigning for a two-year non-permanent seat in the most powerful body at the United Nations: the 15-member Security Council.

This is the first time in its 51 years of UN Membership that the Maldives has presented its candidacy for a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Over the past 25 years, only six SIDS have served on the Council, out of the 125 elected members during that period. SIDS constitutes 20% of the UN Membership.

Since January 2015, the Maldives has chaired the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group it helped form in 1990, leading a coalition of 39 member states, of which 37 are UN Members, through landmark agreements on sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable urbanization, and the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway- the sustainable development programme of action for SIDS.

In a long-planned effort, the Maldives put forward its candidature on 30 January 2008: ten years before the election, which will take place next year in the 193-member UN General Assembly which will vote for new, rotating non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Sareer said the Maldives seeks to bring a fresh and unique perspective to old challenges.”

And the Maldives believes that non-traditional security threats are as important if not more, than traditional security threats, in today’s world. The Maldives also believes in multi-dimensional approaches to solving issues.

Despite its size, he said, the Maldives has always punched above its weight on the international stage. And it has been a staunch advocate for climate change, and a champion of small States.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS Maldives has a commendable mission to realise – to push for action on climate change through the Security Council.

This, though a laudable aspiration, will be an uphill battle given that a powerful Permanent Member of the UNSC (the United States) is a declared opponent of the majority global view on climate change, having recently pulled out of the Paris Accord. It will also run in to opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

However, if elected to the UNSC, Maldives is likely to enjoy the sympathy of the vast majority of the membership of the UN, including those who initiated a movement to seek an advisory opinion in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on responsibility for global warming and climate change in 2012, said Kohona, who co-chaired the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and is a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“It will need to deploy considerable resources to secure a seat and then to realise its goal
because Security Council elections, unfortunately, have become a competition among aspirants to see who can spend most on entertaining, junkets and obligatory visits to capitals. These ‘poojas’ become bigger and bigger by the year,” said Kohona.

He said Maldives will be a trend setter for small island developing states, which also must be able to play a role in the UNSC. “They have concerns of global import. It is unsatisfactory in every sense for the UNSC to increasingly become a preserve of big and the powerful.”

He also pointed out that Maldives is well placed and eminently qualified to raise awareness on climate change, global warming and sea level rise. These are threats to the very existence of humanity and could very well morph in to threats to global peace and security.

Already the flood of refugees is having a destabilizing effect on Europe. Refugee flows, which could be massive, resulting from climate change would pose a greater threat to global peace and stability requiring UNSC action. Such action could be taken preemptively rather than after the catastrophe has occurred, he noted.

“Seeing our loyal friend and neighbour seeking a non permanent Security Council seat should also encourage Sri Lanka to do the same in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

Asked whether the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement reflected the fears expressed by SIDS on sea level rise, Sareer said sea level rise is just one of the many impacts of climate change, which are of significance to SIDS.

“The Paris Agreement’s main objective is to enhance climate actions, and hence doesn’t directly address sea level rise. However it did include a strong temperature goal and a stand-alone article on loss and damage, which indirectly address these concerns. What is important now is for countries to make deep cuts in their emissions immediately.”

Asked whether the Maldives expects funding from the multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF), he said: “We do. The GCF is a primary multilateral vehicle to deliver climate financing to developing countries and therefore ramping up support for the GCF will be critical for all vulnerable countries.”

However, other funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are also crucial for transforming climate action in SIDS and also in developing countries.

He said changing rainfall patterns and increasing salinization caused by rising sea levels have led to challenges in securing reliable supplies of drinking water in many Small Island Developing States.

In this context, the Maldives submitted one of the first projects approved through the GCF which will see almost a third of the population of the Maldives becoming freshwater self-sufficient over the next five years.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:16:40 +0000 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151434 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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By Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin
NEW YORK, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Recent protests in Ethiopia have seen people demonstrate in their thousands, angry at their authoritarian government, its favouritism towards those close to the ruling elite, and its failure to share the country’s wealth more equally.

The response of the state, in a country where dissent is simply not tolerated, has been predictably brutal: at the height of protests last year hundreds of people were killed, and a staggering estimated 24,000 were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today.

Perhaps not many of those marching in Ethiopia were aware of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies with provisions to protect civic freedoms, ensure equal access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

Clearly, in countries like Ethiopia, the current reality falls a long way short of these basic standards: if people felt that the government was listening to them and they could take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, they wouldn’t have protested in such large numbers.

If fundamental freedoms were upheld, including the essential civil society rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression, then people wouldn’t have been met with mass killings and detentions. It is no surprise that on the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the space for civil society – civic space – in every country of the world, Ethiopia is rated in the worst category, as having an entirely closed civic space.

It’s a matter of disappointment for civil society that progress on Goal 16 was not one of the goals reviewed by the governance body of the global goals at last week´s High Level Political Forum, which convened all UN member states and leaders from across sectors to review goal progress. A common concern amongst the 2,5000 civil society representatives that attended the global forum is that without progress on Goal 16, all the other goals cannot be achieved. And Goal 16 can only be realised if the role of civil society is respected and civic freedoms are protected.

On this score, two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, the early signs are worrying. Of the 44 countries whose progress was checked, four of them – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Iran, alongside Ethiopia – have entirely closed civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor ratings. A further 18 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Thailand – are rated as also having serious civic space restrictions. Only ten countries are assessed as having entirely open civic space.

The fact that there are worrying levels of restrictions placed on civil society in over three quarters of the countries up for review in New York indicates that civil society’s ability to realise Goal 16 is being hampered, and potential for SDG progress is being lost.

The SDGs must go further than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which enabled governments to receive praise for making advances on a narrow set of indicators even while they were cracking down on fundamental freedoms: Ethiopia, for example, was rated highly for its MDG performance, alongside other countries where civic space is heavily restricted. It must be remembered that the promise of the SDGs is to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, and to advance social justice and human rights.

The ambition of the SDGs calls for everyone – governments, businesses and civil society – to play their part; the agenda is too big for any one sector to deliver on its own. But when civil society is being constrained – including widespread restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to receive funds and organise the masses – then its capacity to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals at the community level is severally limited.

Goal 16 must be on the agenda whenever countries meet to evaluate progress on the SDGs. As of now it is only scheduled to be reviewed in 2019. The key test for Goal 16, for Ethiopia’s citizens, and the many other countries with restricted civic space, is if people are able to freely express their opinions, protest in peace and promote the interests of their communities without fear of persecution. On these measures, the Sustainable Development Goals still have a long way to go.

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The G20 Needs To Go Back to its Rootshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20-needs-go-back-roots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g20-needs-go-back-roots http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20-needs-go-back-roots/#respond Mon, 24 Jul 2017 21:36:56 +0000 Inge Kaul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151418 Inge Kaul is adjunct professor at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany; advisor to various governmental, multilateral and non-profit organizations; and the first director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, a position, which she held from 1989 to 1994, and director of UNDP’s Office of Development Studies from 1995 to 2005

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Inge Kaul is adjunct professor at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany; advisor to various governmental, multilateral and non-profit organizations; and the first director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, a position, which she held from 1989 to 1994, and director of UNDP’s Office of Development Studies from 1995 to 2005

By Inge Kaul
BERLIN, Jul 24 2017 (IPS)

When the finance ministers of the G7 countries proposed the G20 in the late 1990s, a good sense of realism prevailed. They recognized that addressing issues of global finance required the political support from—and involvement of—emerging market economies.

Inge Kaul

This view proved prescient in seeking policy responses to the 2007–08 global financial crisis. The leaders of the G20 met at their first summit in Washington D.C. in 2008 to agree on measures to resolve the crisis through dialogues among the “systemically relevant” countries.

At its creation, the G20 was thus meant to facilitate coordination, cooperation and problem-solving among key actors in a specific policy field, which then was global financial stability. The G20 was not meant to be a jack-of-all-trades, offering welcoming words and restating support for long-accepted and previously reconfirmed goals, as most subsequent G20 summits did.

Why had there been so little real progress? What concrete measures would be taken? Neither question was asked let alone answered—to avoid a spiral of reiterations at subsequent summits.

Not solving the most pressing problems

So far, the G20’s record of practical follow-up to its communiqués has been less than sterling. But this could reflect its shift from solving the most pressing problems to considering all possible facets of a more desirable world.

Forget for a moment the failure to clearly add value. What would the 2017 Hamburg summit have done, if it had stuck to the original G20 idea and approach? Which one or two global key challenges could it have focused on to suggest concrete measures?

One focus could have been mass starvation in Africa, with a clear promise to augment, in a meaningful way and within a few days, financial and other support for the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme. A second could have been mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Even if only 19 of the 20 had stated what concrete breakthroughs they would make on the Monday morning following the Hamburg summit, much could have been gained by inspiring others to ratchet up their corrective measures. Why was such a determination to lead not in evidence?

Trend away from multilateralism

Many factors come into play. Among them might be that the G20 has increasingly been promoted as a core element and driving force of the ongoing trend away from genuine multilateralism to increasing minilateralism and club-based global governance.

The G20 agenda has been loaded with diverse issues, and the preparatory processes have accordingly been broadened to afford many parties a chance to raise their pet topic and see it in the summit communiqués. That would also give them a sense of importance as they commented on how to run the world, while the other 173 countries and their people could only observe the summits from the sidelines.

Would the world miss something if such G20 summitry were stopped? Not really. It is important for world leaders to talk and to consult each other. However, plenty of opportunities exist for that.

Just think of the high-level segment of the United Nations General Assembly each September, or the regular Bretton Woods meetings, or the many global conferences convening heads of state or government, or such informal meetings as the Syrian Peace Talks.

There is no scarcity of opportunities for world leaders to announce intentions and explore common ground. What is rare is translating words into action—and into action that is up to the challenge.

Time to revisit the role of the G20

Despite nearly 10 years of G20 summitry, the list of unmet global challenges is lengthening and the human, political, environmental and economic costs of global crises are mounting. So wouldn’t this be the time to revert to the original G20 concept as a global forum for announcing concrete measures to resolve—not just chat about—the most pressing global challenge?

Any other challenges could be taken up in other multilateral forums. And if leaders feel that these challenges also deserve attention and solution, they could instruct their representatives at those forums to announce their country’s ongoing or planned corrective actions—to lead by example and make a real difference that all would perceive as fostering sustainable and inclusive growth and development. How, then, to engineer such a return of the G20 to its original purpose?

Argentina, as the host of the next G20 summit, would be well positioned to initiate debate on this issue and to invite views and suggestions on what should be the basic features of a system of global governance fit for the 21st century and on what should be the potential role of the G20 within this system alongside other informal bodies of various groups of state and non-state actors. Perhaps, it could do so together with the hosts of the last two G20 summits, China and Germany.

The best outcome would be for the G20 leaders to recognize that the G20 is not the right forum to decide on a new, reformed system of global governance that will affect all countries and to instead encourage debate on this issue at the United Nations. This could also be a way for the G20 to clarify its future role and eventually, in whatever form it may continue, to invite less opposition and enjoy more political acceptance, legitimacy and effectiveness.

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Reforming the International Financial Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reforming-international-financial-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reforming-international-financial-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reforming-international-financial-system/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 15:27:43 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151294 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The 1997-1998 East Asian crises provided major lessons for international financial reform. Two decades later, we appear not to have done much about them

In Southeast Asia, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

When we fail to act on lessons from a crisis, we risk exposing ourselves to another one. The 1997-1998 East Asian crises provided major lessons for international financial reform. Two decades later, we appear not to have done much about them. The way the West first responded to the 2008 global financial crisis should have reminded us to do more. But besides accumulating more reserves, Southeast Asia has not done much else.

Crisis prevention and management
First, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Financial liberalization continues despite the crises engendered. Too little has been done by national authorities and foreign advisers to check short-term capital flows while unwarranted reliance has been put on international adherence to codes and standards. There is also little in place to address the typically exaggerated effects of movements among major international currencies.

Second, existing mechanisms and institutions for financial crisis management are grossly inadequate. The greater likelihood, frequency and severity of currency and financial crises in emerging market economies in recent times — with devastating consequences for the real economy and innocent bystanders — makes speedy crisis resolution imperative.

Economic liberalization has also compromised macro-financial instruments available to governments for crisis management and recovery. Instead, governments have little choice but to react pro-cyclically, which tends to exacerbate economic downturns. Governments thus fail to act counter-cyclically to avoid and overcome crises, which have been more devastating in developing countries.

There is a need to increase emergency financing during crises and to establish adequate new procedures for timely and orderly debt standstills and work-outs. While IMF financing facilities were significantly augmented in 2009, little else has changed.

Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.
International financial institutions, including regional institutions, should be able to provide adequate counter-cyclical financing, including for ‘social protection’. Instead of current arrangements which mainly benefit foreign creditors, new procedures and mechanisms can help ensure that they too share responsibility for the consequences of their lending practices.

Developmental reforms
Third, international financial reform needs to go beyond crisis prevention and resolution to improve provision of development finance, especially to small and poor countries that face limited and costly access to funding their development priorities. For years now, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks have abandoned or cut industrial financing.

Fourth, powerful vested interests block urgently needed international institutional reforms. Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.

Fifth, reforms should restore and ensure greater national economic authority and autonomy, which have been greatly undermined by national level deregulation as well as international liberalization and new regulation. These can enable more effective, especially expansionary and counter-cyclical macroeconomic management, as well as adequate development and inclusive finance facilities.

One size clearly cannot fit all. Policy ownership will ensure greater legitimacy, and should include capital account regulation and choice of exchange rate regime. As likely international financial reforms are unlikely to adequately provide what most developing countries need, national policy independence in regulatory and interventionist functions must be assured.

Regional cooperation
Finally, appreciation is growing of the desirability of regional monetary cooperation in the face of growing international financial challenges. The Japanese proposal for an Asian monetary facility soon after the outbreak of the 1997 crises could have helped check and manage the crises, but US opposition blocked it. With its opposition to more pro-active global initiatives, alternative regional arrangements cannot also be blocked.

Such regional arrangements also offer an intermediate alternative between national and global levels of action and intervention, besides reducing the monopoly power of global authorities. To be effective, regional arrangements must be flexible, but also credible and capable of both crisis prevention and management.

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G20’s Record Does Not Inspire Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20s-record-not-inspire-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g20s-record-not-inspire-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20s-record-not-inspire-hope/#respond Fri, 07 Jul 2017 13:35:33 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151199 The G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July comes almost a decade after the grouping’s elevation to meeting at the heads of state/government level. Previously, the G20 had been an informal forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from advanced and emerging economies created in 1999 following the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

The G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July comes almost a decade after the grouping’s elevation to meeting at the heads of state/government level. Previously, the G20 had been an informal forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from advanced and emerging economies created in 1999 following the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

Anis Chowdhury

The new grouping’s record in steering the global economy since the first summit in Washington, DC in November 2008 after the global financial crisis (GFC) was acknowledged by financial markets to have begun a couple of months before.

London Summit’s high point
At the following April 2009 London Summit, hosted by Gordon Brown, the G20 leaders demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in confronting the global meltdown with financial packages for the IMF, World Bank and others worth USD1.1 trillion. The London financial package included USD250 billion to help developing countries secure trade finance in the face of financial uncertainty.

These measures succeeded in turning the tide, with world economic growth recovering robustly from minus 2.1% in 2009 to plus 4.1% in 2010, exceeding the pre-crisis 2007 level of 3.8%. G20 boosters are inclined to claim that the London Summit pulled the global economy from the cusp of the first post-Second World War “great depression”.

However, there has been little evidence of how the funds may have saved the world economy. There has been modest trade growth since 2008 — after earlier sustained trade expansion — as most G20 member countries introduced essentially ‘protectionist’ trade measures despite their declared commitment to the contrary. The leaders also agreed to develop new financial regulations and improve financial supervision, but the patchwork which emerged has had limited and mixed consequences.

Toronto U turn
G20 leadership, evident at the April 2009 London summit, was abdicated with its U turn at the June 2010 Toronto summit while claiming success for its earlier collective efforts. The Canadian hosts trumpeted its own strong recovery from around -3% in 2009 to +3% in 2010 as the G20 exaggerated hints of recovery to pave the way for ‘fiscal consolidation’ instead.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Canada received strong support from Germany and Japan which also claimed strong recoveries. Further support came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) which invoked the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation hypothesis’ to claim that urgent U turns would boost investor confidence to sustain economic recovery.

The U turn from Keynesian-style debt-financed fiscal stimulus measures deprived the modest recovery of the means for sustaining renewed expansion, thus ensuring the GFC’s ‘Great Recession’, which has dragged on in much of the North for almost a decade since, dragging down world and developing country growth in recent years.

Recession self-inflicted
Despite warnings from the United Nations and a few others against premature fiscal consolidation, G20 leaders at the Toronto Summit agreed to cut budget deficits in half by 2013, and to eliminate deficits altogether by 2016! The decision triggered a double dip recession in Japan and some Eurozone countries.

Canada and Germany, which pushed for rapid fiscal consolidation, have since experienced significantly slower growth averaging 1.8% and 1.2% respectively. The global economy thus began a prolonged period of anaemic growth averaging around 2.5% per annum.

Clearly, G20 economic growth continues to be modest. They are still unable to attain the 2010 growth rate, giving the lie to the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation’ claim. The IMF has since acknowledged that its initial recommendation of rapid fiscal consolidation was based on “back of the envelope” calculations!

Research also shows that fiscal consolidation has exacerbated income inequality while fiscal consolidation basically began once financial sectors had been rescued from the consequences of their own greedy operations.

Ersatz substitute
Lack of accountability to the rest of the world has also meant that the G20 continues to undermine multilateralism. Inclusive multilateralism is now being threatened on many other fronts as well, not least by the Trumpian turn in the White House and the growing tendency for the Europeans to act as a bloc.

The G20’s broader membership has made negotiations and consultations more difficult than those involving the G7 grouping of major developed economies. But its greater inclusion and diversity has also ensured its superior record compared to the G7, which continues to decline in relevance.

As the Toronto U turn and its devastating legacy remind us, the G20’s finest moment after its London summit in 2009 was easily reversed through host country efforts although the US and China were acting quite differently in practice.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

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Post-Soviet Russian economic collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/post-soviet-russian-economic-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-soviet-russian-economic-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/post-soviet-russian-economic-collapse/#comments Tue, 06 Jun 2017 14:24:17 +0000 Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150769 Vladimir Popov was a Senior Economics Officer in the United Nations Secretariat. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development.

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Was the post-Soviet transition the greatest 'man-made' economic disaster ever?. Credit: IPS

By Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
MOSCOW and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 6 2017 (IPS)

Wide-ranging economic reforms following the demise of the Soviet Union at the end of December 1991 mainly resulted in economic collapse in most successor states. By the mid-1990s, output had fallen by about half compared to 1989.

Meanwhile, income inequalities rose sharply as real incomes declined dramatically for most, while death rates increased by over half as life expectancy declined dramatically.

In Russia, output fell by 45% during 1989-1998, as death rates increased from 1% in the 1980s to over 1.5% in 1994, equivalent to over 700,000 additional deaths annually. In some former Soviet states embroiled in military conflicts, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Tajikistan, GDP in 2000 was 30-50% of pre-transition levels! Even without military conflict, Ukraine’s GDP fell by nearly two thirds. In Eastern European countries, output fell less, averaging 20-30% over 2-4 years, whereas growth accelerated in China and Vietnam following reforms.

The huge collapses in output, living standards and life expectancy in the former Soviet Union during the 1990s without war, epidemic or natural disaster was unprecedented. During the Great Depression, GDP in Western countries fell by some 30% on average in 1929-1933, but then recovered to pre-recession levels by the end of the 1930s.

Transition debate

Why was the decline in output and incomes in the former Soviet Union so deep and protracted? To what extent was it due to ‘initial conditions’, and to what extent was it due to poor economic policy choices? If the latter was mainly responsible, the post-Soviet transition was the greatest ‘man-made’ economic disaster ever.

Many believe that “things went terribly wrong”, and that it would have been possible to avoid the fate of the former Soviet republics in the 1990s with different policies. After all, most other transition economies did better than them, and no Russian seriously believes that the exceptional length and depth of its post-Soviet recession was inevitable.

The question of the most appropriate post-Soviet economic transition policies is the subject of considerable debate, not least between those who advocate comprehensive ‘shock therapy’ and others who believe that pragmatic, gradual, piecemeal reforms, rather than policies driven by ideological dogmas, would have had much better consequences.

World Bank policy advice
The World Bank’s 1996 World Development Report (WDR), From Plan to Market, argued that differences in economic performance were mostly associated with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ policies, particularly in terms of economic liberalization and macroeconomic stabilization. “Consistent policies, combining liberalization of markets, trade, and new business entry with reasonable price stability, can achieve a great deal even in countries lacking clear property rights and strong market institutions”.

However, contrary to mainstream Western coverage, there is no evidence that rapid economic liberalization and macroeconomic stabilization would have improved post-Soviet economic performance. The apparent link between liberalization and performance is due to the greater depth of the recession in the former Soviet republics compared to Eastern Europe.

Attempts to correlate differences in output changes during transition to the cumulative liberalization index and to inflation rates have no explanatory value. Once a number of ‘initial conditions’ are taken into consideration, the liberalization index becomes insignificant. Although the Chinese index of ‘economic freedom’, as measured by the Heritage Foundation, has been about the same as Russia’s in recent years, the economic performance of the two countries have differed markedly.

Deep recessions
The depth of the recession was mainly due to three sets of factors. First, greater distortions in industrial structure and external trade on the eve of transition. Second, the collapse of state and non-state institutions in the late 1980s and early 1990s which resulted in chaotic transformation. Third, poor policies worsening macroeconomic instability.

The post-Soviet economic recessions were due to the high costs of the distortions – including excessive militarization and over-industrialization, ‘perverted’ trade flows among the former Soviet republics and with Eastern European countries, excessively large industrial enterprises and agricultural farm sizes – as well as efforts to correct them. In most cases, Soviet distortions were more pronounced than in Eastern Europe. Apparently, the larger the distortions, the greater the output reduction.

The greater collapse of state institutions also explains the severity of post-Soviet recessions. Differences in the depth of transformational recessions between Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics appear to be due to their greater institutional collapses. Poorer government ability to collect taxes, check the shadow economy, and uphold ‘law and order’, e.g., by enforcing contracts, undermined creation of a business climate conducive to investment and growth.

Post-Soviet transitions (except in Uzbekistan, Belarus and Estonia) involved unfavourable initial conditions, institutional degradation, and poor economic policies, which were less problematic in Eastern Europe. Thus, the Gorbachev reforms of 1985-1991 failed, not because they were gradual, but due to weakened state institutional capacity. However, the Yeltsin reforms had catastrophic consequences due to inappropriate policy reforms for the Russian transition after Gorbachev.

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Why Do International Financial Crises Happen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-international-financial-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-international-financial-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-international-financial-crises/#comments Wed, 31 May 2017 16:25:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150686 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Am underlying cause of international financial crises has been the ascendance, transformation and hegemony of the financial sector over the past three to four decades. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 31 2017 (IPS)

International currency and financial crises have become more frequent since the 1990s, and with good reason. But the contributory factors are neither simple nor straightforward. Such financial crises have, in turn, contributed to more frequent economic difficulties for the economies affected, as evident following the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession still evident almost a decade later.

Why international coordination?
Why is global co-ordination so necessary? There are two main reasons. One big problem before the Second World War was the contractionary macroeconomic consequences of the ‘gold standard’.

In 1944, before the end of the Second World War, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened the United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs – better known as the Bretton Woods Conference – even before the UN itself was set up the following year in San Francisco. After almost a month, the conference established the framework for the post-war international monetary and financial system, including the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), or World Bank.

To be sure, the Bretton Woods system reflected sometimes poor compromises made among the negotiating government representatives. Nevertheless, it served post-war reconstruction and early post-colonial development reasonably well until 1971.

In September of that year, the Nixon Administration in the US – burdened with mounting inflation and unsustainable budget deficits, partly due to the costly Vietnam War – unilaterally withdrew from its core commitment to ensure full US dollar convertibility to gold at the agreed rate. Thus, the unilateral US action did not involve a transition from the Bretton Woods system to any coherent, internationally agreed alternative.

Birth of a ‘non-system’
The pre-1971 post-Second World War period has often been referred to as a Golden Age, a period of rapid reconstruction, growth and employment expansion after the devastation of the Second World War. It was also a period of development and structural transformation in many developing countries.

All this came to an end when coordination and multilateralism collapsed following President Nixon’s decision to renege on 1944 US commitments at Bretton Woods which became the basis for the post-war international monetary system.

The leading international monetary economist of the post-war period, Robert Triffin, described the post-1971 arrangements as amounting to a ‘non-system’. Now, with the international monetary system essentially the cumulative outcome of various, sometimes contradictory and ad hoc responses to new challenges, the need for coordination is all the more urgent.

A strong case for co-ordination has long been made by the United Nations. For example, soon after the global financial crisis exploded in late 2008, the 2009 mid-year update of the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects showed how better coordinated and more equitable fiscal stimuli would have benefited all parties – developed countries, developing countries, transition economies and, most of all, the least developed countries.

Anarchy and fragility

Since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, a small handful of currencies – especially the US dollar, the international favourite by far – have been held by others as reserve currencies. This has allowed the issuers of these currencies – especially the US – to run massive trade deficits, contributing to unsustainable global imbalances in savings and consumption.

A second underlying cause of international financial crises has been the ascendance, transformation and hegemony of the financial sector – termed ‘financialization’ – over the past three to four decades. Partly as a consequence, many decision-makers are now often more concerned with short-term financial indicators than other key economic indicators, often presuming that the former reflect the latter despite the lack of such evidence.

A third factor has been growing ‘financial fragility’, partly due to the global financial ‘non-system’ in place since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Referring to this ‘non-system’ as an international financial ‘architecture’ is really insulting to architects. The lack of coherence and coordination has been exacerbated by financial deregulation, liberalization and globalization over the past three decades.

Finance calling the shots

The growing and spreading subordination of the real economy to finance in recent decades is a fundamental part of the problem. While finance is indeed a very important, if not an essential hand-maiden for the functioning of the real economy, the subordination of the real economy to finance has transformed macro-financial dynamics, with unproductive, contractionary, even dangerous consequences.

So, to address the root causes of crises, much better, including more appropriate regulation of the financial system is needed to ensure consistently counter-cyclical macro-financial institutions, instruments and policies, and to subordinate the financial sector to the real economy.

The 2008 financial crisis has catalyzed many debates on these issues – some old, some new – for instance, between Keynesian/Minskyian economists and their opponents; between Anglo-American and continental European worldviews; and between the global North and South. Any sustainable solution will clearly require much better international cooperation and co-ordination.

Hence, almost a decade since the 2008 global financial crisis began, there is no shared political commitment to much needed international financial reforms. It took fifteen years from the beginning of the Great Depression, a world war and Roosevelt’s extraordinary leadership before the world was able to reform the international financial system in 1944. But sadly, there is no Roosevelt for our times.

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International Finance Governance Undemocratichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/international-finance-governance-undemocratic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-finance-governance-undemocratic http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/international-finance-governance-undemocratic/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 17:01:51 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150548 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Why is it so difficult to achieve meaningful coordination when everybody agrees that it is desirable, if not necessary? President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal of the US from and hence termination of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 confirmed the end of the post-war Golden Age. This led to slower growth, greater volatility, more instability, and reduced progress in raising economic welfare, among other consequences.

Multilateral governance compromised
The Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs) — World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — were initially conceived as part of a post-war system of multilateral governance to ensure the conditions for peace, growth, development, employment and prosperity. Today, however, their governance arrangements are very different from those of rest of the UN system, despite all its variety, and this is part of the problem. In New York, the UN is governed by ‘one country, one vote’, at least at the General Assembly.

The role of the BWIs and their relationship with the rest of the UN system have also changed significantly over time. Europe is over-weighted in the BWIs while developing countries are under-weighted by the formula for determining voting weights. These governance arrangements have created a sense of exclusion as developing countries feel they have not been fairly represented, especially after decades of dilution of the weight of the ‘basic vote’.

For example, in the mid-1940s, there were 44 members, with the weight of their collective ‘basic votes’ totaling 11.4 per cent. Today, there are 189 members, so if the weight of the basic vote remained the same, the total weight of the members would be just under half (189/44 x 11.4%). A few years ago, total basic votes only accounted for 2.2 per cent, or less than 5% of what they should have been!

Governance vacuum

While the IMF is undoubtedly influential in various matters under its jurisdiction, there is no overall governance mechanism for finance comparable to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for trade. Through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), it has been the WTO which has been facilitating, without supervising, financial services liberalization.

Besides the WTO, the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the Financial Stability Board and other international organizations have limited jurisdiction in other cross-border financial matters. Meanwhile, important UN initiatives, e.g., the Financing for Development (FfD) conferences, have been largely stymied and ignored in various discussions on international financial reform as the governments of OECD economies prefer the grossly undemocratic decision making arrangements in the Bretton Woods institutions to those of the rest of the UN system.

North Atlantic divide

Such governance issues inevitably undermine legitimacy, and thus constrain more effective global coordination, but of course, there are other problems as well. For many years, there have been some important differences across the Atlantic, arguably since the 1960s.

During the recent crisis, the European approach initially relied on long-standing ‘automatic stabilizers’, arguing that Europe did not need the big fiscal stimuli which the US and the UK – untypically — advocated in 2009. Later, the European Central Bank warned incessantly of the threat of inflation, while the IMF inconsistently shared the view of the rest of the UN system, that the bigger threat was that of deflation and stagnation.

Instead of providing a desperately needed, coordinated, counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus to the world economy, under the leadership of the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the G-20 committed to a huge capital infusion for the IMF. It would have been better if the G-20 had provided this capital boost on condition that the IMF reforms itself to pro-actively revive and sustain global economic growth and to better serve developing countries. Without sufficiently reforming itself, the IMF has continued to suffer from legitimacy and credibility problems, undermining its ability to provide more effective leadership.

From G-7 to G-20
Although current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired, there have been some modest and generally unsuccessful efforts to improve the situation. For instance, there were some efforts to improve coordination by the G-7 as well as in Europe at the annual IMF-World Bank meetings in October 2008 and soon afterwards as well, but these efforts did not achieve much.

Meanwhile, then President Sarkozy of France initiated an unprecedented G-20 summit to be held at the UN with Secretary-General Ban. US President George W Bush later insisted on hosting the summit in mid-November 2008 in Washington DC. (The G-20 group of Finance Ministers had been meeting for a decade after it was created by then US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin after the 1997-1998 Asian crisis.) In the following month, the G-20 heads of government met for the very first time, and have continued to meet since with limited consequence after 2009.

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The ‘Public’ in Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-in-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:43 +0000 Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150532 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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By Vani S. Kulkarni
PHILADELPHIA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

 

The discourse must move beyond a top-down approach to listen to the people and formulate best insurance practices

Much ink has been spilled in documenting the inadequacy of budgetary allocations for public health insurance, specifically for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance (PFHI) scheme. Though the 2017-18 budget allocation has marginally increased from last year’s revised estimates, it has declined relative to last year’s budgeted amount by about ₹500 crore. However, higher budgetary allocation can only constitute a small part of the solution to the scheme’s mixed, if not lacklustre, performance.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and procedures at government-set prices, for an annual enrolment fee of ₹30. However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them. Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discrimination against disadvantaged groups; a lack of mandate on insurance companies to achieve higher enrolment rates; and an absence of oversight by government agencies.

Increase in hospitalisation
True, there has been a substantial increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is unclear if it has enabled people to access the genuinely needed, and hitherto unaffordable, inpatient care. Often, doctors and hospitals have colluded in performing unnecessary surgical procedures on patients to claim insurance money. For instance, hospitals have claimed reimbursements worth millions of rupees for conducting hysterectomies on thousands of unsuspecting, poor women. Indeed, in the absence of regulations and standards, perverse incentives are created for empanelled hospitals to conduct surgeries. It is thus not surprising that there is no robust evidence of an improvement in health outcomes.

Evidence on the financial protection front is conflicting as well. One study revealed that poorer households in districts exposed to the RSBY and other PFHIs recorded an increase in out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures for hospital care, and a corresponding rise in incidence of catastrophic expenditure. There is near-consensus that the RSBY has resulted in higher OOP expenditures. Though it is a cashless scheme, many users are exploited by unscrupulous hospital staff.

So, what is the solution? There is a need to bring the ‘public’ back into the discourse on public health to highlight its present culture. The conversation needs to move beyond a top-down approach specifying budget allocation and administrative and technical efficiency. It needs to involve listening to the real public to deliberate on various health practices and policies.

My ethnographic study of the RSBY in Kalaburagi and Mysuru districts between 2014 and 2016 brought to light that a top-down approach on allocation and coverage was important but, by itself, did not translate to expected outcomes. What mattered more was the existing culture of health insurance — how it was perceived, practised and experienced in the everyday, local worlds of the enrolled households. Though they valued aspects like the money available and the number of illnesses covered, they were more deeply affected by how other actors — doctors, local officials, neighbours and even relatives — related to health insurance.

Card not accepted
The disillusionment of Savitri, one of the beneficiaries, after obtaining the plastic card said it all: “If public officials only give us the card without telling us how to use it, the card is just plastic material. Sometimes information is also not correct, making us feel that the card is of no real value if we do not know how to use it.” Further, many hospitals refused to acknowledge the card’s value. Shivakumar’s observation summed it well: “We went to the hospital with the card. Not only could it not be used but also the doctors did not even acknowledge us as patients… We just brought the card home and tossed it to the shelf.” Many bemoaned the absence of public debate on health issues and the RSBY card. Deva’s pithy response was illustrative: “If it is not talked about and debated, we can only think that there is no big value that we should pay attention to.”

Households clearly separated the economic value from social ones. A section saw health insurance as a bad omen, one that announced arrival of illness. Ramesh Kumar, among those in his neighbourhood who refused to enrol, explained: “This card is not a solution for illness, it is a cause of it. You see, when you people knock on our doors to give us the card, it feels like an illness is knocking on our doors. The farther away we are from the card, the further we are from health problems.”

Overall, while the discourse on a greater allocation to RSBY and enhancement of cost-effectiveness are important, a shift of emphasis is needed, bringing the ‘public’ back into the sphere of public health.

The oped first appeared in The Hindu.

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At the UN Oceans Forum in June, Will the US Play a Bit Part?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 18:54:11 +0000 Lori Silberman Brauner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150466 In just a few weeks, the United Nations is convening a world gathering to discuss the health of the world’s oceans and seas, with member states, government and nongovernmental organizations, corporations and members of the scientific community and academia signed up to take part. Yet while representatives from America’s private sector and academic community — […]

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Oceans contribute substantially to US wealth, but it’s unclear how much the government will participate in the UN’s first oceans conference. Lucena, Philippines, above. JOE PENNEY

By Lori Silberman Brauner
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2017 (IPS)

In just a few weeks, the United Nations is convening a world gathering to discuss the health of the world’s oceans and seas, with member states, government and nongovernmental organizations, corporations and members of the scientific community and academia signed up to take part.

Yet while representatives from America’s private sector and academic community — even the state of California — will be participating, so far it is not clear what role, if any, the United States government, the UN’s most important member, will take in the conference.

To be held June 5 to 9 at UN headquarters in New York City, the main objective of the conference is to support the implementation of sustainable development goal No. 14, which calls to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The predecessor to the SDGs, as they are called, did not reference the ocean or seas in a single goal. The conference agenda is wide ranging, with panel discussions on financing the “blue economy” for small island developing nations to “women and girls in science for ocean.”

“If the cycle of decline that accumulated human activity has brought upon the ocean is not reversed, the implications for us all cannot be good,” said UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson in a newsletter from the conference’s co-chairs, Sweden and Fiji. (Thomson is Fijian.) “Anyone who cares about the health of the ocean can and should get involved.”

While the US has agreed to participate in the conference — showing up, at a minimum — a State Department press officer said that planning for the meeting, which is the first to focus on a single development goal, was “ongoing.” The office added that it had nothing else to offer at this time.

Another State Department official, who also asked not to be named, told PassBlue that the US was finalizing its delegation, including who would serve as the delegation’s head, and that “we intend to be actively engaged in the June Conference.”

Press officers at the US mission to the UN, which is still in a period of transition since Trump took office, did not respond to emails for comment.

Low-ranking US mission employees have been attending negotiations on the conference’s summary statement, or “call for action.” Moreover, the State Department maintains a Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; its acting assistant secretary is Judith Garber.

While the conference will attract governments and other major representatives from across the world — as every nation has a connection to the ocean — a UN organizer said that the hope was that a powerful country or individual would initiate actions to get the world to pay closer attention to SDG 14 and the state of the oceans, which cover 75 percent of the planet.

That could mean the US, the person said. After all, Trump owns many resorts located on oceanfront property, deriving profit from such views, access and cooling effects. Mar-a-Lago, his private home and private golf club in Palm Beach, Fla., is minutes from the Atlantic.

“Oceans contributed more than 3 million jobs and $300 billion to the U.S. GDP,” Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice president for U.S. Oceans and Global Fishing Watch at Oceana, an advocacy group, noted. “Much of that depends on ocean health, which in turn depends on international action. That’s why the U.S. simply can’t afford not to lead on ocean protection, so we hope to see a continuation of U.S. leadership at the UN Oceans Conference.”

The conference comes on the heels of the Arctic Council ministerial-level meeting held earlier this month in Fairbanks, Alaska, offering a window as to how the US may approach the UN event. The Council, comprised of eight Arctic nations that include the US, completed its two-year chairmanship at the gathering.

The ministers issued a final statement, the Fairbanks Declaration 2017, reaffirming the Council’s commitment to maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation, among other crucial aspects to the future of the Arctic Circle.

Climate change was on the Fairbanks agenda. “Noting with concern that the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average,” the declaration also recognized “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the conference as chairman of the Council and signed the declaration, despite the Trump administration’s wavering over whether to remain a party to the Paris Agreement. (Garber of the Oceans bureau in the State Department also attended.)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting of the Arctic Council as chairman, May 11, 2017.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting of the Arctic Council as chairman, May 11, 2017.

The Council meeting also follows an executive order issued by Trump directing a review of offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, reversing Obama’s Arctic leasing ban. (A question by this reporter to Garber’s office about the order was directed to the White House.)

Negotiators on the Oceans Conference call for action are also wrestling with references to the Paris Agreement. The latest version of the document said it recognized “the particular importance of the Paris Agreement,” but discussions continue from May 22 to 25 at the UN, so that language could be dropped or changed.

Many environmental challenges hurt the ocean, as a background note for the conference said: “Marine pollution and litter, 80 percent of which come from land-based sources, compromise ocean health.”

A quarter of all carbon dioxide released through human activity is absorbed by the oceans and raises the seawaters’ acidity, and nearly one-third of all fish stocks are below sustainable levels, up from 10 percent in 1974. The note also stated that the deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats has a more severe and immediate impact on vulnerable groups, such as small island developing states like Fiji.

The conference will feature plenary meetings, partnership “dialogues” in which less-developed nations will chair events with richer countries, and a commemoration of World Oceans Day on June 8.

In February, when negotiations began on the call for action and the partnership-dialogue themes, the US participated in both segments.

“The United States views the Conference as an opportunity to focus on tangible areas for cooperation, without developing a new or amended UN ocean agenda,” its official meeting statement read.

It added, more critically, “While we remain flexible on the content of the Call for Action at this time, we would not want to see inclusion in the document of the creation of new bodies or high-level positions, language that would pre-judge the outcomes of any ongoing negotiations, nor do we believe the Call for Action should call for additional, follow-on conferences for SDG 14 considering the overlap and synergies among the various SDGs.”

A key focus of the conference is the presenting of voluntary commitments by governments, companies and others pledging action on conservation. With 189 commitments so far, these pledges represent governments that include France, Spain, Nigeria, Indonesia, Belgium, Grenada, Fiji, Palau and Sweden.

California, with its long Pacific Ocean border, has seven commitments registered, such as a plan to preserve its coastal ecosystems and prepare for rising sea levels.

University involvements include Arizona State’s Biogeography, Conservation and Modeling Laboratory, which researches fishery policies; and Northeastern University, which has created a Coastal Sustainability Institute to respond to environmental threats facing marine habitats.

In the private sector, Envision Plastics, from North Carolina, has announced a goal of removing up to 10 million pounds of plastic that could pollute the oceans over the next two years. Dell has committed to processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coasts to incorporate in new packaging of its computers.

The following countries will be paired for the partnership dialogues, emphasizing the rich state-developed state theme: Australia-Kenya, Iceland-Peru, Canada-Senegal, Estonia-Grenada, Italy-Palau, Monaco-Mozambique and Norway-Indonesia.

The US, notably, is not among them.

An annual Our Oceans global conference — not focused on SDG 14 — has been held for the last three years at different locations; this year, it is to be hosted in Malta in October.

Our Oceans is meant to enlist specific steps by nations to protect and mitigate climate effects on the world’s vast waters. Last year, the forum convened in Washington, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, an ocean lover cultivated through a family-owned island off Massachusetts, called Naushon, and a house on Nantucket (recently sold for a move by Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, to Martha’s Vineyard).

“We have to keep the momentum going so that we can come together and protect our ocean,” Kerry said at the conference. “Why? Because our ocean is absolutely essential for life itself — not just the food, but the oxygen and weather cycles of the planet all depend on the ocean.”

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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World Bank fudges on inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-bank-fudges-on-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-fudges-on-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-bank-fudges-on-inequality/#respond Tue, 09 May 2017 14:24:31 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150363 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.

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Demonstrations against austerity measures in Athens. The World Bank's Doing Business Report 2017 finds that the greatest increase of inequality during 2008-2013 occurred in Greece. Credit : IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, May 9 2017 (IPS)

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – collectively drafted and then officially agreed to, at the highest level, by all Member States of the United Nations in September 2015 – involves specific targets to be achieved mainly by 2030. The Agenda seeks to “leave no-one behind” and claims roots in universal human rights. Thus, addressing inequalities and discrimination is central to the SDGs. Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality is the World Bank’s first annual report tracking progress towards the two key SDGs on poverty and inequality.

Annual reporting on poverty, inequality
This particular report evaluates progress towards reducing extreme poverty to 3% of the global population and sustaining per capita income growth of the bottom 40% of the population faster than the national average. According to the Bank, with global economic growth slowing, reduction of income inequality will be necessary to ending poverty and enhancing shared prosperity.

The report focuses on inequality, which was generally neglected until fairly recently by most international organizations other than the UN itself. It provides some useful analyses of inequality, including discussion of its causes. However, it does not explain its claim of a modest partial reversal of previously growing inequality in the years 2008-2013 which it examines.

However, the report’s policy recommendations are surprisingly limited, perhaps because it neither analyses nor proposes measures to address wealth inequality, which is much greater than and greatly influences income inequality. Although it recognizes that increasing minimum wages and formalizing employment can contribute to reducing income inequalities, it does not talk about the determinants of wages, working conditions and employment. It also has nothing to say about land reform – an important factor contributing to shared prosperity in East Asia, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Its discussion of fiscal consolidation’s impact on inequality is misleading, even claiming, “European Union (EU) countries have embarked on comprehensive fiscal consolidations based on clear equity considerations in response to the 2008–09 financial crisis”. This implies that fiscal consolidation yields long-run equity gains at the cost of short-run pains which can be cushioned by safety-net measures – a finding contrary to International Monetary Fund (IMF) research findings!

Instead of the more conventional inequality measures such as the Gini coefficient or the more innovative Atkinson index, the World Bank has promoted “boosting the bottom 40 percent”. Yet, in much of its discussion, the report abandons this indicator in favour of the Gini index. Nevertheless, the report dwells on its “shared prosperity premium”, defined as the difference between the increased income of the bottom 40% and the growth in mean income.

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017 implies labour market regulations adversely impact inequality, even though it admits that they can “reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion”. Yet, the report promotes fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

The Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017 also implies that lower business regulation results in lower inequality. It claims this on the basis of negative associations between Gini coefficients and scores for starting a business and resolving insolvency. However, curiously, it does not discuss the association between other Doing Business scores, e.g., paying tax or getting credit, etc., and the Gini index.

Recent progress?
About two-thirds of the 83 countries analysed had a shared prosperity premium during 2008-2013, a period characterized by asset price collapses and sharply increased youth unemployment in many OECD economies. This unrepresentative sample is uneven among regions, and surprisingly, even some large rich countries such as Japan, South Korea and Canada are missing.

Recognizing that the shared prosperity premium is generally low, the report concedes that “the goal of ending poverty by 2030 cannot be reached at current levels of economic growth” and that “reduction of inequality will be key to reaching the poverty goal”.

The global Gini index has declined since the 1990s due to rapidly rising incomes in China and India, while within-country inequality has generally increased. More optimistically, the Bank notes that Gini coefficients fell in five of seven world regions during 2008-2013 despite or perhaps because of much slower growth. The report notes that the “progress is all the more significant given that it has taken place in a period marked by the global financial crisis of 2008-09”. As others have noted, the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession may have only temporarily reversed growing inequality.

Greek tragedy
After very impressive growth for a decade, the Greek economy went into recession in 2008-2009, together with other European countries. With severe austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF as bailout conditions, Greece fell into a full-blown depression with various adverse income and distributional impacts.

The report finds that the greatest increase of inequality during 2008-2013 occurred in Greece, where the mean household income of the bottom 40% shrunk by an average of 10% annually. Fortunately, as the Bank notes, some measures – such as lump sum transfers, introduced in 2014 for low-income families and the vulnerable, along with ‘emergency’ property taxes – “prevented additional surges in inequality”.

Brazil progress at risk

Brazil is the most significant of its five “best performers” in narrowing income inequality, with its Gini coefficient falling from 0.63 in 1989 to 0.51 in 2014. The report attributes four-fifths of the decline in inequality in 2003-2013 to “labor market dynamics” and social program expansion. Alarmingly, the new government has threatened to end regular minimum wage increases and to limit social program expenditure.

“Labor market dynamics” – deemed far more important by other analysts – include regular minimum wage increases, formalization of unprotected workers and strengthened collective bargaining rights. Social pensions and other social program benefits account for much more of the decline in inequality than the much touted Bolsa Familia.

The report makes recommendations on six “high-impact strategies”: early childhood development, universal health coverage, universal access to quality education, cash transfers to the poor, rural infrastructure and progressive taxation. While certainly not objectionable, the recommendations do not always draw on and could easily have been made without the preceding analysis.

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Growing Inequality under Global Capitalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 14:41:32 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150295 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 2017 (IPS)

Income and wealth inequality has increased in recent decades, but recognition of the role of economic liberalization and globalization in exacerbating inequality has never been so widespread. The guardians of global capitalism are nervous, yet little has been done to check, let alone reverse the underlying forces.

Global elite alarmed by growing inequality
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. WEF founder Klaus Schwab has observed, ‘We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth and we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable.’

Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, told political and business leaders at the WEF, “in far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability”. Similarly, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned that failure to tackle inequality risked causing social unrest. “It’s going to erupt to a great extent because of these inequalities.”

In the same vein, the influential US Council of Foreign Relations’ journal, Foreign Affairs carried an article cautioning, “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the post-industrial capitalist world…. if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large.”

Much ado about nothing?

Increasingly, the main benefits of economic growth are being captured by a tiny elite. Despite global economic stagnation for almost a decade, the number of billionaires in the world has increased to a record 2,199. The richest one per cent of the world’s population now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. The world’s eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorer half.

In India, the number of billionaires has increased at least tenfold in the past decade. India now has 111 billionaires, third in the world by country. The largest number of the world’s abject poor also live in the same country — over 425 million, a third of the world’s poor, and well over a third of the country’s population.

Africa had a resource boom for a decade until 2014, but most people there still struggle daily for food, clean water and health care. Meanwhile, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, has grown substantially to at least 330 million from 280 million in 1990!

In Europe, poor people bore the brunt of draconian austerity policies while bank bailouts mainly benefited the moneyed. 122.3 million people, or 24.4 per cent of the population in the EU-28, are at risk of poverty. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of Europeans without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, i.e., living with ‘severe material deprivation’, rose by 7.5 million to 50 million people, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires!

In the United States, the income share of the top one per cent is at its highest level since the eve of the Great Depression, almost nine decades ago. The top 0.01 per cent, or 14,000 American families, own 22.2 per cent of its wealth, while the bottom 90 per cent, over 133 million families, own a meagre four per cent of the nation’s wealth. The top five per cent of households increased their share of US wealth, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the richest one per cent tripled their share of US income within a generation.

This unprecedented wealth concentration and the corresponding deprivation of others have generated backlashes, arguably contributing to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, the Brexit referendum, the strength of Marine Le Pen in France and the Alternative for Germany, and the ascendance of the Hindutva right in secular India.

‘Communist’ China and inequality
Meanwhile, China has increasingly participated in and grown rapidly as inequality has risen sharply in the ostensibly communist-ruled country. China has supplied cheaper consumer goods to the world, checking inflation and improving living standards for many. Part of its huge trade surplus — due to relatively low, albeit recently rising wages — has been recycled in financial markets, mainly in the US, which helped expand credit at low interest rates there.

Thus, cheap consumer products and cheap credit have enabled the slowly shrinking ‘middle class’ in the West to mitigate the downward pressure on their living standards despite stagnating or falling real wages and mounting personal and household debt.

China’s export-led development on the basis of low wages has sharply increased income inequality in the world’s largest country for more than three decades. Beijing is the new ‘billionaire capital of the world’, no longer New York. China now has 594 billionaires, 33 more than in the US!

Since the 1980s, income inequality in China has risen faster than most! China now has one of the world’s highest levels of income inequality, rising mainly in the last three decades. The richest one per cent of households own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest quarter own only one per cent. China’s Gini coefficient for income rose to 0.49 in 2012 from 0.3 over three decades before when it was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. Another survey put China’s income Gini at 0.61 in 2010, greatly exceeding the US’s 0.45!

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Climate-Smart Agriculture – From Tanzania to Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam/#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:52:53 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150208 As part of efforts to move towards “climate-smart” agriculture, several countries have shared In a meeting in Rome new experiences on how to produce food in ways that help farmers cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. The exchange took place at a special 26 April side-event […]

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Farmers clear weeds from a trench, which retains water and prevents soil erosion during rains, as part of the FAO project to strengthen capacity of farms for climate change in Kiroka, Tanzania. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

As part of efforts to move towards “climate-smart” agriculture, several countries have shared In a meeting in Rome new experiences on how to produce food in ways that help farmers cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

The exchange took place at a special 26 April side-event during a session of the UN Food and Agriculture OrganizationFAO’s executive Council.

While countries are embarking on the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions –the actions nations are taking under the Paris Agreement– the event provided an opportunity to learn from countries that have championed climate-smart agriculture in different regions, FAO informed.

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach aimed at transforming food systems. It involves pursuing sustainable productivity increases while implementing climate adaptation strategies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions where possible, to achieve food security in the face of increasing climate change.

Tanzania

In Tanzania, the UN specialised body reports, estimated loss in the agriculture sector due to climate change is about 200 million dollars per year.

To tackle this problem the government has brought the climate agenda in line with agriculture development and food security policies, and climate change considerations are now mainstreamed into national development planning and budget allocations, it added.

Tanzania also intends to invest more in research on climate-smart agriculture to inform decision-making and involve private partners to catalyse additional investment in the sector.

The national policy focus in Tanzania has hence shifted towards building resilience of agricultural and food production systems in the face of climate change and fostering adoption of climate smart agriculture, particularly among vulnerable, smallholder farmers, according to FAO.

For example, rice-farming techniques that use less water were introduced several years ago in five Tanzanian regions –Morogoro, Iringa, Lake Zone, Shinyanga and Mbeya– are used now by around 30 per cent of all rice producers in those areas.

The farmers have already seen their yields increase while using less water resources – which is particularly important for these drought-prone areas – and are eager to switch to new varieties of rice seeds.

Conservation agriculture practices, implemented in the Lake Zone, have also shown their efficiency, the UN agency said.

These have included the use of improved seed varieties of cassava, maize, sorghum and cotton, which are tolerant to droughts and water scarcity, and the use of organic fertilizers such as manure to increase soil fertility. As a result, the productivity in the areas practicing conservation agriculture has increased by about four times compared to the traditionally cultivated areas.

National researchers have also developed special breeds of high-yielding dairy cows and introduced them to livestock farmers in the field enabling them to cut down the number of cattle while increasing their income. This in turn has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock production and prevent grazing damage to crops.

Vietnam

In Vietnam, about 700 000 hectares of rice and other food crops were heavily damaged by climate-induced natural disasters in 2016. As a result, rice production fell by 800 000 tons, and about 1.1 million people in affected areas were put at a greater risk of food insecurity.

To reverse the dire situation, numerous climate change adaptation and disaster-risk management measures have been implemented at national, subnational and local levels.

For example, rice cultivation area in several Central provinces has been converted to other crops such as fruit trees and grapes, which require less water for raising and can serve as an alternative source of income for farmers. When weather permits, the land can be easily switched back to rice production.

On sloping land areas of Vietnam’s Northern mountainous regions and Central provinces, annual food crops are intercropped with forests, fruit or industrial trees, reported FAO.

Such agro-forestry systems help farmers diversify their income, control soil erosion, and improve ecosystems and the environment. In addition, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon.

Integrating crops or forests with aquaculture is also widely practiced in Vietnam. For example, the ecological shrimp-mangrove forests in the country’s coastal provinces provide sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable coastal communities while protecting natural resources.

“Furthermore, organic farming products can fetch premium prices due to the high food safety standards employed in their production. With more than 180 000 hectares of the shrimp-mangrove forests having been cultivated to date, farmers are receiving a stable income of 1 600 dollars per hectare per year. Meanwhile, the coastal protection value is estimated at about 800 dollars per hectare per year.”

In household pig production, livestock farmers are being encouraged to use bio-digesters, which allow them to convert wastes into biogas used for daily cooking and lighting. They also create nutrient-rich slurry for fertilizing paddy rice fields. More than 35 000 bio-digesters have already been installed, which resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

During the FAO-hosted event, the participants also highlighted the importance of embedding climate-smart agriculture in national policies and programmes, and promoting climate-smart practices in the field through trainings and farmer field schools in various ecological zones.

They also stressed the need to provide accurate climate information to farmers, and investing in evidence-based research on climate-smart agriculture.

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20 Million People Could ‘Starve to Death’ in Next Six Monthshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:49:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150200 Urgent action is needed to save the lives of people facing famine in North Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN leading food and agriculture agency’s chief on April 28 warned. “If nothing is done, some 20 million people could starve to death in the next six months.” “Famine does not just kill […]

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A livestock owner in Yemen tends her goats. Livestock production fell by more than 35 per cent in 2016 compared to the pre-crisis period. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

Urgent action is needed to save the lives of people facing famine in North Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN leading food and agriculture agency’s chief on April 28 warned. “If nothing is done, some 20 million people could starve to death in the next six months.”

“Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva added.

At a media briefing ahead of the conclusive session of the this UN specialised agency’s executive arm—the FAO Council, he launched a new appeal for voluntary contributions, that are “of vital importance to FAO, now more than ever.”

“I will be always committed to finding more savings and promoting more efficiency, as I have done over the last five years. But I have already cut to the bone. There is no more fat left.”

On this, Graziano da Silva emphasised the need to work with everyone on the basis of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development –“Leaving No One Behind”, in order to save all the affected people.

He also announced that agreement will be signed among FAO and the other two Rome-based UN agencies: the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on how to tackle the current famine in those 4 countries– Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

The FAO Council, which has met in FAO-headquarters in Rome on 24 – 28 April, convenes between sessions of the main Conference to provide advice and oversight related to programmatic and budgetary matters.

The Council’s 49 elected members have been briefed on the extent of the hunger crises, and the steps required to preventing catastrophe.

Making Funds Go Further

The organisation’s executive body has also approved FAO‘s Programme of Work and Budget 2018-2019, which prioritises areas where FAO can deliver the greatest impact to member countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agriculture production, water scarcity management, and building the resilience of poor family farmers.

Famine has officially been declared by the South Sudanese government for some parts of the country. Credit: FAO

Famine has officially been declared by the South Sudanese government for some parts of the country. Credit: FAO

Food and agriculture are central to the sustainable development agenda, and FAO’s work is projected to contribute to the achievement of 40 targets across 15 of the 17 goals.

Ahead of the FAO Council’s meeting, Graziano da Silva had on 25 April stated in Geneva that a combination of food assistance and food production assistance is the only way to avoid famine in conflict-ridden Yemen where two-thirds of the population –17 million people– are suffering from severe food insecurity.

“As the conflict continues, food security and nutrition will also continue to deteriorate,” he stressed in his address to a United Nations High-Level Pledging conference for Yemen organised in Geneva and co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden.

“To put these figures into perspective, we are talking about the double of Switzerland’s population being unable to meet their basic daily food needs.”

He stressed how livelihoods support, especially for agriculture and fishing, must be an integral part of the international community’s response to the crisis in Yemen.

Over 17 Million Yemenis, Acutely Food Insecure

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the on-going conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food, Graziano da Silva wrote on IPS.

“More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.”

According to Graziano da Silva, only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

In 2016, agriculture production in Yemen and the area under cultivation shrank by 38 per cent due to the lack of inputs and investments. Livestock production fell by 35 per cent.

“Agricultural assistance in a humanitarian crisis can no longer be an afterthought,” the FAO Director-General said. “We need to seize every opportunity to support communities in Yemen to continue producing food, even under difficult circumstances.”

In Geneva, Graziano da Silva met Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghr, for talks on FAO’s support to the country to deliver emergency livelihood assistance and kick-start food production, especially when resources pledged to tackle the crisis are concretely made available.

The Geneva pledging conference on April 25 mobilised half of the 2,1 billion dollars urgently required to rescue the starving Yemeni population.

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Indigenous Women: The Frontline Protectors of the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-women-the-frontline-protectors-of-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-women-the-frontline-protectors-of-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-women-the-frontline-protectors-of-the-environment/#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:23:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150174 Indigenous women, while experiencing the first and worst effects of climate change globally, are often in the frontline in struggles to protect the environment. A forum organized by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) brought together indigenous women from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change in their communities and […]

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The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The Bhumia tribal community practices sustainable forestry: these women returning from the forest carry baskets of painstakingly gathered tree bark and dried cow dung for manure. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2017 (IPS)

Indigenous women, while experiencing the first and worst effects of climate change globally, are often in the frontline in struggles to protect the environment.

A forum organized by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) brought together indigenous women from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change in their communities and their work towards sustainable solutions.

“This forum is very much dedicated to frontline communities around climate change issues…we really wanted to take the time to visibilise women’s leadership and their calls for action,” said WECAN’s Executive Director Osprey Orielle Lake.

She added that indigenous women are “drawing a red line to protect and defend mother earth, all species, and the very web of life itself.”

Among the forum’s participants was Executive Director of the Indigenous Information Network Lucy Mulenkei who works with indigenous communities in Kenya on sustainable Development.

She told told IPS how Kenyan indigenous women are bearing the brunt of climate change, stating: “We have been experiencing a lot of prolonged droughts…so it leaves women with added workload [because] getting water is a problem, you have to go father.”

In February, the Kenyan Government declared a national drought emergency which has doubled the number of food-insecure people, increased the rate of malnutrition to emergency levels, and left millions without access to safe water.

Because of climate change, the country also experiences heavy rains which lead to floods, impacting indigenous communities as a whole, Mulenkei said.

Such extreme weather is largely attributed to the fossil fuel industry whose greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming. The United States is responsible for almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the top emitters.

Despite being over 8,000 miles away from Kenya, Mulenkei told IPS that “whatever you do from far away impacts us here.”

The fossil fuel industry is also impacting indigenous communities within the U.S. through its mega infrastructure projects.

“You cannot imagine how much things changed when the oil came,” Kandi Mossett, Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) Extreme Energy and Just Transition Campaign Organiser, said in reference to the discovery of oil in the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota.

“The air is being poisoned, the water is being destroyed,” she continued.

Mossett is among the frontline indigenous women in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) which garnered international attention in 2016 after thousands of protestors were met with violence by security forces.

She told IPS that indigenous communities are disproportionately targeted for such projects. “You don’t see a frack well in Hollywood or in the White House lawn. You see it in low-income, minority populations.”

Women return from fetching water after the water in their homes was cut off during the water rationing. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Women return from fetching water after the water in their homes was cut off during the water rationing. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Mossett highlighted the importance of consent prior to the approval of such development projects as cited in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adding that neither the company or government officials did as such in the case of DAPL.

“Consultation is not consent,” she told attendees.

Indigenous communities are facing similar issues as the economy and companies shift to renewable energy.

In Kenya, indigenous communities are seeing the construction of renewable energy projects on their land and without their consent, including the Ngong Hills and Kipeto wind power projects on Maasai territory.

“I feel neglected, I feel marginalized, I feel isolated,” Mulenkei told IPS regarding the lack of consent and consultation of indigenous groups on such projects, adding that the projects would be beneficial if only they were participatory.

Indigenous peoples at times face more extreme violations in the increasingly green economy including the displacement of Maasai communities following the expansion of geothermal energy production in Kenya. In Honduras, indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceres was shot and killed in her home in March 2016 after opposing the development of a hydroelectric dam.

According to a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, five out of 50 renewable energy companies reported that they are committed to following UNDRIP.

Both Mossett and Mulenkei stressed the need to respect indigenous rights as a whole and urged for human rights-based collective actions to protect the environment.

“We have to do nonviolent direct actions on the ground and we have to take back the power in our communities because nobody is going to do it for us,” Mossett stated.

The Indigenous Women Protecting Earth, Rights, and Communities forum was hosted in parallel to the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII) being held from 24 April to 5 May at the UN Headquarters in New York.

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World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 14:33:16 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150163 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

One of the 11 areas that the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) report includes in ranking a country’s business environment is paying taxes. The background study for DB 2017, Paying Taxes 2016 claims that its emphasis is “on efficient tax compliance and straightforward tax regimes”.

The World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. As a result, tax revenues in developing countries continue to fall. Credit: IPS

The World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. As a result, tax revenues in developing countries continue to fall. Credit: IPS

Its ostensible aim is to aid developing countries in enhancing the administrative capacities of tax authorities as well as reducing informal economic activities and corruption, while promoting growth and investment. All well and good, until we get into the details.

Tax less
First, the Report advocates not only administrative efficiency, but also lower tax rates. Any country that reduces tax rates, or raises the threshold for taxable income, or provides exemptions, gets approval.

Second, it exaggerates the tax burden by including, for example, employees’ health insurance and pensions and charges for public services like waste collection and infrastructure or environmental levies that the businesses must pay. The IMF’s Government Financial Statistics Manual correctly treats these separately from general tax revenues.

Third, by favourably viewing countries that lower corporate tax rates (or increase threshold and exemptions) and negatively considering those that introduce new taxes, DB is essentially encouraging tax competition among developing countries.

Thus, the Bank is ignoring research at the OECD and IMF which has not found any convincing evidence that lower corporate tax rates or other fiscal concessions have any positive impact on foreign direct investment.

Instead, they found net adverse impacts of tax concessions and fiscal incentives on government revenues. According to the research, factors such as the availability and quality of infrastructure and human resources were more important for investment decisions than taxes.

The World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys also do not find paying taxes to be high on the list of factors that enterprise owners perceive as important barriers to investment. For example, the Enterprise Survey for the Middle East and North Africa found political instability, corruption, unreliable electricity supply, and inadequate access to finance to be important considerations; paying taxes or tax rates were not.

Yet, the World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. Not surprisingly, thanks to its still considerable influence, tax revenues in developing countries are not rising enough, or worse, continue to fall. According to some estimates, between 1990 and 2001, reduction in corporate taxes lowered countries’ tax revenue by nearly 20%.

Instead of encouraging tax competition, therefore, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, “developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid”.

Global Financial Integrity has estimated that illicit financial flows of potentially taxable resources out of developing countries was US$7.85 trillion during 2004-2013 and US$1.1 trillion in 2013 alone!

Conflicts of interest

However, the Bank’s Paying Taxes and DB reports do little to strengthen developing countries’ tax revenues. This should come as no surprise as its partner for the former study is Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the ‘Big Four’ leading international accounting and consultancy firms. PwC competes with KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte for the lucrative business of helping clients minimize their tax liabilities. PwC assisted its clients in obtaining at least 548 tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010, enabling them to avoid corporate income tax elsewhere.

How are developing countries expected to finance their infrastructure investment needs, increase social protection coverage, or repair their damaged environments? Instead of helping, the Bank’s most influential report urges them to cut corporate tax rates and social contributions to improve their DB ranking, contrary to what then Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu observed: “Raising [tax] allows developing countries to invest in education, health and infrastructure, and, hence, in promoting growth.”

How are they supposed to achieve the internationally agreed Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of dwindling foreign aid. After all, only a few donor countries have fulfilled their aid commitment of 0.7% of GNI, agreed to almost half a century ago. Since the 2008 financial crisis, overseas development assistance has been hard hit by fiscal austerity cuts in OECD economies except in the UK under Cameron.

The Bank would probably recommend public-private partnerships (PPPs) and borrowing from it. Countries starved of their own funds would have to borrow from the Bank, but loans need to be repaid. Governments lacking their own resources are being advised to rely on PPPs, despite predictable welfare outcomes – e.g., reduced equity and access due to higher user fees – and higher government contingent fiscal liabilities due to revenue guarantees and implicit subsidies.

Financially starved governments boost Bank lending while PPPs increase the role of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) in promoting private sector business. Realizing the Bank’s conflict of interest, many middle-income countries ignore Bank advice and seek to finance their investments and other activities by other means. Thus, there are now growing demands that the Bank stop promoting tax competition, deregulation and the rest of the Washington Consensus agenda.

Bank must support SDGs
However, nothing guarantees that the Bank will act accordingly. It has already ignored the recommendation of its independent panel to stop its misleading DB country rankings. While giving lip service to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others who have asked it to stop ranking countries by labour market flexibility, the Bank continues to promote labour market deregulation by other means.

If the Bank is serious about being a partner in achieving Agenda 2030, it should align its work accordingly, and support UN leadership on international tax cooperation besides enhancing governments’ ability to tax adequately, efficiently, and equitably. In the meantime, the best option for developing countries is to ignore the Bank’s DB and Paying Taxes reports.

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No One is Left Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-one-is-left-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-one-is-left-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-one-is-left-behind/#respond Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:22:08 +0000 Kakoli Ghosh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150143 Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Coordinator, Academia and Research Organisations, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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Dr. Kakoli Ghosh, Coordinator, Academia and Research Organisations, Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

By Kakoli Ghosh
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

In the context of global development, ‘no one is left behind’ brings with it a powerful message. It emphasizes progress- one that is inclusive, fair, integrated and empowering. The phrase ‘No one is left behind’ is mentioned some five times in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by all governments at the United Nations in 2015. The Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet, peace and prosperity. It has globally agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 ambitious targets, and should be achieved within the next decade ‘to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.’

Kakoli Ghosh

Kakoli Ghosh

To keep these commitments and uphold the values that underpin them, a necessary corollary is that ‘every one’, irrespective of geography and circumstances, participates in this collective journey. Is that the case? Consider women and girls for instance. Although they are 51 percent of the world, women and girls continue lag behind on most counts. Women are often patronized or objectified and have far fewer possibilities for accessing and climbing the economic, professional or political ladder. Despite years of dedicated programs by governments, the UN and the civil societies, gender inequality is acute in rural settings, although their pivotal contribution to farming and rural economy is widely acknowledged. The Agenda recognises this, and Goal 5 is to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls’. Furthermore, Goals 2, 3 and 4 also have specific targets with indicators to measure progress on women’s participation, income and education. However, almost 80 percent of the indicators for gender equality across the Goals lack data- a severe limitation- that policy and governance has to overcome to create bottom–up solutions. Another necessary step has to be a better and greater convergence of all the big and small efforts being undertaken to tackle gender inequality in development.

Another important group that must not be left behind are the teenagers. Currently there are some 1.2 billion young people, of which 88 percent live in developing countries. Should the Goals be achieved by 2030, the youth of today could be the biggest beneficiaries. Much will depend on policy environment in a country, but in my view, the academic community can play a critical role. Science, technology, analytical data and multidisciplinary approaches are required for almost all the goals. Therefore, teachers- as the custodians of future generations – could lead by promoting a systems-based approach, revising outdated curricula, applying the indicators in their own settings as well as participating in monitoring progress at the national level. Creating awareness among the students can encourage their buy-in early on, which in turn can lead to quicker solutions and new possibilities. In fact, Goal 4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ focuses on youth; this focus is also in Goals 8 and 13. There needs to be a strategy in place to mobilise academia to support the implementation of these Goals. Strengthening education quality and increasing investment in universities today, particularly in developing countries, can position youth to cope with the challenges of tomorrow.

Women and youth may not be the only groups falling behind when one considers the status of migrants. As Agenda was being adopted in 2015, a number of countries were dealing with an unprecedented migration including in Europe, the Near East and Sub-Sahara Africa. Immediate attention had to be given to the availability of food, shelter and safety of the new refugees. It is estimated that there are some 244 million international migrants today, of which a third are young adults leaving their countries due to conflicts, climate change and political instability. Their education, aspirations, prospects are being left behind. For the first time the issues of migration are recognized with the Goals 10 calling for ‘well-managed migration policies’ and Goal 8 focuses on the situation of migrant workers.

Looking ahead, there is a lot to do. What will it take for each of us to step up, to achieve gender equality in our own sphere? How can young adults benefit from the Goals? How to promote integration of diverse communities in a sustainable way? It is not possible to do it alone. Perhaps it is time to revive ‘partnerships’ as a fundamental tool for delivery. Partnerships not as an association for the few but as a mechanism for collective achievements. As Swami Vivekananda said ‘There cannot be any progress without the whole world following in the wake, and it is becoming every day clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national, or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humans, nay the whole of life within its scope’.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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