Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 04 Aug 2015 06:02:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Zimbabwe’s Climate Change Ambitions May be Too Tallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 13:12:03 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141841 These Zimbabwean farmers with their harvested sorghum are at the mercy of climate change, while the government struggles with meagre financing and tall ambitions to take adequate action. Credit: UNDP-ALM

These Zimbabwean farmers with their harvested sorghum are at the mercy of climate change, while the government struggles with meagre financing and tall ambitions to take adequate action. Credit: UNDP-ALM

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe , Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

With the U.N. Climate Change conference later this year in Paris fast approaching, Zimbabwe’s climate change commitments face the slow progress on an issue that continues to stalk other developing countries – climate finance.

As it prepares for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21), Zimbabwe – like many others in the global South – is grappling with radical climate shifts that have seen devastating exchanges of floods and droughts every year, and still awaits green bailout funds from developed nations, with officials here telling IPS, “this support should come in the forms of technology.”

The country’s halting progress on the climate front is being blamed by local climate researchers on the country’s failure to invest in state-of-the-art climate monitoring technology. More still needs to be done as the country heads to Paris, says Sherpard Zvigadza, Programmes Manager, Climate Change and Energy, for the Harare-based ZERO Regional Environment Organisation (ZERO)."The country [Zimbabwe] needs to partner with those in the private sector who are making an effort to develop projects or reduce their footprint, and implement a reward-based strategy so that both individuals and corporates are encouraged to support the government’s policies" – Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa

“Zimbabwe should strengthen systematic observation, ensuring improved real-time observations and availability of meteorological data for research,” Zvigadza told IPS.

These concerns arise from what is seen here as repeated failure by the poorly-funded Meteorological Services Department to adequately monitor climate patterns and put in place effective early warning systems for disaster preparedness.

However, these constraints have not stopped Zimbabwe, which for the past two decades has seen a wilting of international financial support for crafting ambitious climate change interventions.

Recurrent climate-induced disasters have shown that this not the time to treat anything as “business as usual”, says Elisha Moyo, principal climate change researcher in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

And these efforts have brought together civic society organisations (CSOs), farmers and ordinary Zimbabweans in what is expected to shape the country’s negotiations in Paris.

CSOs point to the fact that Zimbabwe has been identified by GLOBE International, which brings together legislators from all over the world, as having on the most comprehensive environmental laws in southern Africa, and say that this should be a stimulus for helping the country make greater strides in climate governance.

According to a climate ministry brief issued last month, Zimbabwe’s climate policy seeks, among others, weather and climate modelling, vulnerability and adaptation assessments, mitigation and low carbon development.

However, as tall as these ambitions sound, the climate ministry has acknowledged that in the absence of adequate financing the country could still be far from meeting its United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) commitments.

“There is a need to expand current projects as well as develop new projects throughout the country for the country to position itself to be able to raise funding for these developments,” said Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, a Zimbabwe-based company established to facilitate the generation of carbon credits through validating Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects.

“The country needs to partner with those in the private sector who are making an effort to develop projects or reduce their footprint, and implement a reward-based strategy so that both individuals and corporates are encouraged to support the government’s policies,” Wentzel told IPS.

“If the country is serious about moving away from business as usual, awareness raising is key for all stakeholders, including the general population as well as industry,” Zvigadza told IPS. “A vigorous campaign is needed across the country. More importantly, Zimbabwe’s national climate change response strategy has to be operationalised so that the challenges are addressed according to different local circumstances.”

Yet, by the climate ministry’s own admission, progress has remained slow due to the continuing problem of lack of funds, which Moyo believes should be tapped from the richer nations.

“As Africa, and supported by other developing countries from other regions, we believe the rich countries have not yet shouldered a fair share of the burden and should lead by example, in terms of cutting emissions and also providing financial support to poorer nations as stated in the Climate Change Convention,” Moyo told IPS.

And Zimbabwe certainly does need the money. The climate ministry is already wallowing in reduced state funding after the Finance Ministry slashed its national budget from 93 million dollars in 2014 to 52 million this year.

Meanwhile, domestic economic considerations are one of the obstacles to implementation of the country’s troubled climate change policy. Despite seeking to promote clean energy, power generation is still largely fossil fuel-based, where instead of cutting emissions, relatively cheaper coal feeds power generation.

The climate ministry policy brief says the country needs to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production transmission and use”, but economic hardships have made this a tall order where millions also rely on highly-polluting firewood for fuel.

“We are compiling the “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and have been conducting consultations and data collection around the country especially with reference to the energy sector, which has a high potential of emission reductions through adoption of
renewable energy wherever possible,” Moyo told IPS.

INDCS are the post-2020 climate actions that countries say they will take under a new international agreement to be reached at COP21 in Paris, and to be submitted to the United Nations by September.

For its climate change ambitions to succeed, Zimbabwe must go back to the grassroots, says Wentzel, but unfortunately “there is a lack of knowledge of climate changes issues,” he told IPS.

As Washington Zhakata, Zimbabwe’s lead climate change negotiator put it: “The road to the Paris summit remains unclear with many stumbling blocks on the road.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall/feed/ 0
Nigeria to Balance GHG Emission Cuts with Development Peculiaritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 11:13:43 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141838 Flooding in Nigerian villages is just one of the effects of climate change that the country will have to address in drawing up its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) for the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December: Credit: Courtesy of NDWPD, 2011

Flooding in Nigerian villages is just one of the effects of climate change that the country will have to address in drawing up its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) for the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December: Credit: Courtesy of NDWPD, 2011

By Ini Ekott
LAGOS, Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

Nigeria seems in no haste to unveil its climate pledge with just four months to go before the U.N. Climate Conference scheduled for December in Paris.

However, unlike Gabon, Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya – the only African nations yet to submit their commitments – Nigeria has just commissioned a committee of experts to draw up targets and responses for its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs).

INDCS are the post-2020 climate actions that countries say they will take under a new international agreement to be reached at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, and to be submitted to the United Nations by September."The whole exercise [of preparing INDCs] will consider some priority sectors, look at the baseline and look at our needs for development and see what we can put on the table that we are going to strive to mitigate in terms of greenhouse gases” – Samuel Adejuwon, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment

Ahead of that date, Nigeria says its goals are clear: balancing post-2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cut projections with its development peculiarities, according to Samuel Adejuwon, deputy director of the Federal Ministry of Environment’s Department of Climate Change in Abuja.

Nigeria is Africa’s fourth largest emitter of CO2, and there is no doubt climate change is already a problem it faces.

From the north, encroachment of the Sahara is helping to fuel a bloody insurgency by the jihadist group Boko Haram, as well as resource conflict between farmers and pastoralists in its central region, while the rise in ocean levels and flooding are affecting the south.

In a report issued in October 2014, the Mapelcroft global analytics company said that Nigeria, along with Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines, were the countries facing the greatest risk of climate change-fuelled conflict today.

Nigeria’s hopes for slashing its emission levels as part of its INDCs face several tests.

One is that for an economy almost solely dependent on oil – which accounts for a major portion of its 500 billion dollar gross domestic product (GDP), Africa’s highest – the commitment it takes to Paris will reflect how jettisoning fossil fuel cannot be an urgent priority and why doing so will require significant time and resources.

“The whole exercise will consider some priority sectors, look at the baseline and look at our needs for development and see what we can put on the table that we are going to strive to mitigate in terms of greenhouse gases,” says Adejuwon.

Another test is Nigeria’s energy shortage. The country produces about 4,000 megawatts for 170 million people, leaving much of the population reliant on wood, charcoal and waste to fulfil household energy needs such as cooking, heating and lighting.

In 2014, Nigerians used at least 12 million litres of diesel and petrol every day to drive back-up generators, according to former power Minister Chinedu Nebo. The country’s daily petrol consumption (cars included) stands at about 40 million litres, according to the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Cutting the level of pollution that this consumption causes will require big investments in renewable and cleaner energy, says Professor Olukayode Oladipo, a climate change expert and one of three consultants drawing up the INDCs for the government.

Last year, former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the country needed 14 billion dollars each year in energy investments and related infrastructure.

Oladipo argues that the key to the issue lies in striking a balance between a future of lower greenhouse emissions and immediate developmental realities.

“Every country is now exploring how to use less energy … in an efficient manner, how to rely on renewable energy sources.” In Nigeria, we are looking at “how to be able to drive our economy through reduced energy consumption without actually reducing the rate at which our economy is growing.”

Last year, minister of power Chinedu Nebo said that while solar panels were welcome for use in shoring up generation in distant communities, the government will deploy coal in addition to the hydro power currently in use.

“There is no doubt that the potential is there. Clean coal technology can give us good electricity and minimum pollution at the same time,” he said.

Insecurity

Oladipo also stresses that besides fuel, Nigeria’s climate plans will focus on agriculture, partly to diversify from oil and also as a response to growing resource conflict.

“We are not saying it is the only determinant of crisis,” he says of climate change stoking conflict over resources, “but at least it is adding to the degree and the frequency of the occurrence of these conflicts.

Apart from Boko Haram activities in the north which have been responsible for at least 20,000 deaths, clashes between pastoralists and farmers over land has killed thousands in Nigeria’s central region in recent years.

In the latest attack in May this year, herdsmen from the Fulani tribe slaughtered at least 96 people in the central state of Benue, Nigeria’s Punch newspaper reported.

The government agrees that climate change is one of the causes of the frequent bloodletting, alongside factors like urbanisation, but not much has been done to address the problem.

Oladipo says he believes that Nigeria’s new leader, Muhammadu Buhari, will do more to address fundamental climate change issues, point out that in his inaugural address on May 29, Buhari pledged to be a more “forceful and constructive player in the global fight against climate change.”

However, Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation argues that proposals put forward by Nigeria and Africa can barely be achieved if the developed nations – the biggest polluters – fail to act more to meet their commitments and cut down on their emissions.

“Nigeria should insist that industrialised nations cut emissions at source and not place the burden on vulnerable nations,” says Bassey.

Urging action from those nations, including the United States, will form a key element of Nigerian and African INDCs, adds Oladipo.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities/feed/ 0
‘Permaculture the African Way’ in Cameroon’s Only Eco-Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 08:16:10 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141834 Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

Marking a shift away from the growing trend of abandoning sustainable life styles and drifting from traditional customs and routines, Joshua Konkankoh is a Cameroonian farmer with a vision – that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming.

Konkankoh, who left a job with the government to pursue that vision, founded Better World Cameroon, which works to develop local sustainable agricultural strategies that utilise indigenous knowledge systems for mitigating food crises and extreme poverty, and is now running Cameroon’s first and only eco-village – the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

“Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs. Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage” – Joshua Konkankoh
Talking with IPS, Konkankoh explained how the eco-village organically fertilises soil through the planting and pruning of nitrogen-fixing trees planted on farms where mixed cropping is practised. When the trees mature, the middles are cut out and the leaves used as compost. The trees are then left to regenerate and the same procedure is repeated the following season.

“Here we train youths and farmers on permanent agriculture or permaculture,” he said. “I call it ‘permaculture the African way’ because the concept was coined by scientists and we are adapting it to our old ways of farming and protecting the environment.”

While government is keeping its distance from the project, Konkankoh said that local councils and traditional rulers are encouraging people to embrace the initiative, which is said to be ecologically, socially, economically and spiritually friendly.

“I was active during the U.N. Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. In studying the reason why many countries failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we realised that there were some gaps but we also found out that permaculture was a solution to sustainability, especially in Africa. So I felt we could contextualize the concept – think globally and act locally.”

The permaculture used at the eco-village makes maximum use of limited agricultural land, and villagers are taught how to plant more than one crop on the same piece of land, use a common organic fertiliser and obtain high yields.

Farmers, said Konkankoh, are encouraged to trade and not seek aid, to benefit from their investment and prevent middlemen and multinationals from scooping up a large share of their earnings. The organic agriculture practised and taught in the eco-village is a blend of culture and fair trade initiatives.

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

“We encourage rural farmers to guarantee food sovereignty by producing what they also consume directly and not cash crops like cocoa and coffee.”

Farmers are trained in the importance of manure, of producing it and selling it to other farmers, as well in innovative techniques of erosion control, water management, windbreaks, inter-cropping and food foresting.

Konkankoh also told IPS that it was a mistake to have left the spiritual principle out of the MDG programme. “Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs.  Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage.”

The eco-village has started a project to replant spiritual forests with 4,000 medicinal and fruit trees in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions.

Fon Abumbi II, traditional ruler of Bafut, the village which hosts the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village, believes that the type of cultivation of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants used by the eco-village will improve the health of local people.

He is also convinced that with many firms around the world producing health care products with natural herbs, the demand for the products of the eco-village is high, guaranteeing a promising future for the villagers who cultivate them.

Houses in the eco-village are constructed with local materials such as earth bags and mud bricks, and grass for the roofs. Domestic appliances such as ovens and stoves are earthen and homemade.

Sonita Mbah Neh, project administrator at eco-village’s demonstration centre, said that the earthen stoves bit not only reduce the impact of climate change by minimising the use of wood for combustion but the local women who make then also earn a living by selling them.

Lanci Abel, mayor of the Bafut municipality, told IPS that his council is mobilising citizens to embrace permaculture. “You know, when an idea is new, people only embrace it when it is recommended by authorities. We are carrying out communication and sensitisation of the population to return to traditional methods of farming as taught at the eco-village.”

Abel also had something to say about the performance of genetically modified plantain seedlings planted by the Ministry of Agriculture at the start of the 2015 farming season in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, which recorded a miserable 30 percent yield.

The issue had been raised by Mbanya Bolevie, a member of parliament from the region who asked Minister of Agriculture Essimi Menye about the failure of the modern seeds during the June session of parliament.

Julbert Konango, Littoral Regional Delegate for the Chamber of Agriculture, said the failure was due the fact that seeds are often old because “there is inadequate finance for agricultural research organisations in Cameroon as well as a shortage of engineers in the sector,” a sign that the country not fully prepared for second-generation agriculture.

Commenting on the incident, Abel said that citizens using natural seeds and compost would not have faced these problems, adding that “besides the possibility of failure of chemical fertilisers, they also pollute the soil.”

The eco-village, which would like to become a model for Cameroon and West Africa, is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village/feed/ 0
Belo Monte Dam Marks a Before and After for Energy Projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:20:19 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141821 A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, complaints have rained down from all sides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/feed/ 0
‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:51:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141818 Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/feed/ 0
Kenyan Pastoralists Fighting Climate Change Through Food Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 23:56:14 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141811 Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
SAMBURU, Kenya, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Sipian Lesan bends to attend to the Vangueria infausta or African medlar plant that he planted almost two years ago. He takes great care not to damage the soft, velvety, acorn-shaped buds of this hardy and drought-resistant plant. ”All over here it is dry,” says the 51-year-old Samburu semi-nomadic pastoralist.

“We hope that every manyatta [homestead] will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest" – Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest
Sipian is from Lekuru, a remote village located in the lower ranges of the Samburu Hills, an area dotted by Samburu homesteads commonly known as ‘manyattas’, some 358 km north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Here, the small villages are hot and arid, dominated by thorny acacia and patches of bare red earth that signify overgrazed land.

Samburu County is one of the regions in Kenya ravaged by recurrent drought, with most of the population living below the poverty line.

Climate change has made pastoralism an increasingly unsustainable livelihood option, leaving many households in Samburu without access to a daily meal, let alone a balanced diet.

“Animals have and will continue to die due to severe drought,” said Joshua Leparashau, a Samburu community leader. “The community still wants to hold on to the concept that having many livestock is a source of pride. This must change. If we as a community do not become proactive in curbing the menace, then we must be prepared for nature to destroy us without any mercy.”

As he looks after his fruit-producing sapling, Sipian tells IPS that some decades ago, before people he calls “greedy” started felling trees to satisfy the growing demand for indigenous forest products, his community used to feed on their readily available wild fruits during extreme hunger.

Now, through a concept new to them – dubbed food or garden forest, and brought to Kenya by Israeli environmentalist Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest, an organisation dedicated to ecological revival and sustainable living work – the locals here are adopting planting of trees and shrubs that are favourable to the harsh local weather in their manyattas.

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

On a voluntary mission to help alleviate the degraded land and food insecurity in this part of northern Kenya, Rozin said that his vision would be to see at least each manyatta owning a food forest.

“The rate at which the community is embracing the concept is positive,” he said. “We hope that every manyatta will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest.”

However, the work of Sadhana Forest is not limited to forestation, as 35-year-old Resinoi Ewapere, who has eight children, explained.

“I used to leave early in the morning in search of water and return after noon. My children frequently missed school owing to the shortage of water and food.” But this daily routine came to an end after Sadhana Forest drilled a borehole from which water is now pumped using green energy – a combined windmill and solar energy system.

“Apart from the training we receive on planting fruit-producing trees and practising low-cost permaculture farming, we currently receive water from this centre at no cost,” Ewapere told IPS.

According to Rozin, Sadhana Forest’s initiative to help the Samburu community plant the 18 species of indigenous fruit trees which are drought-resistant and rich in nutrients is also part of a major conservation effort in that the combination of “small-scale food security and conservation of indigenous trees. will also create a linkage between people and trees and they will protect them.”

“We produce the seedlings and then supply them to the locals at no charge for them to plant in their manyattas,” said Rozin. Then, with careful management of the land and water-harvesting structures (swales or ditches dug on contours), water is fed directly into the plants.

The quality of the soil on the swales is improved by planting nitrogen-fixing plants such as beans, while the soil is watered and covered with mulch to prevent evaporation, thus remaining fertile.

One of the tree species being planted to create the food forests is Afzelia africana or African oak, the fruits of which are said to be rich in proteins and iron.  Its seed flour is used for baking. Another species is Moringa stenopetala, known locally as ‘mother’s helper’ because its fruit helps increase milk in lactating mothers and reduces malnutrition among infants.

“Residents here understand that their semi-nomadic life has to be slightly adjusted for survival,” noted George Obondo, coordinator of the NGO Coordination Board, who played a role in ensuring that Sadhana received 50,000 dollars from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to jump start its Samburu project.

The money was used to set up a training centre with over 35 volunteers from various countries, including Haiti, to train locals and at the same time produce seedlings, and to build the green energy system for pumping water from the borehole it drilled.

“Things are changing,” said Obondo, “and Samburus know that their lifestyle needs to be altered and also tied to greater dependence on plant growing and not just livestock.” This is why the Sadhana Forest initiative is important, he added, because it is training people and giving them the knowledge and ability to create the resilience that they will need to avoid a harsh future.

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests/feed/ 0
Central America Fails to Take Advantage of Energy from Sun, Wind and Earthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:00:02 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141781 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/feed/ 0 One Tune, Different Hymns – Tackling Climate Change in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:43:41 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141772 Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

Anti-nuclear energy activists are up in arms, and have taken to vigils outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town to protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear development.

The protest has been building since September 2014 when Zuma struck a deal with Russia’s Rossatom to build up to eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. The stations would cost the country around 1 trillion South African rands (84 billion dollars).

As the protests mount, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), an interdenominational faith-based environment initiative led by Bishop Geoff Davies, has said the government’s nuclear policy is not only foolish but immoral.“SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country [South Africa] and lead to further energy impoverishment” – Liziwe McDaid, energy advisor for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute

SAFCEI is demanding that the government take a fresh look at its drive for nuclear energy, and the call has found resonance among clean energy civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa.

Although CSOs and government agree in the need to tackle climate change urgently, they differ on core issues as South Africa prepares for the U.N. Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris in December.

“We believe that adaptation needs to be given greater emphasis,” says Liziwe McDaid, SAFCEI’s energy advisor. “Building the capacity of affected and vulnerable communities to respond to climate change must be a priority,” she adds.

For mitigation, argues McDaid, a much greater rollout of renewable energy is the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future.

As a participant in the country’s National Climate Change dialogues, she says that SAFCEI shares the aspiration for responsible climate change and “we are in agreement with government on many of the priorities as outlined in the White Paper.”

South Africa’s White Paper seeks to prioritise climate change responses that have huge adaptation benefits, imply significant economic growth and job creation, and are responsive to public health and risk management.

However, stresses McDaid, when it comes to nuclear energy, “SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country and lead to further energy impoverishment.”

Dissenting voices

Meanwhile, David Hallowes researcher and editor of Slow Poison for groundWork, another climate change pressure group, feels there is no consensus between the government and the CSOs ahead of the crucial Paris meeting.

South Africa is not doing enough on adaptation, said Hallowes. “Government is still allowing mining and industry to poison water and land in key catchments and agricultural areas,” he told IPS, adding that the result is that climate impacts will be amplified.

The same plants and developments that are driving climate change are poisoning and killing people, animals and plants that are in the path of pollution, “so the people’s struggles for an environment not harmful to their health and wellbeing are also climate struggles.”

According to Hallowes, “there are different views on what can be achieved with renewable energy. We (groundWork) do not think it can power infinite economic growth and hence we do not believe it can sustain a capitalist economy. In the short term, we think we should be looking for a reduction in energy consumption. The question is who gets it for what.”

Referring to South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, which some say proves the benefits of privatisation, he also pointed to differences over nationalisation or privatisation.

“We think we should have a programme that creates democratic ownership and control of renewable energy at different levels from community or settlement, to municipality to national. We call it energy sovereignty.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa calls it social ownership. It’s the same thing.”

The groundWork researcher said that CSOs want to see an end to new coal developments, such as new mines or power stations. “I think everyone agrees but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For some, it’s just a matter of jobs. We think it means the transformation of the economy towards equality and freedom that is democratic control rather than plutocratic control.”

Muna Lakhani, founder and national coordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA), is equally concerned that government is not doing enough to fight climate change.

“Our government sees too much of ‘business as usual’ and is very lax in implementing even the minimal legislation, such as air quality permits, carbon taxes and the like,” he says.

According to Lakhani, CSOs are mostly united on key issues, such as the call for no more fossil fuel, a bigger push for renewables, and promoting local resilience especially of poorer communities and the generally disadvantaged.

Government role

Leluma Matooane, director of Earth Systems Science at Department of Science and Technology (DST) says the Department of Environmental Affairs has the responsibility to implement the country’s National Climate Change Response Policy but that the DST has taken a leadership and coordinating role in climate change research and in ensuring that the country’s responses to climate change are informed by robust science.

Under DST’s 10-Year Innovation Plan, argues Matooane, more focus is being placed on improving the scientific understanding of the drivers, impacts and risks of climate change, as well as on technological innovations the country may need to allow vulnerable sectors of the economy and society at large to adapt.

While views may differ on how to deal with climate change, notes the DST official, government has allowed the setting up of a multi-stakeholder grouping in which government has been joined by the private sector and civil society to discuss solutions.

Discussions in this grouping, he adds, influence and shape the country’s position in international debates and there is a deliberate attempt to have South Africa’s representatives deliver the similar position and messages at different platforms.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa/feed/ 0
Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/feed/ 0
Kenya’s Climate Change Bill Aims to Promote Low Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 16:33:27 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141763 A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change.  Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Alexander Muyekhi, a construction worker from Ebubayi village in the heart of Vihiga County in Western Kenya, and his school-going children can now enjoy a tiny solar kit supplied by the British-based Azuri Technologies to light their house and play their small FM radio.

This has saved the family from use of kerosene tin-lamps, which are dim and produce unfriendly smoke, but many other residents in the village – and elsewhere in the country – are not so lucky because they cannot afford the 1000 shillings (10 dollars) deposit for the kit, and 80 weekly instalments of 120 shillings (1.2 dollars).

“Such climate-friendly kits are very important, particularly for the rural poor,” said Philip Kilonzo, Technical Advisor for Natural Resources & Livelihoods at ActionAid International Kenya. “But for families who survive on less than a dollar per day, it becomes a tall order for them to pay the required deposit, as well as the weekly instalments.”“Once it [Climate Change Bill] becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth” - Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, Kenyan MP

It was due to such bottlenecks that Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of parliament for Emuhaya constituency in Western Kenya, and chair of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, moved a motion in parliament to enact a Climate Change Bill, which has already been discussed, and is now being subjected to public scrutiny before becoming law.

“Once it becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth,” said Ottichilo.

While Kenya makes a low net contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the country’s Draft National Climate Change Framework Policy notes that a significant number of priority development initiatives will impact on the country’s levels of emissions.

In collaboration with development partners, the country is already investing in increased geothermal electricity in the energy sector to counter this situation, switching movement of freight from road to rail in the transport sector, reforestation in the forestry sector, and agroforestry in the agricultural sector.

“With a legal framework in place, it will be possible to increase such projects that are geared towards mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” said Ottichilo.

The Climate Change Bill seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change, to facilitate and enhance response to climate change and to provide guidance and measures for achieving low carbon climate-resilient development.

“We received the Bill from the National Assembly towards the end of March, we studied it for possible amendments, and we subjected it to public scrutiny as required by the constitution before it was read in the senate for the second time on Jul. 22, 2015,” Ekwee Ethuro, Speaker of the Senate, told IPS.

“After this, we are going to return it to the National Assembly so that it can be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.”

The same bill was first rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki on the grounds that there had been a lack of public involvement in its creation. “We are very careful this time not to repeat the same mistake,” said Ethuro.

Under the law, a National Climate Change Council is to be set up which, among others, will coordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies, and make them available to the public.

“This law is a very important tool for civil society and all other players because it will give us an opportunity to manage and even fund-raise for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects,” said, John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG).

Evidence of climate change in Kenya is based on statistical analysis of trends in historical records of temperature, rainfall, sea level rise, mountain glacier coverage, and climate extremes.

Temperature and rainfall records from the Kenya Meteorological Department over the last 50 years provide clear evidence of climate change in Kenya, with temperatures generally showing increasing trends in many parts of the country starting from the early 1960s. This has also been confirmed by data in the State of the Environment reports published by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

As a result, the country now experiences prolonged droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, floods, landslides and many more effects of climate change, which experts say will worsen with time.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Kenya’s landmass is either arid or semi-arid, making the country even more vulnerable to climate change, whose impacts cut across diverse aspects of society, economy, health and the environment.

“We seek to embrace climate-friendly food production systems such as use of greenhouses, we need to minimise post-harvest losses and food wastages, and we need to adapt to new climate friendly technologies,” said Ottichilo. “All these will work very well for us once we have a supporting legal environment.”

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth/feed/ 0
Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/feed/ 0
Multilingualism Opens Doors to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:59:22 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141749 Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

On Friday, 67 student essay winners from 42 different countries convened at the United Nations General Assembly to present their essays at the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum.

The students were selected as winners of the Many Languages, One World International Essay Contest among a pool of over 1,250 participants.

Participating students were required to write a 2,000-word essay on a topic related to the post-2015 development agenda in any of the official U.N. languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – the condition being that the language chosen was not the participant’s first language or primary language of instruction during pre-university study.

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language.

The idea behind the contest, organised by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, is to pay tribute to the impact and value of multilingualism and promote dialogue and debate with and among young people on the post-2015 development agenda.

“Multilingualism is a basic free condition for global citizenship because it enables citizens to understand the perspectives of other people in their languages as well as in their own. It is the only way to truly communicate with other people and reach a common understanding which is the basis for dialogue, debate, argumentation and reaching compromise,” Mark W. Harris, President and CEO of ELS Educational Services, said in his opening remarks.

Addressing the student winners of the contest, Hossein Maleki, Rapporteur of the U.N. General Assembly Committee on Information and First Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Iran to the U.N., added: “As winners of this contest on multilingualism, you embody key values of the United Nations. Implicit in the concept of multilingualism is respect for the plurality of civilisations and the necessity of dialogue between them.”

“When we reach to people in a language that is not our own, the whole world opens up to us.”

For the presentation of their essays, the students were divided up into six groups, according to the U.N. language in which they submitted their essay.

Each language group covered a different topic related to the post-2015 development framework, ranging from education, health, sustainable economic growth, inclusiveness and justice to water management and sanitation as well as nutrition and food security.

Among the numerous ideas and recommendations put forth by the students, emphasis was placed on the increased use of technology as a tool to reach rural areas, the value of scholarships and academic contests to encourage student performance and achievement, the added-value of healthy and sustainable lifestyles, including fair and just working conditions and the way individual consumer decisions can ultimately make a difference.

 Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/feed/ 0
Faith Leaders Issue Global “Call to Conscience” on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:36:34 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141742 Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“We received a garden as our home, and we must not turn it into a wilderness for our children.”

These words by Cardinal Peter Turkson summed up the appeal launched by dozens of religious leaders and “moral” thinkers at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a one-day gathering in Paris earlier this week aimed at mobilising action ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) scheduled to take place in the French capital in just over four months.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course [over climate change] is our minds and hearts” – Cardinal Peter Turkson, an adviser for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change
“Our prayerful wish is that governments will be as committed at COP 21 as we are here,” said Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the advisers for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, released in June.

With the theme of “Why Do I Care”, the Summit of Conscience drew participants from around the globe, representing the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – and other faiths and movements.

Government representatives also joined activists from environmental groups, indigenous communities and the arts sector to call for an end to the world’s “throw-away consumerist culture” and the “disastrous indifference to the environment”, as Turkson put it.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course is our minds and hearts,” he said, after pointing out that “climate change is being borne by those who have contributed least to it”.

The summit was used to highlight an international “Call to Conscience for the climate” and to launch a new organisation called ‘Green Faith in Action’, aimed at raising awareness about environmental and sustainable development issues among adherents of different religions.

Participants drew up a letter that will be delivered to the 195 state parties at COP 21, signed by summit speakers including Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, Sufi Master of the Alawiya in Algeria; Rajwant Singh, director of an international network called Eco Sikh; and Nigel Savage, president of the Jewish environmental organisation Hazon.

Voicing the concerns of religious groups and faith leaders, the letter is equally a reflection of the challenges faced by indigenous communities, who made their voices heard in Paris, describing attacks on their territories and way of life by the petroleum industry, for example.

“We’re not some kind of folkloric tradition, we’re living beings,” said Valdelice Veron, spokesperson of the Guarani-Kaoiwa people of Brazil, who delivered her speech in traditional dress.

She and other indigenous delegates spoke of their culture also being decimated by the practice of mono-cropping, where large soybean plantations are causing ecological damage.

“We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard,” Patricia Gualinga, a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told IPS.

“We share all the concerns about the climate and we too are being affected in many different ways,” she said.

Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy who spoke near the end of the summit, said the participants’ appeal was “first and foremost, an appeal for action”.

“Climate change should be considered as an opportunity – for business, technology, [and other sectors],” Royal said. “We need to pave the way together.”

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand  together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Samantha Smith, leader of the “Global Climate and Energy Initiative” at green group WWF, the Summit of Conscience reflected a “really big and unprecedented social mobilisation” of civil society, which she hopes will continue beyond COP 21.

“When I read the latest climate science report, it keeps me awake at night. But when I see the mobilisation and the strength of the conviction, I’m optimistic,” Smith said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

“Now is not the time to focus on where we disagree. Now is the time to work together,” she added.

But not everyone is invited to the same table – the alliances do not necessarily extend to companies in the fossil fuel industry, said Smith.

“When I say that we need to be united, it doesn’t mean that we need to be united with the fossil fuel industry,” Smith told IPS. “That is an industry which has contributed vastly to the problem and so far is not showing a very substantial contribution to the solution.”

The business sector, including oil producers, held their own conference in May, titled the Business & Climate Summit. At that event, which also took place in Paris, around 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wished to see this achieved at COP 21.

Then at the beginning of July, hundreds of local authority representatives, civil society members and other “non-state actors” took part in the World Summit on Climate & Territories in Lyon, France.

There, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius increase “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonisation of the world economy scenario”.

The scientific community also held their meeting on climate this month at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

At most of these conferences, French president François Hollande has been a keynote speaker, reiterating his message that the stakes are high and that governments need to show commitment to reach a legally binding, global accord at COP 21, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

“We need everyone’s commitment to reach this accord,” Hollande said at the Summit of Conscience. “We need the heads of state and government … local actors, businesses. But we also need the citizens of the world.”

Even as he delivered his speech, another conference on the climate was taking place – at the Vatican, with the mayors of about 60 cities meeting with Pope Francis to formulate a pledge on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayors from around the world will meet again, in Paris during COP 21, through an initiative organised by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and by Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York. Billed as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, this meeting will be held Dec. 4 and should bring together 1,000 mayors.

A question that some observers have been asking, however, is how does one cut through all the grandiose and repetitive speeches at these incessant “summits” and get to real, sustainable action?

Nicolas Hulot, the “Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet” and the main organiser of the Summit of Conscience, said he has faced similar queries.

“I’ve been asked ‘what is this going to be useful for’,” he said. “But a light has emerged today, and I hope it will light us up.”

Hulot sought to encourage indigenous groups and others who had travelled from South America, Africa and other regions to Paris for the event, promising them continued support.

“Don’t you doubt the fact that we’re all involved, and we’ll never give in to despair,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody hears your message because we heard it.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/feed/ 1
New Plan Would Aggravate the Troubles of Chile’s Beleaguered Pensionershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:51:40 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141734 A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The already precarious situation of pensioners in Chile will get even worse if a controversial initiative is approved. Under the new plan, the elderly would mortgage their homes to increase their meagre pensions, most of which come from prívate pension funds, and which average 230 dollars a month.

“This plan is a ruse, a dirty trick,” Nuvia Zambrano, a pensioner, told IPS. “If we can hardly survive on our pensions, how could we afford the mortgage payments? Our homes would be left to the banks,” said the former high school biology teacher who retired 10 years ago.

The reverse mortgage plan, presented by opposition legislators and backed by governing coalition lawmakers, would create a contract between the homeowner and a government institution. Based on the value of the property, and the calculation of the owner’s life expectancy, the period for payment and monthly payments until the end of their life would be set.

The pensioners would continue to live in their homes until they died. After that, their heirs could buy back the property for the amount already paid or hand it over to finish paying off the mortgage.

But experts say the new plan would create “a new psychological burden for older adults,” who already live their last years in debt and with pensions that in many cases do not cover the cost of living.

Chile’s pension system, based on mandatory individual retirement accounts, was introduced in 1981 by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Under the system, workers deposit at least 10 percent of their wages into personal accounts managed by private pension funds (AFPs).

The capital is then invested in shares in large companies and banks in Chile or abroad, which generate returns.

According to the Fundación Sol, a labour think tank, the pension funds have earned more than 5.8 bilion dollars so far, from the lucrative business of mandatory individual accounts.“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway.” -- Nuvia Zambrano

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 pensioners in Chile receive less than 230 dollars a month, equivalent to 66 percent of the monthly mínimum wage of 373 dollars, according to the respected think tank.

Prior to the pension reform, Chile had a public pay-as-you-go system.

“Back then they said the new system was wonderful,” Marianela Zambrano, Nuvia’s sister, told IPS. “I was just coming back from exile in Denmark and didn’t have much idea of how it worked.

“Now I know it’s the theft of a century, a disgusting theft, an injustice,” she said angrily.

The 62-year-old English teacher who worked for over 30 years receives a pension today of just 334 dollars a month. Her rent payment alone eats up 186 dollars.

“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway,” she said, bitterly.

Today, only a handful of countries have pension systems similar to Chile’s: Dominican Republic, Israel, Nigeria, Maldives, Malawi, Kosovo and Australia – although Australia ensures a basic pension of 1,000 dollars a month for many of the country’s older adults.

Among Chile’s neighbours, Argentina switched back from a mixed system to a traditional pay-as-you-go scheme, in 2008.

Uruguay, meanwhile, has a mixed system consisting of a public pay-as-you-go regime combined with individual accounts. It was modified in 2005 though a labour reform, which increased wages and gave trade unions a stronger role.

In Chile, on the other hand, the system put in place by the dictatorship in 1981 has been operating for 35 years and the democratic governments that have ruled the country since 1990 have shown no intention of modifying it.

The centre-left governments, including the current administration headed by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, and the administration of her right-wing predecessor Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), only introduced measures to ensure pensions for those excluded by the AFPs.

“This system has been tremendously successful with regard to one objective: financing the economy, injecting fresh capital to capitalise companies or economic groups,” Fundación Sol economist Gonzalo Durán told IPS.

In this South American country of 17.5 million people, women retire at the age of 60 and men at 65. But in practice, both men and women tend to work until at least the age of 70.

The prívate pension funds determine life expectancy, which varies depending on gender and other factors, using actuarial life tables.

Life expectancy in Chile stands at 83 years for women and 76 for men, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But according to the AFPs, Chilean women have a life expectancy of 89 and men, 85.

Each pensioner’s projected lifespan, and the resulting number of monthly payments, are calculated according to the life table. Their heirs can later inherit a monthly pension, which the AFP determines based on what is left of the pensioner’s lifelong savings. That depends on factors such as the educational level of the sons and daughters.

According to the Superintendencia de Pensiones, the government agency that oversees the pension funds, in December 2014 nearly seven of every 10 Chileans between the ages of 55 and 60 had roughly 31,000 dollars in their individual accounts – an amount that does not ensure a pension of over 155 dollars a month.

“The pension system plays a major role in the concentration of income and the problem of inequality, which we have to hold a debate about,” said Durán.

He added that the system is a key component of Chile’s neoliberal model.

Durán said the private pension fund system is not meeting the goal of providing social security in Chile, where the estimated cost of a family’s basic needs is 264 dollars a month, and medications can cost three times what they cost in Argentina or Peru.

As a result, older adults are impoverished and have no choice but to continue working after retirement to compensate for their small pensions. They are also in debt.

The most important reform of Chile’s pension system was carried out in 2008, during President Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010). It benefited the poorest 60 percent of the elderly. Her administration introduced a 133-dollar a month public pension for people who never paid into a retirement scheme, such as street vendors, the self-employed, homemakers or small farmers. In addition, the lowest pensions were topped up.

This scenario “is suspicious,” said Durán, because while pensions are low, “the system brings big benefits to prívate companies” – unlike a pay-as-you-go scheme.

“There is a legitimate suspicion that they don’t want to change the system in order not to deprive the companies of the profits they are earning. If that turns out to be true, it’s very serious,” he said.

For now the government says it will not back the controversial bill. But the lawmakers who are behind it say they will continue to push for it to be passed. And it has support on both sides of the political spectrum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-plan-would-aggravate-the-troubles-of-chiles-beleaguered-pensioners/feed/ 0
Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141731 In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

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

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/feed/ 1
Africa Advised to Take DIY Approach to Climate Resiliencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 11:14:19 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141716 Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

By Fabiola Ortiz
PARIS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future  generations instead of relying only on foreign aid.

This was one of the messages that rang out during the international scientific conference on ‘Our Common Future under Climate Change’ held earlier this month in Paris, six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), also to be held in Paris, that is supposed to pave the way for a global agreement to keep the rise in the Earth’s temperature under 2°C.African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future generations instead of relying only on foreign aid

Africa is already feeling climate change effects on a daily basis, according to Penny Urquhart from South Africa, an independent specialist and one of the lead authors of the 5th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Projections suggest that temperature rise on the continent will likely exceed 2°C by 2100 with land temperatures rising faster than the global land average. Scientific assessments agree that Africa will also face more climate changes in the future, with extreme weather events increasing in terms of frequency, intensity and duration.

“Most sub-Saharan countries have high levels of climate vulnerability,” Urquhart told IPS. “Over the years, people became good at adapting to those changes but what we are seeing is increasing risks associated with climate change as this becomes more and more pressing.”

Although data monitoring systems are still poor and sparse over the region, “we do know there is an increase in temperature,” she added, warning that if the global average temperature increases by 2°C by the end of the century, this will be experienced as if it had increased by 4°C in Southern Africa, stated Urquhart.

According to the South African expert, vulnerability to climate variation is very context-specific and depends on people’s exposure to the impacts, so it is hard to estimate the number of people affected by global warming on the continent.

However, IPCC says that of the estimated 800 million people who live in Africa, more than 300 million survive in conditions of water scarcity, and the numbers of people at risk of increased water stress on the continent is projected to be 350-600 million by 2050.

In some areas, noted Urquhart, it is not easy to predict what is happening with the rainfall. “In the Horn of Africa region the observations seem to be showing decreasing rainfall but models are projecting increasing rainfall.”

There have been extreme weather events along the Western coast of the continent, while Mozambique has seen an increase in cyclones that lead to flooding. “Those are the sum of trends that we are seeing,” Urquhart, “drying mostly along the West and increase precipitations in the East of Africa”.

For Edith Ofwona, senior programme specialist of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate variation in Africa is agriculture – the backbone of most African economies – and this could have direct negative impacts on food security.

“The biggest challenge,” she said, “is how to work with communities not only to cope with short-term impacts but actually to be able to adapt and be resilient over time. We should come up with practical solutions that are affordable and built on the knowledge that communities have.”

Experts agree that any measure to address climate change should be responsive to social needs, particularly where severe weather events risk uprooting communities from their homelands by leaving families with no option but to migrate in search of better opportunities.

This new phenomenon has created what it is starting to be called “climate migrants”, said Ofwona.

Climate change could also exacerbate social conflicts that are aggravated by other drivers such as competition over resources and land degradation. According to the IDRC expert, “you need to consider the multi-stress nature of poverty on people’s livelihoods … and while richer people may be able to adapt, poor people will struggle.”

Ofwona said that the key is to combine scientific evidence with what communities themselves know, and make it affordable and sustainable. “It is important to link science to society and make it practical to be able to change lives and deal with the challenges people face, especially in addressing food security requirements.”

Meanwhile, she added, consciousness in Africa of the impacts of climate change is “fairly high” – some countries have already defined their own climate policies and strategies, and others have green growth strategies with low carbon and sustainable development.

Stressing the critical role that African nations themselves play in terms of creating the right environmental policy, Ofwona said that they should be protagonists in dealing with climate impacts and not only passive in receiving international help.

African governments should provide some of the funding that will be needed to implement adaptation and mitigation projects and while “we can also source internationally, to some extent we need to contribute with our own money. While the consciousness is high, the extent of the commitment is not equally high.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience/feed/ 0
Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Younghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141710 A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/feed/ 0
Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/feed/ 0
Goats Take the Bite Out of Climate Change in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/goats-take-the-bite-out-of-climate-change-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=goats-take-the-bite-out-of-climate-change-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/goats-take-the-bite-out-of-climate-change-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 09:11:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141691 Many Zimbabweans are turning to raising small livestock like goats which survive dry conditions to avert climate change impacts that have claimed their cattle over the years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Many Zimbabweans are turning to raising small livestock like goats which survive dry conditions to avert climate change impacts that have claimed their cattle over the years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With unusually hot and dry weather beating down on this Southern African nation, climate change and the accompanying drought have cost farmers much of their cattle herds. In response, many ranchers are turning to goats to preserve their livestock assets.

Climate change experts agree that breeding drought-tolerant animals like goats, which survive on shrubs and need less manpower to tend, is a better choice than high-maintenance cattle.

This is happening at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to take urgent action to combat climate change and manage its impact as part of the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are a universal set of 17 goals, targets and indicators that U.N. member states are expected to use as development benchmarks in framing their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.“With rainfall patterns fluctuating in Zimbabwe, rearing cattle is becoming unsustainable. But breeding goats, which are drought-tolerant, can be much more rewarding” – Happison Chikova, an independent Zimbabwean environment and climate change expert

“With rainfall patterns fluctuating in Zimbabwe, rearing cattle is becoming unsustainable.  But breeding goats, which are drought-tolerant, can be much more rewarding,” Happison Chikova, an independent environment and climate change expert, who holds a degree in geography and environmental studies from Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, told IPS.

“Plans are imminent to boost production of goats in Zimbabwe’s dry regions where small livestock like goats thrive and we have identified meat export markets in countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria and the Middle East, where goat meat is a delicacy,” Chrispen Kadiramwando,  president of the Goat Breeders Association of Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Official statistics from the country’s Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development show that there are approximately 136,000 goat breeders countrywide, ranging from ordinary communal goat breeders to peri-urban goat breeders.

Livias Ncube, from the country’s Region 5, the hottest part of the country in Mwenezi district, is one of the Zimbabweans who have shifted to goat-breeding, raising and selling.

“There are hardly adequate rains in this part of the country, which is the driest area here in Zimbabwe, but I don’t use any stock feeds to nourish my goats as they adapt to the conditions, and they are even fatter,” Ncube told IPS.

Besides selling the goats locally, Ncube told IPS that he has now become an exporter of goat meat to neighbouring countries like South Africa and Mozambique.

“Although I maintain a sizeable herd of cattle after a series of droughts here which killed many cows, I now have a flock of 130 goats and I’m also earning money through selling these goats,” Ncube told IPS.

Ncube said he earns an estimated 1600 dollars each month through goat selling, with each goat trading at around 70 dollars.  His goats multiply at a faster pace than cows in spite of the dry conditions in this region.

Through the Zimbabwe Livestock for Accelerated Recovery and Improved Resiliency (ZRR) programme, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ncube learned how to manage and market his goats to improve their livelihoods.

ZRR is a programme that provides farmers with training in goat husbandry and health management, and trains community livestock workers on preventative and curative animal health techniques.

According to a research paper by the Matobo Research station on goat breeding and development activities in Zimbabwe, there are already more than two million goats in Zimbabwe, with nearly all goats (about 98 percent) reared in communal areas.

However, agricultural experts fear that indigenous goat breeders are not realising the monetary value vested in their small livestock.

“Thousands of farmers are into goat breeding here, but few have been able to ascertain the value in their animals due to lack of adequate information flow between the goat producers and the market, resulting in rural farmers ending up engaging in barter trade thereby stifling the commercialisation of goats,” Leonard Vazungu, a government agricultural extension officer, told IPS.

At the beginning of this year, the Zimbabwean government distributed 10,000 goats for breeding stock and aims to increase the number to 44 million by 2018.

This comes at a time when this Southern African nation’s cattle population has declined from 6.8 million in 2000 to the current 5.2 million.

“Investing in small livestock like goats, which have higher chances of survival in drought-prone areas, cautions the country against livestock loss,” Barnabas Mawire, country director for Environment Africa, told journalists a climate change workshop held this month in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

But this may not be easy without a national climate change policy.

Earlier this year, citing Zimbabwe’s growing climate change effects, non-constituency parliamentarian Annastancia Ndlovu pushed a motion for the formulation of a national climate change policy in the National Assembly.

Ndlovu is chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

For Zimbabwe, financial shortfalls have not made the war against climate change any easier.

“The drop in government funding for climate change means we must work with other partners to move the climate change agenda forward and we are currently developing the national climate policy – the country’s first for which we need as many resources as we can get,” Veronica Gundu, principal environment officer for Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water and Climate ministry, told IPS.

However, with or without the national climate change policy, many Zimbabwean goat breeders like Ncube say they have moved single-handedly to address climate change impacts.

“We have moved on with our lives in the face of deepening climate change impacts and through goat breeding.  For us life goes on although climate change effects have claimed most of our cattle,” said Ncube.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/goats-take-the-bite-out-of-climate-change-in-zimbabwe/feed/ 0
Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141689

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-a-brics-bank-to-challenge-the-bretton-woods-system/feed/ 0