Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 16 Sep 2014 00:05:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 A Flood of Energy Projects Clash with Mexican Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/a-flood-of-energy-projects-clash-with-mexican-communities/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:22:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136634 Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

Trees on the bank of the Blanco river that have been felled to make way for a power plant. Hydroelectric projects are threatening biodiversity and the way of life of communities in the state of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Courtesy of Comité de Defensa Libre

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Since January, villagers and townspeople near the Los Pescados river in southeast Mexico have been blocking the construction of a dam, part of a multi-purpose project to supply potable water to Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz.

“Our rights to a pollution-free life, to decide where and how we live, to information, to free, prior and informed consultation, are being infringed. We don’t want our territory to just be invaded like this any more,” Gabriela Maciel, an activist with the Pueblos Unidos de la Cuenca Antigua por Ríos Libres (PUCARL – Peoples of La Antigua Basin United For Free Rivers), told IPS.

PUCARL is made up of residents from 43 communities in 12 municipalities within the La Antigua river basin. Together with other organisations, it succeeded in achieving a suspension of work on the dam that was being built near Jalcomulco by Odebrecht, a Brazilian company, and the State of Veracruz Water Commission.

The dam has a planned capacity of 130 million cubic metres, a reservoir surface area of 4.13 square kilometres and a cost of over 400 million dollars. It is one of more than a hundred dams planned by federal and state governments, which are causing conflict with local communities.

Infrastructure building on a vast scale is under way in Mexico as part of the country’s energy reform. The definitive legal framework for this was enacted Aug. 11, opening up electricity generation and sales, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

Nine new laws were created and another 12 were amended, implementing the historic constitutional reform that was promulgated Dec. 20.“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints." -- Manuel Llano

The new energy framework is expected to attract dizzying sums in investments from national and international sources to Mexico, the second largest economy in Latin America, during the four-year period 2015-2018, according to official forecasts.

On Aug. 18 the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) announced 16 investment projects worth 4.9 billion dollars. Of this total, 27 percent is for public projects and 73 percent is earmarked for the private sector.

In the framework of the 2014-2018 National Infrastructure Programme (PNI), the CFE is planning 138 projects for a total of 46 billion dollars, including hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal energy generation plants, transmission lines and power distribution networks.

“Environmental and social legislation has been undermined in order to attract investment. Laws guaranteeing peoples’ rights and land rights have been weakened. This heightens the risk of a flare-up of social and environmental conflicts. It is a backward step,” Mariana González, a researcher on transparency and accountability for Centro de Análisis Fundar, an analysis and research centre, told IPS.

State oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) is programmed to carry out 124 projects as part of the PNI, totalling over 253 billion dollars. They include gas pipelines, improvements to refineries, energy efficiency measures at oil installations and oil exploration and extraction projects, among others.

The majority of the planned investments are slated for the southeastern state of Campeche, where 43 billion dollars will be spent on the exploitation and maintenance of four offshore oilfields.

In second place is the adjacent state of Tabasco, with projects amounting to nearly 15 billion dollars for shallow water oilfields and for the construction and remodelling of oil installations.

In Veracruz, PEMEX is planning investments of 11 billion dollars in shallow water offshore reserves and building and modernising oil installations, while in the northeastern state of

Tamaulipas it will spend 6.67 billion dollars on deepwater facilities and infrastructure modernisation.
Hydrocarbons licensing rounds

On Aug. 13, the Energy ministry (SENER) determined Round Zero (R-0) allocations, assigning PEMEX the rights to 120 oilfields, equivalent to 71 percent of national oil production which is to remain under state control.

PEMEX was also awarded 73 percent of gas production in R-0.

PEMEX’s current daily production is 2.39 million barrels of crude and 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas.

For Round One (R-1) concessions, SENER called for tenders from private operators for 109 oil and gas exploration blocks and 60 production blocks.

The government estimates the investment required for these projects at 8.52 billion dollars between 2015 and 2018, for exploration and extraction in deep and shallow waters, land-based oilfields and unconventional fossil fuels like shale gas.

The National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), the industry regulator, is preparing the terms for the concessions. Contracts will be assigned between May and September 2015.

Manuel Llano, technical coordinator for Conservación Humana, an NGO, cross-referenced maps of the detailed areas involved in Round Zero and Round One with protected natural areas, indigenous peoples’ and community territories.

He told IPS that the total land area assigned in R-0 is nearly 48,000 square kilometres, distributed in 142 municipalities and 11 states. Most of the assigned area is in Veracruz, followed by Tabasco. R-1 allocations cover 11,000 square kilometres in 68 municipalities and eight states.

The lands affected by R-0 overlap with 1,899 out of the country’s 32,000 farming communities. R-1 areas affect another 671 community territories, representing 4,416 square kilometres of collectively owned land.

Thirteen indigenous peoples living in an area of 2,810 square kilometres are affected by the R-0 allocations. Among the affected groups are the Chontal, Totonac and Popoluca peoples. The R-1 areas involve five indigenous peoples, including the Huastec, Nahuatl and Totonac, and more than 3,200 square kilometres of land.

“It’s hard to say exactly which places will be worst affected. There could be a great deal of damage in a very small area. It depends on the particular situation in each case. I can make reasonable estimates about what might occur in a specific concession area, but not in all of them,” Llano said.

Llano carried out a similar exercise in 2013, when he produced the “Atlas de concesiones mineras, conservación y pueblos indígenas” (Atlas of mining concessions, conservation areas and indigenous peoples). For this he mapped mining concession areas and compared them with protected areas and indigenous territories.

The new Hydrocarbons Law leaves land owners no option but to reach agreement with PEMEX or the private licensed operators over the occupation of their land, or accept a judicial ruling if agreement cannot be reached.

“The institutions have not carried out their work correctly. We know how the government apparatus works to get what it wants. We will oppose the approval of concessions and they will not succeed. We will continue our struggle. We are not alone; other peoples have the same problems,” said Maciel, the PUCARL activist.

Since March, several social organisations have taken collective legal action against government agencies for authorising the dam on La Antigua river and its environmental consequences. Los Pescados river is a tributary of La Antigua.

Between 2009 and 2013, SEMARNAT, the Environment and Natural Resources ministry, gave the green light to 12 hydroelectric and mini-hydropower plants on rivers in Veracruz. Construction has not yet begun on these projects.

Llano intends to compare maps of oil and gas reserves with the concession areas and contracts that are granted, in order to locate the potential resources claimed by the government and identify whether they match the bids at auction.

“Fossil fuels should not be given greater priority than a healthy environment. Zoning should be carried out, where possible, to indicate areas for exploitation and to establish constraints,” he said.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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OPINION: Investing in Adolescent Girls for Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-investing-in-adolescent-girls-for-africas-development/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 07:50:24 +0000 Hinda Deby and Dr. Julitta Onabanjo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136611 Elina Makore, 19, of Renco Mine just after delivering a healthy baby at Rutandare Clinic a remote Zimbabwean outpost supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Courtesy: UNFPA/Stewart Muchapera

Elina Makore, 19, of Renco Mine just after delivering a healthy baby at Rutandare Clinic a remote Zimbabwean outpost supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Courtesy: UNFPA/Stewart Muchapera

By Hinda Deby Itno and Julitta Onabanjo
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Adolescence is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. It is also a time of change and challenge. 

Today’s adolescents, connected to each other like never before, can be a significant source of social progress and cultural change.

But they are also facing multiple challenges that seriously impact their future. And nowhere in the world do adolescents confront as formidable barriers to their full development as in Africa.

Today, adolescents and young people make up over one third of Africa’s population. They form a sizeable part of the population yet they lack critical investments, especially where it matters most – in sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education and skills building.

This calls for the serious and committed attention of all.

  Challenges facing adolescent girls

It is estimated that Africa has the world’s highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and maternal mortality. In Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, where child marriage is common, half of all teenage girls give birth before the age of 18.

This was the case for Zuera, a girl from Kano in northern Nigeria, who became a wife and a mother at just 14 years. She suffered the agony of two stillbirths and was treated for obstetric fistula, which is damage caused by childbirth that leaves a woman incontinent, that arose from her first pregnancy.

Zeura was robbed of her childhood. She also missed out on the transition phase of adolescence and finally, she missed life.

All over Africa, stories like Zeura’s are commonplace. Millions of girls become brides before the age of 15. Close to 30 percent of girls on the continent give birth by age 18, when they are still adolescents. These adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death due to pregnancy than older women.

Nearly two thirds of them lack the basic knowledge they need to access crucial sexuality education and health information to protect themselves from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Research has found that at least 60 percent of young people aged 10 to 24 years are unable to prevent HIV, due to a lack of sexuality education. We cannot allow this to continue.

A resilient and informed generation

Young people will carry the African continent into the future. They need a safe and successful passage to adulthood.

And this is not a privilege but a right. Yet this right can only be fulfilled if families, society, and government institutions make focused investments and provide opportunities to ensure that adolescents and youth progressively develop the knowledge, skills and resilience they need for a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.

Comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health services, education and skills building for adolescents and young people need to be placed at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific indicators and targets.

By building a strong foundation and investing in programmes that focus on delivering and achieving specific results for adolescents, Africa can achieve its transformation agenda.

Our desire is for every young person in Africa to be resilient and informed. We want every young African to be able to make their own decisions, to foster healthy relationships, access proper health care, actively participate in their education and ultimately, contribute to the development of their community and their future.

This means that programmes that are achieving results for adolescents in various parts of Africa must be scaled up. These include the husbands’ schools that have been developed in Niger, the girls’ empowerment initiative in Ethiopia, and the child marriage-free zones in Tanzania.

International institutions need to increase their commitments to adolescents, and address the nagging problems that confront adolescent girls and women across the African continent.

Adolescents have the potential to shape their world and indeed, the world in its entirety. It is in our interest to connect with them and enable them to change our world. Yes indeed!

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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

 

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‘Breaking Silence’ on the Slave Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:04:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136620 Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 14 2014 (IPS)

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave opened many people’s eyes to the barbarity of slavery and fuelled some discussion about that period in world history. But the film is just one of the many initiatives to “break the silence” around the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade and to “shed light” on its lasting historical consequences.

One of these – the Slave Route Project – which observed its 20th anniversary this month in Paris is pushing for greater education about slavery and the slave trade in schools around the world.“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery. Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this” – Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project

According to Ali Moussa Iye, chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, who directs the organisation’s Slave Route Project, “the least the international community can do is to put this history into the textbooks. You can’t deny this history to those who suffered and continue to experience the consequences of slavery.”

The Project is one of the forces behind a permanent memorial to slavery that is being constructed at UN headquarters in New York, scheduled to be completed in March 2015 and meant to honour the millions of victims of the traffic in humans.

UNESCO is also involved in the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which is aimed at recognising people of African descent as a distinct group and at “addressing the historical and continuing violations of their rights”. The Decade will officially be launched in January next year.

“The approach is not to build guilt but to achieve reconciliation,” Moussa Iye said in an interview. “We need to know history in a different, more pluralistic way so that we can draw lessons and better understand our societies.”

He is aware that some people will question the point of the various initiatives, preferring to believe that slavery’s legacy has ended, but he said that international organisations can take the lead in urging countries to examine their past acts and the results.

“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery,” he said. “Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this.”

According to UNESCO, the Slave Route Project has put these issues on the international agenda by contributing to the recognition of slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, a declaration made at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO's Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

It has also been collecting and preserving archives and oral traditions, supporting the publication of books, and identifying “places of remembrances so that itineraries for memory” can be developed.

For many people of African descent, however, much more needs to be done to raise awareness. Ricki Stevenson, a Paris-based African-American businesswoman who heads a company called Black Paris Tours, focusing on the African Diaspora’s contributions in the French capital, told IPS that there ought to be “national and international conversation about the continued effects of enslavement.”

“We need to break the silence on how racism continues to hurt, not just Black people, but all people in any country that would kill, imprison, deny education and rights to individuals,” she said. “The United States, France, and all of Europe made unimaginable money from the cruel, inhumane kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans.

“These nations grew rich, built their cities and economies on the enslavement of Africans, on the forced labour of Black people who were stripped of every basic human right, treated less than animals,” she added. “Today we are learning that the wealth of Wall Street and so many major corporations, insurance companies, shipping companies, banks, private families, even churches, is still tied to slavery.”

Stevenson said she knows that some find it hard to comprehend the legacy of slavery. “I doubt if anyone who has never lived in the United States can understand the overwhelming challenge of ‘breathing while Black’,” she told IPS. “It is a horrible, daily fact of life every Black man, woman, child has faced or will face at some point in their lives.”

In France, meanwhile, the rise of nationalism is leading to a culture of exclusion as well as racism, according to political observers. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, for example, author of a 2001 law bearing her name that also recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, has been the target of racist depictions on social media and in certain publications.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Slave Route Project, Taubira described her battle against “hatred” and said that the world’s challenge today is to understand the global forces that divide people for exploitation.

“We cannot accept this kind of inhumanity,” she said, adding that the “anonymous victims” were not just victims but “survivors, creators, artists, cultural, guides … and resistors”, despite the immense violence they suffered.

Some individuals and municipalities in France have worked to highlight the country’s active role in the transatlantic slave trade, through cultural and memorial projects. The northwestern city of Nantes, which achieved vast wealth through slavery in the 18th century, built a memorial to victims in 2012.

Historians say that more than 40 percent of France’s slave trade was conducted through the city’s port, which acted as a transhipment point for some 450,000 Africans forcibly taken to the Americas. But this part of Nantes’ history was kept hidden for years until the move to “break the silence” cumulated in the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery.

In England, the city of Liverpool has an International Museum of Slavery, and Qatar and Cuba have also set up museums devoted to this history, carrying out partnership projects with UNESCO.

Acclaimed American jazz musician Marcus Miller, spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is also using music to educate people about slavery. Prior to an uplifting performance in Paris with African musicians, Miller said he wanted to focus on the resistance and resilience of the people forced into slavery and those who fought alongside to end the centuries-long atrocity.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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How Niger’s Traditional Leaders are Promoting Maternal Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/will-you-be-chief-how-nigers-traditional-leaders-are-promoting-maternal-health/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 08:47:05 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136577 Chief Yahya Louche of Bande, a village in Niger, addresses his constituents about maternal health and the importance of involving men. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Chief Yahya Louche of Bande, a village in Niger, addresses his constituents about maternal health and the importance of involving men. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
BANDE, Niger, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

It is a long, 14-hour drive from Niger’s capital city Niamey to the village of Bande. And the ride is a dreary one as the roadside is bare. The occasional, lone goat herder is spotted every few kilometres and the sightings become a cause of both confusion and excitement since there aren’t any trees, or watering holes in sight.

Dry, hot and often plagued with sandstorms, Niger has a population of over 17.2 million, 80 percent of which live in rural areas. Insecurity, drought and trans-border issues contribute to this West African nation’s fragility where 50 percent of its citizens have access to health services.

IPS has travelled here with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to visit a school that — on a continent where male involvement in maternal health is not the norm and, in fact, men are oftentimes not present during the duration of the pregnancy or the birthing process due to cultural reasons — is pretty unique. It’s the School of Husbands.

Formed with support from UNFPA in 2011, the school has over 137 locations in Niger’s southern region of Zinder. Members are married men between the ages of 25 and 50, but young boys are now being recruited to come and sit in on meetings — to learn from their elders.

As IPS arrives at the village early one morning, a group of musicians approach the vehicle playing ceremonial music; they precede a traditional chief who is being escorted by his most trusted counsel and a throng of personal security who frantically chase away curious children with sticks.

Yahya Louche is the chief of Bande and he stops to talk to IPS about maternal health and the importance of involving men.

“I am a member of the School of Husbands,” Louche says of the informal institution that brings together married men to discuss the gains of reproductive health, family planning and empowerment.

“The School of Husbands is where there is no teacher and there is not student,” Louche continues, adding, “They are not getting paid, they are working for the well being of the population.”

The School of Husbands is a prime example of what can happen when men stand shoulder to shoulder with women, promoting safe births.

The Perils of No Care 

While visiting the health centre near the chief’s homestead, IPS spots a young woman making her way across the compound to the maternity room. She is weak and can barely make eye contact while two friends hold her up by each arm.

IPS is told that she delivered a baby at home and has walked kilometres to get help because she began bleeding profusely – it is an obstetrical emergency known as postpartum haemorrhage (PPH).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), PPH is responsible for about 25 percent of maternal mortality. Without prenatal or antenatal visits during pregnancy, complications are more likely to arise — some often leading to death.

“Before the School of Husbands, women didn’t want to go for delivery at health centres, they would stay at home and have their babies,” Louche explains.

According to the World Bank, Niger has a Maternal Mortality Ration (MMR) of 630 to 100,000 live births.

Women in Niger suffer.

It is a very well-known custom in the country that women are not to show their pain or discomfort. When they give birth, it is often in silence.  The woman on the delivery table makes no sound though pain is very visible on her face.

Madame Doudou Aissatoo, a midwife in Konni, a town in Niger, tells IPS that it is important to have reproductive health and family planning services readily available because many women walk for miles to come to the health centres. If commodities and services, or even midwives are unavailable, the women will leave and not return for a very long time.

“The very critical thing is to integrate it in the package; when a woman comes to the health centre for whatever reason, she has to get the family planning right away, whether it is a routine health check-up or something serious. Even on Saturday or Sunday, if a woman comes to the health centre, she’ll get it,” Aissatoo says.

Returning Home to Promote Health

The ancient story is quite fascinating; when a young boy leaves his homestead to find greener pastures, a time will mostly likely come when the folks back home call upon the man to become chief.

Often leaving the diaspora to fulfil his duties, a request to become chief is one that cannot be refused for turning it down is the equivalent to shaming ones ancestors.

It is such that the chiefs in Niger today come from different professional backgrounds and many have been doctors, diplomats and professors.

Traditional chiefs in Niger are the most important leaders — even heads of state and presidents seek their council before making big decisions. Without their blessing, one can assume that the road ahead will be difficult.

The UNFPA country office has understood the role that traditional chiefs play and has built a partnership in favour of promoting the health and rights of women.

In 2012, the traditional chiefs of Niger signed an agreement with UNFPA furthering a commitment to improve the health conditions of women.

“When we gathered in 2012, we made a commitment as an organisation to work with UNFPA in order to reduce the demographic growth, be part of sensitisation activities and gear towards improving reproductive health,” Louche explains.

When asked if she feels good about her husband participating in the institution, Fassouma Manzo, a local woman replies ecstatically: “Very much!”

A round of applause follows Manzo’s declaration as she continues, “before the School of Husbands, men didn’t have discussions with their women; but now, there is an issue for which they are very interested. As a woman, you can now find a space where you can talk and share with your man.  It’s a great side effect!”

Louche, a charismatic chief who spends much time talking to his constituents truly believes that empowering men puts the focus put on women.

The School of Husbands doesn’t just highlight the importance of seeking professional medical care when pregnant, but it also works to promote understanding between men and women — a gain that will only foster harmony for both sexes.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted through Twitter on: @Erakit

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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Global Citizenship: “From Me to We to Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:56:05 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136569 The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

If a Silicon Valley existed for the culture of peace, it would most likely look to global citizenship as the next big industry shake-up.

“Global citizenship, or oneness of humanity [is] the essential element of the culture of peace,” Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., told IPS on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace Tuesday.“We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation." -- Kathleen Kuehnast

The day-long forum included panel discussions on global citizenship and the contributions of women and youth to a nonviolent world community.

Ambassador Chowdhury took the lead in putting the culture of peace on the U.N. agenda in the late 1990s. The culture of peace concept was evolving in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), but Chowdhury felt that it deserved to be discussed at an even higher level.

The U.N. needed “to shift gear” away from peacekeeping operations “to focus on individual and community transformation,” Chowdhury told IPS.

In 1999, at the urging of Chowdhury, the General Assembly (GA) passed the milestone Resolution 53/243 on the “Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.”  The resolution asserts that a culture of peace is a way of life based on non-violence, territorial integrity, human rights, the right to development, freedom of expression and the promotion of equal rights for women and men.

Article 4 of the resolution makes clear that “Education at all levels is one of the principal means to build a culture of peace.” Governments, civil society, the media, parents and teachers are all called upon to promote a peaceful culture.

The 1999 resolution also led to the observance from 2001 to 2010 of the U.N. International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

While its official decade may be over, the culture of peace continues to be relevant 15 years after Resolution 53/243 was adopted. Each year, the GA adopts a resolution reaffirming the commitment of member states to building a culture of peace.

This year’s all-day event built on the success of two past high-level forums in 2012 and 2013, giving member states, U.N. entities and civil society a chance to exchange ideas on how to best promote nonviolence, cooperation and respect for all.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the day with an endorsement of the culture of peace.

“We need new forms of cultural literacy and diplomacy, between societies and within them,” he said. “We need educational curricula to deepen global solidarity and citizenship.

“Every day, I see the need to build a new culture of mediation, conflict resolution, peace-building and peace-keeping.”

Interactive panels focused on the keys to attaining a culture of peace.

Lakhsmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted the role of women in building and sustaining the culture of peace.

Women “must be seen as agents of conflict prevention,” she said.

“With women, mothers, grandmothers, other family members often being the first teachers of children, they have and can play a vital role in educating young people to the value of peace.”

Women should bring their leadership and solutions to the peacemaking table, according to the panellists.

The youth population is also crucial to making a culture of peace a reality.

“Young people can be agents of peace,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. “We must continue working together to ensure that the largest generation of humans is an opportunity, not a liability for our time.”

Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Centre for Gender and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace, received a round of applause when she proposed a new perspective on the culture of peace, invoking the analogy of creative, high-energy entrepreneurship.

“We need to incentivise peacebuilding,” she said. “We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation. What we need is a Silicon Valley for nonviolent approaches to global problem solving.”

Dot Mayer, president of the New York-based National Peace Academy, identified emerging trends and concepts that herald the rise of global citizenship, such as the sharing economy, the global commons and bioregional dialogues.

As a human community, “We are making this shift from I or me to we,” Mayer said. Global citizenship is a pathway “from me to we to peace.”

While the U.N. is a strong supporter of global citizenship and the culture of peace, it could do a much better job of spreading the message, according to Ambassador Chowdry.

The “U.N. has been focusing and putting most of its money on hardware for peacekeeping,” Chowdhury told IPS. It should be concentrating more on the “transformation of individuals into agents of peace and nonviolence.”

Throwing money at educational infrastructure will not be enough, Chowdhury said, because there is no guarantee that it would go toward the right type of education. The U.N. must work more with communities and societies to build education systems that teach young people to be citizens of the world.

“It has to be a comprehensive approach,” Chowdhury said. “It should be a transformational investment.”

In her remarks, Dot Mayer made the observation that “energy follows thought, and we know that whatever we choose to focus on, we will get more of in life.”

Supporters of the culture of peace hope that the energy and ideas from Tuesday’s high-level forum will spread the message of global citizenship to the human community, leading to a true transformation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Africa’s Dividing Farmlands A Threat To Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africas-dividing-farmlands-a-threat-to-food-security/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 08:56:03 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136566 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Experts say that Africa's extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security. Credit: Miriam Gahtigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

When Kiprui Kibet pictures his future as a maize farmer in the fertile Uasin Gishu county in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, all he sees is the ever-decreasing plot of land that he has to farm on.

“I used to farm on 40 hectares but now I only have 0.8 hectares. My father had 10 sons and we all wanted to own a piece of the farmland. Subdivision … ate into the actual farmland,” Kibet tells IPS. “From 3,200 bags a harvest, now I only produce 20 bags, at times even less.”

Experts say that Africa’s extensive land subdivision is emerging as a significant threat to food security.

Statistics by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) show that a majority of Africa’s farmers now farm on less than one hectare of land.

According to FAO, in the last 10 years the land/person in agriculture ratio in Kenya declined from 0.264 to the current 0.219. Explained as a percentage, this means that the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land in Kenya decreased by 17 percent over the last decade.

Within the same period, the number of people with one hectare of agricultural land declined by 13 percent in Zambia and by 16 percent in Uganda.

Allan Moshi, a land policy expert on sub-Saharan Africa based in Zambia, tells IPS that while investors are rushing to East and southern Africa and making large-scale planned land acquisitions, “large-scale land acquisition not only reduces available land for locals, but what is available to the locals still has to be subdivided [because of] land inheritance.”

He explains that land subdivision has been driven by growth in population, land inheritance “as well as a shift from customary land tenures to land owned by individuals based on the belief that individuals can exploit the productive potential of land more effectively.”

According to a 2012 USAID report titled “Emerging Land Issues in Africa”, 25 percent of young adults who grew up in rural areas did not inherit land because there was no land to inherit.

“[People] just want to have a title deed even if it means subdividing the land to economically non-viable portions, while big investors are interested in high-value crops, particularly in horticulture, limiting available land for food crops,” Moshi says.

Smallholder farmers across Africa account for at least 75 percent of agricultural outputs, according to FAO.

“Small-scale farmers still produce more than big farms. Big farms often lie idle, investors hoard them for speculative purposes, they rarely grow food on this land,” Isaac Maiyo from Schemers, an agricultural community-based organisation in Kenya, tells IPS, explaining that 93 percent of farmers in Botswana are smallholders.

“They [smallholder farmers in Botswana] have less than eight percent percent of the agricultural land and they still account for nearly 100 percent of the country’s maize production,” he says.

  • In the southern African nation of Zambia, 41.9 percent of farms comprise of less than one hectare of land, with at least 75 percent of small-scale farmers farming on less than two hectares.
  • In Zambia, 616,867 farms, which are on average less than a hectare, produce about 300,000 metric tonnes of maize.
  • In contrast there are 6,626 Zambian farms of between 10 to 20 hectares that produce 145,000 metric tonnes of maize.

Anthony Mokaya, of local NGO Kenya Lands Alliance, tells IPS that many countries on the continent are yet to establish laws that govern subdivision of agricultural land.

And while South Africa and Kenya have legislation on the subdivision of land, Mokaya says “the laws remain largely ineffective.”

While the Agriculture Act (Chapter 318) in Kenya categorically states that agricultural land should not be subdivided below 0.8 hectares, smallholder farmer Kibet says that “many farmers do not know that the law exists.”

“We subdivide not based on what the law says, but based on the number of dependents who want a share of available land, particularly where land inheritance is concerned,” Kibet explains.

South Africa’s Agricultural Land Act prevents the “subdivision of agricultural land to the extent where the new portions created are so small that farming will no longer be economically viable.”

South African land owners are prohibited by the act from subdividing agricultural land without consent from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

But as is the case with many African countries, Moshi says that subdivision of agricultural land has not been guided by the law.

“The problem is not the act itself, but the implementation of it. Many land owners are not aware that there is a law that prohibits subdivision of agricultural land below a certain threshold.”

Amos Thiong’o from Agri-ProFocus Kenya, a network of organisations working in agribusiness, tells IPS that extensive land subdivision is also affecting mechanisation of agriculture.

“Smaller farmlands will require very intensive production technologies, such as the hydroponic production where plants are grown in a mineral solution rather than in the soil,” he says, adding that some flower farms in Naivasha, Rift Valley were already using this technology “but it requires a lot of water.”

Titus Rotich, an agricultural extension officer in Kenya’s Rift Valley region, says “farmlands are becoming so small that with time, farming will no longer be economically viable.”

“Most families who, 10 to 20 years ago, had over 40 hectares now have to contend with less than a hectare. Meaning that the land is only used to set up a homestead, and to grow a few backyard vegetables and rear a few chickens,” Rotich tells IPS, explaining that previously a farmer could produce 28 to 38 90-kilogram maize bags on just 0.4 hectares of land.

“One such bag is sold at a significant amount of 35 to 50 dollars depending on the region. But many farmers are now lucky if they produce 20 bags because they have their homestead, their cows, chickens and so on the 0.4 hectares [and it is not solely used for farming],” he says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Mexico’s Cocopah People Refuse to Disappearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:36:10 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136544 The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

By Daniela Pastrana
EL MAYOR, Mexico , Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

In their language, Cocopah means “river people”. For over 500 years the members of this Amerindian group have lived along the lower Colorado River and delta in the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora and the U.S. state of Arizona.

They fish and make crafts for a living, have strong family ties, and are united by their Kurikuri or rituals and funeral ceremonies – and, now, by the struggle to keep from disappearing, in a battle led by their women. Today, the Cocopah number just over 1,300 people, most of whom live in Arizona.

“I’m Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela. I’m a fisherwoman. And I am Cocopah,” says the president of the Cocopah Indigenous People Cooperative Society.

She and other women of this community introduce themselves this way at an assembly attended by IPS, held to discuss the federal government’s promise to finally consult them about a fishing ban which took away their livelihood and practically condemns them to extinction.“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community.” -- Lawyer Yacotzin Bravo

“No government has the right to take our habitat from us,” Hurtado told IPS during a visit to the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community, where the Red de Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot Network) and the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights are carrying out a project for the protection of human rights defenders, financed by the European Union.

In May, the 61-year-old Hurtado, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, sat down on the road connecting the port of San Felipe on the Gulf of California with Mexicali, the capital of the state of Baja California, which abuts the U.S., and refused to budge until the federal government formalised its promise to hold a consultation with the local communities.

“The government agreed to do something that it should have done 25 years ago,” said the lawyer Ricardo Rivera de la Torre of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest, an organisation that has been documenting violations of civil rights in Baja California since 2004.

Rivera de la Torre and Raúl Ramírez Baena took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2008.

“The government violated the Cocopah’s people’s right to consultation as outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169,” which Mexico ratified in 1990, said Ramírez Baena.

ILO Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

But in 1993, without any prior consultation, the government decreed the creation of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve. The nucleus of the reserve is the Zanjón, where the Cocopah have fished for the Gulf weakfish (Cynoscion othonopterus) for centuries.

The Gulf weakfish lay their eggs between February and May in shallow waters in the Gulf of California where the states of Sonora and Baja California meet, and the fish are widely sold during Lent, when Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

After the biosphere reserve was created, a Reserve Management Plan was adopted in 1995, along with a string of laws and regulations – such as the Law on Ecological Balance and a fishing quota and ban – which restricted the fishing activities of the Cocopah to levels that have made it impossible for them to make a living.

“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community,” said Yacotzin Bravo, another lawyer with the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest.

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Mexican constitution defines indigenous people as the descendants of the populations that inhabited the area before the state was formed and who preserve their ancestral cultural or economic institutions.

Article 2 of the constitution establishes that native people have “preferential access” to the nation’s natural assets.

“Indigenous rights are the rights of peoples,” expert in indigenous law Francisco López Bárcenas told IPS. “Not of persons, not of municipalities, not of rural communities. With respect to indigenous rights, we are talking about the appropriation of territory, which is necessary for a people to be able to exist as such.

“They depend for a living on fishing, on a close relationship with their natural surroundings. It’s not only about money. First, as a result of the laws on agriculture, their territories were shrunk to small spaces, and now their main livelihood activity is reduced. And if they can’t fish, they have to go to other parts to find work,” he said.

Every year, just after the waning moon, the weakfish begin their migration to the shallow waters of the Colorado River delta, and fishing season starts.

The Cocopah go to sea in their “pangas” or fishing boats and sit quietly until they hear the weakfish and throw their “chinchorros” or nets. The Cocopah capture between 200 and 500 tons of fish per season.

“What the government has done with us is segregation,” Juana Aguilar González, the president of the El Mayor Cocopah Rural Production Society, told Tierramérica. “They know that we Indians don’t threaten the environment.”

The Cocopah are not the only ones who catch weakfish. There are also two non-indigenous cooperatives in the area – San Felipe in Baja California and Santa Clara in Sonora – with a fishing capacity 10 times greater, according to statistics from the governmental National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

The weakfish “captured by the Cocopah are approximately 10 percent of the recommended quota, which shows that the fishing done by that indigenous community, even if they fish in the nucleus of the reserve, does not hurt the ecological balance or threaten the species with extinction,” says recommendation 8/2002 of the National Human Rights Commission addressed to the ministries of the environment and agriculture.

“The decree creating the reserve changed our lives,” Mónica González, the daughter of the late Cocopah governor Onésimo González, said sadly. “Now, instead of being busy organising our dances, we have to be worried about the legal action, the trials, confiscations and arrests.”

The Cocopah, descendants of the Yumano people, are one of the five surviving indigenous groups in Baja California.

In the 17th century, some 22,000 Cocopah were living in the Colorado River delta. Today there are only 1,000 in the Cocopah Indian Reservation in the southwest corner of Arizona, and just over 300 in Mexico, in Baja California and Sonora, according to the governmental National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) , Cocopah is an endangered language. There are only 10 Cocopah speakers still alive. Years ago one of them, 44-year- old Mónica González, began to make an effort to revive the language.

“Sometimes I think our leaders talk about the Cocopah as if we had already died, but we are alive and still putting up a struggle,” she told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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New Anti-Discrimination Law Could Worsen Situation for Georgia’s LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:15:37 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136524 LGBT flag map of Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

LGBT flag map of Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

Georgia’s LGBT community is sceptical that recently-introduced anti-discrimination legislation hailed by some rights groups as a bold step forward for the former Soviet state will improve their lives any time soon.

The law, which came into effect in May this year, is ostensibly designed to provide protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in a country where homophobia is deep-rooted at all levels of society and LGBT groups face daily discrimination.

But activists in Georgia say that introduction of the legislation has actually hardened attitudes against the LGBT community and that there are serious concerns over how effectively it can be applied.“Since the law was passed, things are actually worse now for LGBT people. When they make a complaint about something, people just say, ‘what more do you want? You’ve got your rights now in law’. It’s really obnoxious” – Irakli Vacharadze, head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based rights organisation

Irakli Vacharadze, head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based rights organisation, told IPS: “Since the law was passed, things are actually worse now for LGBT people. When they make a complaint about something, people just say, ‘what more do you want? You’ve got your rights now in law’. It’s really obnoxious.

“There are also questions over how it is going to be applied and at the moment, at least, it is definitely not effective.”

With a deeply religious society – 84 percent of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian – attitudes in Georgia to anything other than traditional heterosexual relationships are deeply negative among much of the population.

LGBT people say that they are often refused service by businesses and hospitals, bullied in school, and harassed by the police. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church, which has a hugely influential role in society, has denounced LGBT equality and described support for LGBT rights as the “propaganda of sin”.

A 2013 survey by Identoba revealed how entrenched anti-LGBT sentiment is in society – 88 percent of respondents said homosexuality could “never be justified”.

A peaceful gay rights march marking International Day Against Homophobia last year ended in violence as protestors from a rival church-led counter-demonstration attacked and beat LGBT demonstrators.

But the country’s pursuit of closer ties with the European Union forced political parties, which had previously been at best apathetic towards the LGBT community, to address the issue.

As a condition of being granted coveted visa-free travel to EU countries, the government was told it had to implement anti-discrimination laws, including legislation specifically on gender expression and sexual orientation.

And although fiercely opposed by the Church, they were passed with the general support of all political parties.

However, LGBT people in Georgia remain far from convinced that, in its present form, it will help them. Although welcomed as a step forward, rights groups have criticised the fact that a devoted enforcement body was not approved and instead cases will go to the Ombudsman for Human Rights.

They say that the Ombudsman’s office lacks capacity and that effectively dealing with complaints will be compromised. They have called for the passage of additional measures to ensure enforcement of the law.

The Ombudsman’s office has yet to set up a department to deal with anti-discrimination complaints brought under the new legislation and one will not be functional before January.

Meanwhile, faith, or rather lack of it, in the country’s justice system is also likely to limit its effectiveness.

Viorel Ursu, Regional Manager of the Eurasia Programme at the Open Society Foundation, told IPS: “People do not trust the judiciary in general in Georgia. They feel that even when they bring legal action, there is no guarantee that justice will be served. And although there are laws designed to protect against discrimination of LGBT people, they will still face discrimination anyway.”

Activists are under no illusions about what the laws will bring the LGBT community. When asked whether he expected things to get better for LGBT people in Georgia in the near future, Vacharadze said: “Definitely not. There’s no chance.”

But the introduction of the legislation has already had at least one potentially positive effect. LGBT people say a profound ignorance of their gender expression and sexual orientation and their lifestyles contributes to the widespread antipathy towards them in Georgian society, but passage of the laws has at least promoted vitally-needed public discussion of the LGBT community.

Vacharadze told IPS: “The law alone will not change society’s attitudes towards LGBT people, it won’t get rid of homophobia. It won’t do anything to deal with the ignorance about LGBT issues and the community.

“The way to deal with it is to get information about LGBT out to the public and get them informed. One thing about the passage of this legislation was that it did actually create a debate about LGBT people in Georgia and got information about them out into the public and got people discussing it.”

The laws also have a wider significance in that they stand in stark contrast to the repression of LGBT communities in other former Soviet states, most notably Russia which is increasing its persecution of homosexuals through repressive legislation.

Just this week, the senior political figure in recently-annexed Crimea typified the Russian political stance to non-heterosexuals when he attacked LGBT people at a government meeting.

Sergei Aksyonov, leader of the new Russian region, said that if LGBT people held any meetings “police and self-defence forces will react immediately and in three minutes will explain to them what kind of sexual orientation they should stick to.”

He also said that “Crimean children should be brought up with a ‘positive attitude to family and traditional values’,” and that Crimea had “no need” for gays and lesbians.

Some observers say that the passing of the laws in Georgia, at a time when neighbours and other former Soviet states are attacking LGBT people, is proof that the country is set on moving closer to Europe and putting as much political distance between it and Russia, which has annexed some of its territory in recent years.

Indeed, as political parties debated the anti-discrimination laws, Davit Usupashvili, the parliamentary speaker, described the bill as a choice between Russia and the European Union.

Campaigners say that the government’s desire to cultivate closer and closer ties to the EU means that the legislation will, in time, become effective.

Ursu told IPS: “In the next year or so, the Georgian government should look to strengthen the law and try to prove that it is functioning simply because it remains under the scrutiny of the EU.

“The law not only had to be adopted but it also needed to be shown to be working effectively. It is in the government’s interest to ensure that it can be applied effectively.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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War Over but Not Gaza’s Housing Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:12:19 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136527 Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

“When the [Israeli] shelling started, I gathered up my family and headed for what I though was a safe place, like a school, but then that became overcrowded and lacked sanitation, so we ended up in the grounds of the hospital.”

Islam Abu Sheira from Beit Hanoun, a city on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, was speaking to IPS in front of what has been his family’s makeshift ‘home’ at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for the last two months. His eyes misted over as he recalled his devastated home and his efforts to find a safe refuge for his family."I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families" – Islam Abu Sheira, a refugee from Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

In his forties, Islam described his family’s ordeal after Israeli shelling left them homeless and they first sought refuge in a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees, and were then forced by overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions to move out and seek shelter elsewhere.

“I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families, ” said Islam,  adding that “during the war, the only thing we were looking for was a place that could protect us from the shelling.”

Like the majority of Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed, they have lost their belongings and, for the time being, their chances of living a life of dignity. Most families in the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes so quickly that they had no time to take anything with them.

“We simply have no livelihood and my children sleep every night on the ground without even a blanket to cover them,” lamented Islam. “We have been living a primitive life since we fled our home without even taking the clothes we need.”

As the numbers of people escaping the shelling mounted, so did the difficulty of sheltering them. Schools did their best, but there were insufficient basic necessities and medical supplies, and they were housing four or five persons, if not more, in each classroom.

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Jamila Saad, a housewife who is taking care of her 12-member family and also fled to one of the UNRWA schools, told IPS: “The school was receiving more and more refugees, and we and the other refugee families were sharing one toilet. We need a better life for our children and we hope that our home will soon be rebuilt so that we can begin a new life there in our new home.”

The complex and harsh conditions that the Palestinian refugees are suffering in schools and other shelter centres has pushed most international organisations to provide the refugees with as much aid as possible, but this is far from finding a final solution for the refugees’ suffering.

The conditions of the thousands of refugees who have lost their homes has placed the new Palestinian government before an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to provide these refugee families with care and a secure environment, as well take on the responsibility of implementing the reconstruction programmes financially aided by the European Union and donor states in accordance with ceasefire agreement brokered in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, especially in terms of the reconstruction of Gaza.

Mufid al-Hasayna, Minister of Public Works and Housing in the new Palestinian unity government, told IPS that “the amount of destruction of houses and economic facilities is massive, and the population of Gaza is living under hard conditions, so we are working hard to improve the living conditions of people. We are working on programmes to start reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and rebuild destroyed houses and

Al-Hasayna believes that the blurred vision Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have of their future after 50 days of war and their constant fear of being retargeted by the Israeli occupation forces have only added to a worsening of their situation.

Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestinian NGO Network, told IPS: “The harsh circumstances that the Gaza Strip underwent over the 50 days of the Israeli occupation’s war reduced the population’s access to water and food and threatened people’s security, while the bombing of residential high ‘towers’ housing dozens of families has left serious impacts on civilians.

According to Shawa, the housing situation is now all the more dramatic because, even before Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the Gaza Strip was already suffering from the deficit of 70,000 housing units that had been destroyed in the 2009 and 2012 wars.

“Following the two wars, scheduled housing projects to rebuild the infrastructure were not implemented, and the deficit of housing units has reached a state that has put the population in a situation of real disaster,” Shawa told IPS.

He called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to form an independent body of Palestinian civil society organisations to create a plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

According to a report prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in June 2014 the Gaza Strip was home to an estimated population of 1.76 million living in a coastal area that extends along the Mediterranean Sea and covers approximately 365 square kilometres with a maximum width of 12 kilometres.

The PCBS believes that Gaza Strip’s narrow surface area and high population has contributed to some extent to the distribution of people in large blocks and increased its population density, turning the Strip into one the most densely populated areas in the world.

Population density in the Gaza Strip has reached 2,744 per square kilometre, and experts say this means that food, health and education should be the top priorities for the future development agenda of decision-makers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Operation Could Hide Major Shift in Europe’s Immigration Control Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 17:27:05 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136519 By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Sep 6 2014 (IPS)

‘Mare Nostrum’ – the largest search and rescue immigration operation ever carried out in the Mediterranean Sea – has become an issue of bitter brinkmanship between human rights groups and anti-immigrant lobbies.

At a higher political level, it has produced a tough negotiation between Italy and Europe, with the former asking for a European solution to immigration control in the Mediterranean.

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

‘Mare Nostrum’ was launched in October 2013 by Italy in the wake of a shipwreck south of the island of Lampedusa – the southernmost part of Italy lying 176 km off the coast of Sicily – that took the lives of 368 immigrants, mostly refugees from Syria and African countries.

The search and rescue operation is a military naval operation supported by the Italian Air Force and Coast Guard as well as civilian volunteers and medical personnel. It has operated in a vast area of the Central Mediterranean.

Between October 2013 and August 2014, ‘Mare Nostrum’ rescued over 115,000 people, mostly refugees, and transferred them to Italian territory. About 2,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the same period.

Human rights activists have praised the operation for rescuing refugees while its opponents have blamed it for producing a pull factor for immigrants and providing an illicit shuttle to Europe for them, making the job of traffickers easier.

The European Commission has now decided to flank the ‘Mare Nostrum’ initiative, although it has no intention of replacing it. After a meeting on August 27, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano announced a new Frontex operation to stand by Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation in the Mediterranean.

One of the main roles of Frontex – the European Union agency for external border security that started operations in May 2005 – is to protect Europe’s external borders from illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Announcing the new operation, which has temporarily been named ‘Frontex Plus’, Commissioner Malmstrom called on European member states to translate “oral solidarity into concrete action” by contributing resources and means.Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Ska Keller, Green Member of the European Parliament  told IPS that the new operation is “the result of pressure extorted by Italy on Brussels, but not what Italy has been asking for. It’s true Italy is rescuing a lot of people but this is not their main concern, they will not necessarily be happy to continue with Mare Nostrum.”

Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Silvia Canciani, press officer of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), told IPS that her association is “extremely concerned” because the only certainty about the new operation “is that ships will patrol only in European waters, 12 miles from the coast”, meaning they will no longer venture into international waters, like ‘Mare Nostrum’, which operated 170 miles from the Italian coast.

She added that it is still unknown whether Italian authorities plan to postpone, amend or carry on with ‘Mare Nostrum’ as it is, but a withdrawal from the operation might have a direct consequence on lives being lost in the Mediterranean.

Other critical voices stress how conservatives in the European Union see an opportunity in the negotiations that will follow on the new operation to capitalise on the issue of returning incoming migrants to safe third countries or to their countries of embarkation.

In a blog commenting on the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’, Italian law professor Fulvio Vassalo Paleologo, a well-known commentator on immigration issues in the region, observed that in their joint announcement “the word ‘rescue’ has disappeared from Alfano’s and Malmstom’s vocabulary.” He also noted that neither of them had made a single remark about the conditions immigrants face in transit countries.

Both could be indications that the European Commission is seriously considering pushing for the control of population influxes outside European borders.

One day before the Malmstrom-Alfano announcement, the Italian edition of Huffington Post published an article citing an anonymous source in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, who was present at negotiations for the new operations in Brussels, as saying that “many people in Brussels see Mare Nostrum as an informal ferry for migrants.”

The unprecedented flows Europe is going to face given the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East will enforce a change of policy, which will translate into trying to “manage the flows of refugees and migrants in transit countries before they are on board for Italy,” the source said.

For this, he continued “we must work to re-negotiate readmission agreements with countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco” and then stop incoming immigrants on board and not let them proceed to Italy “unless they have already started the procedures for refugee status and we have already made identifications before they are on board.”

The policy scenario in the Huffington Post article was vividly mirrored in an Italian Interior Ministry’s press release two days later, after a meeting between Minister Alfano and his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve to discuss “illegal immigration in the Central Mediterranean”.

Notably the meeting took place only one day after the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’ in which France is expected to be one of the most active partners.

In the ministry’s press release, the term ‘rescue’ is again absent and the definition of the aim of ‘Frontex Plus’ is to “ensure control and surveillance of the external sea borders of the European Union … according to the rules of Frontex.”

From the press release, it also appears that both the Italian and French ministers believe that the issue of immigration should increasingly be dealt with “as a foreign policy issue” with “more emphasis to be given to the role of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, meaning the European External Action Service (EEAS) which implements the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The two ministers also identified two key policy objectives to push for within the European Union: “the commitment of all Member States of the European Union to a strict application of the rules for the identification of illegal migrants provided by European legislation and the strengthening of cooperation with countries of origin and transit in the field of border surveillance, police cooperation and development aid to these countries.”

Frontex’s key role in a new operation could facilitate these objectives given that the regulation “establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operation Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (Frontex)” adopted on April 30, 2014, includes provisions for the interception of incoming vessels in international waters and their return to third countries.

Many pro-immigrant organisations such as Frontexit (a campaign led by associations, researchers and individuals from both North and South of the Mediterranean on the initiative of the Migreurop network), the Belgian Coordination Initiative for Refugees and Foreigners (CIRE), as well as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, have indicated highly controversial legal gaps in the regulation that could compromise the rights of persons in need of international protection.

In a joint briefing, the latter said that despite some positive aspects, other aspects fail to meet the requirements of international law, including refugee law, human rights law, the law of the sea and E.U. law.

When asked to comment on the nature of the ‘Frontex Plus’ operation, Malmstroms’s office said: “At the moment we do not have anything to add in addition to the statement made by the Commissioner last week. The Commission is working on the definition of the adequate operational area and the components of a larger joint operation which can be a useful complement to the Italian efforts.”

It is thus clear that ‘Frontex Plus’ will eventually only play a merely auxiliary role alongside Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, particularly so when the costs of the operation are taken into account.

‘Mare Nostrum’ costs Italy over 9 million euro each month, while the current entire 2014 budget for Frontex is 89 million euro, with only 55 of them allocated for operational activities.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Latin America’s Anti-drug Policies Feed on the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 00:46:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136516 Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Poor young men, slumdwellers and single mothers are hurt the most by anti-drug policies in Latin America, according to representatives of governments, social organisations and multilateral bodies meeting at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies.

During the Sept. 3-4 conference held in San José, Costa Rica, activists, experts and decision-makers from throughout the region demanded reforms of these policies, to ease the pressure on vulnerable groups and shift the focus of law enforcement measures to those who benefit the most from the drug trade.

Today things are backwards – the focus is on “the small fish” rather than “the big fish”, Paul Simons, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), told IPS.

The proposals set forth during the meeting recommended an overhaul of the legal systems in Latin America, to reduce incarceration and establish sentences proportionate to minor crimes. The participants argued that laws and the justice systems should focus on cracking down on the big interests involved in drug trafficking.

They also recommended that amounts for legal personal possession should be established, along with measures such as the decriminalisation of some drugs or the creation of markets controlled by the state, along the lines of what Uruguay is doing in the case of marijuana.

The current policies give rise to cases like that of Rosa Julia Leyva, an indigenous Mexican woman who now works in the Mexican interior ministry’s National Commission on Security.

Leyva was imprisoned in 1993 for carrying a woven bag with a small package of heroin, which was given to her by a friend who paid her plane ticket in exchange for help with her baggage. It was the first time she had ever left the Petatlán mountains in the southwest state of Guerrero. Until her arrest, she told IPS, she thought she was carrying money or clothes.

At the time, she was the prototype of the women who are constantly thrown into Latin American prisons for drug smuggling: an illiterate 29-year-old, the mother of a five-year-old daughter, sentenced to a quarter century in prison for possession of heroin.“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult. I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.” --Rosa Julia Leyva


The Organisation of American States (OAS) reports that 70 percent of the female prison population in the region was incarcerated for drug possession.

“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult,” Leyva says. “I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.”

“I think the law should be more specific in these things,” said Leyva, who also makes crafts. She managed to get her sentence reduced to 13 years, of which she served just over 12. Now she gives theatre classes in Mexican prisons.

In the world’s most unequal region, the prisons are packed full of poor people, while white collar criminals are much less likely to be brought to justice, said experts participating in the “Drugs and Social Inclusion” panel during the conference.

This imbalance and overcrowding of the prisons could change, they said, if the courts and prison systems made the effort.

“We want to see who is brought before the courts, and look into options for people who are not violent and who have committed minor crimes, as consumers, drug mules [who smuggle small quantities] or people who committed the crime to feed themselves and their families,” Simons told IPS.

“They are the small fish, like bus drivers or mules, who smuggle small quantities without any violence in a region full of contrasts,” said the head of CICAD, which forms part of the OAS. “We want to see if there is a way for these people not to be caught up in the prison cycle.”

In a region where 10 of the most unequal countries in the world are located, “drug policies must be reformulated,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Costa Rica.

The proportionality of sentences in cases like Leyva’s was a recurrent theme among the experts, who called for a “more just” legal system in line with the real damage caused by people convicted of drug-related crimes.

“Sometimes the punishment is comparable to the penalties for homicide or other serious crimes,” Argentine social worker Graciela Touzé told IPS.

“It is not similar to the damage caused, and the punishment can’t be similar either, although that does not mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable,” added the president of the Intercambios Asociación Civil, an organisation based in Buenos Aires.

Social cost

During the regional conference, speakers were adamant in their criticism of the social costs of repressive anti-drug policies.

Costa Rica’s minister of public security, Celso Gamboa, explained that the people arrested in his country in the first eight months of 2014 included fishermen, flight attendants and drivers who were drawn into drug smuggling by poverty.

“The blows to drug trafficking structures have focused on the most vulnerable parts, which leads us to conclude that much of the fight against drugs in Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America fuels the criminalisation of poverty,” he said.

“The question is: where are the investigations enabling us to reach the white collar structures and those who hold the real power?” said Gamboa, a former prosecutor from the Caribbean province of Limón, where he was involved in hundreds of drug trafficking cases.

Above and beyond the complicated situation in the prisons, civil society organisations insisted that anti-drug policies are marked by inequality. For that reason, activists said, drug consumers and young people are punished more harshly.

But the different proposals for redressing the imbalance sometimes clash.

Gamboa believes in tackling the drug problem with an economics-based approach that goes after the big fish who hold the real money, while Zara Snapp, of the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, says the best way to reduce the number of civilian victims of the drug trade is by creating a market in Mexico regulated by the state.

“The inequality does not mean that there isn’t a lot that we can do, because we still have many resources, it’s just that we channel them into the militarisation of the struggle and into law enforcement, rather than towards creating opportunities for the vulnerable populations,” the Mexican activist, who also forms part of the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Right, told IPS.

“The only thing that approach does is to create fertile ground for recruitment by organised crime,” she said.

It is poor young men and women who pay the cost. According to the OAS, the prevalence of consumption of “pasta base” or cocaine paste is 1.8 percent overall, but 8.0 percent among young people in poverty.

The stigma surrounding the use of pasta base accentuates their marginalisation and further limits their opportunities, according to the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Human Rights and Gender Equality Vague in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:49:41 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136501 By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

With the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda currently under discussion, civil society actors in Europe are calling for a firmer stance on human rights and gender equality, including control of assets by women.

“The SDGs are a unique opportunity for us. The eradication of extreme poverty is within our grasp. But we still face very major challenges. Business as usual is not an option,” Seamus Jeffreson, Director of Concord, the European platform for non-governmental development organisations, told at a meeting in Brussels with the European Parliament Committee on Development on September 3.

An Open Working Group has been set up by the United Nations to come up with a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by the target date of 2015.“We need to address women's control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property" – Seamus Jeffreson, Director, Concord

Development organisations in Europe say a rights-based approach need to be strengthened in the proposed new SDGs or there is a risk these could be traded off in negotiations with major powers that are less committed to human rights.

“We do not see the spirit of a human rights-based approach infusing the other goals. It should underpin the SDGs. The connection is not made that people have rights to resources. We cannot have a development agenda without people’s rights being respected,” Jeffreson said.

Jeffreson’s complaint was echoed by Thomas Mayr-Harting, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations. “From our point of view, a rights-based approach and governance and rule of law need to be better represented in the SDGs.”

While Concord welcomes a specific goal on gender equality within the SDGs, “more details are needed for this to be a goal and not just a slogan,” Jeffreson told IPS. “We need to address women’s control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property.”

The European Union will produce a common position before inter-governmental negotiations start. Further input will come from a High-level Panel set up in July 2012 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015.

“We now look to Ban Ki-moon to play a core role in bringing this process together,” said Mayr-Harting, adding that Sam Kutesa, Ugandan foreign minister, who will chair the UN General Assembly from mid-September, will play also an important role.

Ajay Kumar Bramdeo, ambassador of the African Union to the European Union, who also attended the meeting in Brussels, said that more than 90 percent of the priorities in the common African position have been included in the proposed new set of development goals, including its position on climate change.

“The negative impact of climate change is already being felt in countries in Africa. The European Union has been an important historical, political, economic and social partner for Africa and would also feel the impact of climate change on Africa,” he added.

Kumar Bramdeo emphasised the need to mobilise financing from the developed countries through the Green Climate Fund of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), transfer new clean technologies, and enhance disaster risk management and climate adaptation initiatives.

Ole Lund Hansen, representing the UN Global Compact at the meeting, stressed that the SDGs would not be achieved without the active participation of the world’s business sector. “Some figures say we need 2.5 billion dollars per year in additional investments to achieve the SDGs. We clearly need to tap into the vast resources of the private sector.”

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda which, among others, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030.

There are currently 17 new goals on the drafting board, including proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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No Easy Choices for Syrians with Small Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:24:01 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136492 What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The woman who walked into the Islamic Front (IF) media office near the Turkish border was on the verge of fainting under the hot Syrian sun, but all she cared about was her infant son.

With over half of the country’s population displaced, she was just one of the parents among the more than three million UN-registered Syrian refugees grappling with how to keep their children safe and healthy while dealing with the innumerable dangers inherent in war zones, refugee camps and statelessness.

When IPS met the young woman in early August, she was living in the nearby Bab Al-Salama camp in northern Syria after having been displaced from an area of heavy fighting.Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

The infant was only a few weeks old and needed to be breastfed, but there was nowhere out of the sight of men. And so, wearing a stifling niqab, she asked to use the room that now serves to ‘register’ foreign journalists crossing the border.

The room afforded some shade and privacy in which to breastfeed and, once the twenty-two-year-old former fighter in charge of the office had stepped out, she started feeding her child.

As she blew gently his sweaty forehead, the woman told IPS that she had kidney problems and could not sit – she could only lie down or stand up. She said that she was also having problems accessing medical care, for both herself and her feverish son. And even if the black abaya covering her body and the niqab over her face were hot, ‘’it’s better to use them,’’ she said, ‘’it’s war”.

The area around the Bab Al-Salama camp just across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis has been bombed several times, including a car bomb in May that killed dozens.

On the other side of the border, the camps that the Turkish government has set up for the over 800,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations are said to be able to accommodate fewer than 300,000 of them.

In formal and informal refugee camps throughout the world, women are notoriously at risk of sexual crimes. Alongside economic issues, many parents on both sides of the border cite this as a reason to marry off their daughters earlier, in the attempt to ‘’protect their honour’’ and find someone to provide for them.

The children resulting from these unions are almost always unable to be registered and are thus stateless, joining the ranks of the many Syrian Kurds and others denied citizenship under Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Mohamed was an officer in the Syrian regime’s army. From a fairly large tribe in Idlib, his family was targeted by the regime once the conflict began and he has fought with different Free Syrian Army brigades over the past few years.

Soon after a number of women were reportedly raped by ’shabiha’ in his area, he moved his young wife, mother and sisters across the border. He now crosses illegally into Turkey to see them when not fighting.

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Mohamed is seeking ways to reach Europe. When IPS first met him in autumn of 2013, he had no intention of leaving. However, since then, his first son has been born, stateless.  The Syrian regime did not issue passports to officers in order to prevent them from defecting even prior to the 2011 uprising, and none of his family possesses one.

As a professional soldier without a salary and with no moderate rebel groups providing adequate wages to support a family, as well as no desire to join extremist groups – many of which would pay better – he feels does not know how else he can provide for his family.

‘’There’ s no future here,’’ he said.

On the Turkish side of the border, Ahmad – originally from Aleppo, Syria’s industrial capital – says he does not want to leave the region.

“I once asked my wife what country in the world she would go to if she could, and she answered ‘Syria’,’’ he told IPS proudly.

However, he added that he had stopped going backwards and forwards as a fixer and media activist as the day approached for his wife to give birth and the situation in Aleppo worsened.

When children approached a table as IPS was having tea with him in a Turkish border town, he somewhat gruffly told a little girl begging that she should ‘’work, even if that means selling packets of tissues on the streets.’’

‘’They have to learn to work and not just ask for money. Turks are starting to get angry that we are here,’’ he said.

Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

Meanwhile, some attempts are being made to raise money for schools inside Syria that would be virtual ‘bunkers’, as Assad’s regime continues to target both schools and medical facilities.

In rebel-held Aleppo, IPS stayed with a Syrian family for a number of days in August as the regime barrel bombing campaign continued and as the danger of an impending siege by government forces or a takeover by the extremist Islamic State (IS) became more likely.

The eldest of the family’s four girls – only eight-years-old – had recently been hit by a sniper’s bullet while crossing the road to one of the few schools still functioning. Although it was healing, the exit wound will leave a very ugly scar on her arm.

Whenever the bombs fell during the night, the occupants of the room would move about restlessly, while the eight-year-old was always already awake, staring into the dark, utterly motionless.

Her father was adamant, however, that – come what may – the family would not leave.

In the late afternoon, little boys could be seen playing outside in the street with scant protection from snipers, only the nylon tarp of a former UNHCR tent hung across the street in an attempt to shield them. Large gaping holes marked the buildings, or what was left of them, in the street around them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Child Trafficking Rampant in Underdeveloped Indian Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 07:08:51 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136482 NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country where well over half the population lives on less than two dollars a day, it takes a lot to shock people. The sight of desperate families traveling in search of money and food, whole communities defecating in the open, old women performing back-breaking labour, all this is simply part of life in India, home to 1.2 billion people.

But amidst this rampant destitution, some things still raise red flags, or summon collective cries of fury. Child trafficking is one such issue, and it is earning front-page headlines in states where thousands of children are believed to be victims of the illicit trade.

The arrest on Jun. 5 of Shakeel Ahamed, a 40-year-old migrant labourer, by police in the southern state of Kerala, created a national outcry, and reawakened fears of a complex and deep-rooted child trafficking network around the country.

Ahamed’s operation alone was thought to involve over 580 children being illegally moved into Muslim orphanages throughout the state.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children. Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. Gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children." -- Justice J B Koshy, chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission
Experts tell IPS that children are also routinely trafficked to and from states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), child trafficking is rampant in underdeveloped villages, where “victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignitiesand even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs.”

Available records show a total of 3,554 crimes related to human trafficking in 2012, compared to 3,517 the previous year. Some 2,848 and 3,400 cases were reported in 2009 and 2010 respectively, as well as 3,029 cases in 2008.

In 2012, former State Home Affairs Minister Jitendra Singh told the upper house of parliament that almost 60,000 children were reported as “missing” in 2011. “Of those,” he added, “more than 22,000 are yet to be located.”

It is not clear how many of these “missing” children are victims of traffickers; a dearth of national data means that experts and advocates are often left guessing at the root causes of the problem.

NGOs and government agencies often cite contradictory figures, but both are agreed that a child goes missing roughly every eight minutes in the country.

Human rights watchdogs say there are many contributing factors to child trafficking in India, including economic deprivation. Indeed, the 2013 Global Hunger Index ranked India 63rd out of 78 countries, adding that 21.3 percent of the population went hungry in 2013. According to the World Bank, 68.3 percent of Indians live on less than two dollars a day.

“Socio-economic backwardness is a key factor in child trafficking,” Justice J B Koshy, former chief justice of the Patna High Court and chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding that a political-mafia nexus also fueled the practice in remote parts of the country.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children,” Koshy stated. “Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. The gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children. In some cases, good-looking girls are taken away by force.”

An action research study conducted in 2005 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of trafficking victims belonged to socially deprived sections of society.

It is estimated that half of the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Some 32.3 percent of trafficked girls suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other gynaecological problems, according to a 2006 report by ECPAT International.

This is likely due to the fact that most girls are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

A government-commissioned study conducted in 2003, the last time comprehensive data was gathered, estimated that the number of sex workers increased from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04, representing a 50-percent rise.

Many of these sex workers are thought to be girls between the ages of 12 and 15.

Sreelekha Nair, a researcher who was worked with the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Studies, added that parents coming from poor socio-economic conditions in remote villages sometimes readily hand over their children to middlemen.

Some parents have been found to “sell their children for amounts that are shockingly worthless,” she told IPS, in some cases for as little as 2,000 rupees (about 33 dollars), adding, “law and order agencies cannot often intervene in the private matters of a family.”

Rajnath Singh, home minister of India, told a group of New Delhi-based activists headed by Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, that a central agency would conduct a probe into the mass trafficking of children from villages in the Gumla district of the eastern state of Jharkhand over the past several years.

The group had brought it to the attention of the minister that thousands of girls were going missing from interior villages in the district every year, while their parents claimed ignorance as to their whereabouts.

Raja told reporters in New Delhi this past Julythat developmental schemes launched by individual states and the central government often fail to reach remote villages, leaving the countryside open to agents attempting to “sneak teenage girls out of villages.”

Experts point out that implementation of the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act remains weak. Many believe that since the act only refers to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children, nor does it provide a clear definition of the term ‘trafficking’.

Dr. P M Nair, project coordinator of the anti-human trafficking unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi and former director general of police, said that investigations should focus on recruiters, traffickers and all those who are part of organised crime.

The ‘scene of crime’ in a trafficking case, he said, should not be confined to the place of exploitationbut should also cover places of transit and recruitment.

“Victims of trafficking should never be prosecuted or stigmatised,” he told IPS. “They should be extended all care and attention from the human rights perspective. There is a need for the mandatory involvement of government agencies in the post-rescue process so that appropriate rehabilitation measures are ensured” as quickly as possible, he added.

NGOs like Child Line India Foundation help provide access to legal, medical and counseling services to all trafficked victims in order to restore confidence and self-esteem, but the country lacks a coordinated national policy to deal with the issue at the root level.

Experts have recommended that the state provide education, or gender-sensitive market-driven vocational training to rescued victims, to help them reintegrate into society, but such schemes are yet to become a reality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mass Deportations Don’t Squelch Migration Dreams of Honduranshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 08:09:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136463 Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
CORINTO, Honduras , Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

The clock marks 9 AM when a bus coming from the Mexican city of Tapachula reaches Corinto, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the first bus of the day, carrying children and their families sent back from a failed attempt at making it across the border into the United States.

The bus is carrying 19 children between the ages of five and 12, six women and seven men, all of them families. The trip took 10 hours. A team of volunteers from Red Cross Honduras, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets them and climbs aboard to provide them with bags of essentials.

It is the first stop the bus will make in Honduras, in the northwestern department or province of Cortés.

Its destination is the nearby city of San Pedro Sula, where they will be censused in a government shelter and given a bag of food and a small amount of money to help them return to their homes. The authorities don’t allow journalists to interview, photograph or film the minors.“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad.” -- Daniela Díaz

But this IPS reporter is allowed to get on the bus, where I see the sad, exhausted faces of the children. Their parents or other relatives look down into their laps, to hide their pain, defeat and sense of impotence.

Today, four busloads of deported immigrants – two of which carry children as well as adults – totaling 152 people come through customs at Corinto. The flow is steady, although minors only arrive, alone or accompanied, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The buses bring an average of 30 to 38 people,” Yahely Milla, a volunteer with the Red Cross team, explains to IPS. She says “the mass deportation of minors started in April,” and in May and June, when the crisis of unaccompanied Central American child immigrants broke out in the United States, up to 15 buses a day were arriving.

“Children from the age of three months to 10 years, some of them alone and others accompanied by their parents, came one time; it had a big impact on us because we hadn’t seen so many deportations since we have been here at the border,” she said.

Corinto is 362 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa. It is one of the main areas along the border used by Hondurans heading north on the migration route to the United States. There are at least 80 “blind spots” used by migrants to cross the border into Guatemala before continuing on to Mexico and, if they’re lucky, to the United States.

The authorities have beefed up controls along the border, which has slightly curbed the exodus.

Institutions are practically nonexistent here and the only support for deported migrants comes from the Red Cross and the ICRC, which has been operating in this town for about two years.

The only time the government made an appearance, people here say, was in July, when the deportations spiked and Ana Hernández, the wife of president Juan Orlando Hernández, came to receive a group of children.

Over a month later, the promised camps have not yet been built, and there isn’t even a toilet at the bus stop for the deportees to use.

Between buses, Mauricio Paredes, the head of the Red Cross at the Corinto post, explained to IPS how the reception centre works. The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis has made it necessary to ration the aid.

For children there are disposable diapers, water, baby bottles and IV saline solution, while the adults are given water, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sanitary pads for women and razors for men. They are also allowed a three-minute call to phone their families.

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The sun is beating down five hours later when the next bus comes, from the Mexican town of Acayuca. It brings 38 immigrants, including adolescents and adults.

One of them, 19-year-old Daniela Díaz, calls her mother to tell her that she is back from her second attempt to reach the United States. She then tells IPS about her odyssey.

“I set out on this journey nine months ago and although it’s my second try, I was still shocked by what I saw,” she says.

“This time I managed to get up on The Beast [the Mexican cargo train used by migrants, who ride on top of the wagons], but horrible things happen there. I saw women raped, I saw how the coyotes [migrant smugglers] sell people to criminal bands,” she says, speaking with long pauses.

“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad,” she says with a broken voice.

“What you go through is so tough that I almost have no tears left. I went out of need, because there’s no work here, my family is very poor, sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t, we are five brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest and the most rebellious, my mom says,” adds the young woman who is from Miramesí, a poor neighbourhood in the capital.

But despite her experiences, she says she’s going to try it again. “Going to the United States is my dream, and I’ll do it even if I die in the attempt,” she says, while getting ready to hitchhike – or walk – back to the capital, because she came back without a cent.

The deportees return like Díaz – without money and with a broken dream.

Poverty and violent crime are the main factors driving Hondurans to attempt the dangerous trek to the United States, experts say. Between October 2013 and May 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran minors reached the United States.

In the first six months of this year, some 30,000 Hondurans were deported by the United States and Mexico, according to the governmental Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (Reception Centre for Returned Migrants).

David López, 18, comes from Copán Ruinas in the western department of Copán, one of the “hot spots” in the country, where organised crime flourishes.

That is what he was fleeing. But he came back frightened, defeated and frustrated. He was assaulted twice by criminal bands that operate along the migration route. “I left because it’s not safe to live here anymore, you see things that it’s better not to talk about. I told myself, it’s time to leave the countryside, and I came back defeated, yes alive!…but defeated,” he tells IPS with a pained voice.

His aquiline features crumple as he remembers the assaults, the abuse, the drought and the hunger he survived.

“I thought the paths life took you on were different, but this is really tough,” he says. “I’m ashamed to go home because I failed this time. But I’ll try again, when things have calmed down along the border.”

In August alone some 19,000 deportees were brought back to the country through Corinto – as many as arrived in all of 2013, Paredes said.

This Central American nation of 8.4 million, where 65 percent of households are poor, is also one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 79.7 per 100,000 population, according to the Honduran Observatory on Violence.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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ISIS Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing on “Historic Scale”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:27:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136462 Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama ponders broader actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Amnesty International Tuesday accused the group of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Iraq on a “historic scale.”

In a 26-page report, which was based on on-site investigations and interviews with victims and witnesses of mass executions and abductions, the London-based rights group said the threats to ethnic minorities in the areas under ISIS’s control “demand a swift and robust response … to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities who risk being wiped off the map of Iraq.”

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq,” the report said. “Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014.”

Amnesty’s report was released as another major international rights organisation, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), charged ISIS with executing between 560 and 770 men – all or most of them Iraqi army soldiers – in Tikrit after it took control of that city on June 11 as part of its stunning drive across northern and central Iraq. The following day, ISIS itself claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army.”

The new HRW estimate, which was based on testimony from a survivor and analyses of videos and satellite imagery, was triple the death toll HRW had reported at the end of June. The group said the imagery confirmed the existence of three more mass execution sites in and around Tikrit in addition to the two it had reported earlier.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by ISIS.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Council.

The Amnesty and HRW reports came as ISIS posted a video purporting to show its beheading of a U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who had been kidnapped in August 2013 while he was covering the civil war in Syria for Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.’

The grisly video, which is certain to add pressure on the Obama administration to expand recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to include targets in Syria, as well as in Iraq, followed the release of a video of the beheading by ISIS two weeks ago of another U.S. reporter, James Foley. It also came after an emotional videotaped appeal aired last week by Sotloff’s mother to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

Sotloff had appeared in the Foley video, with the purported executioner, who is believed to be a British national, warning that Sotloff would be next to be killed unless Obama ceased conducting air strikes against ISIS positions around Mt. Zinjar and convoys approaching Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

Obama, however, has since broadened the U.S. target list. Dozens of air strikes have been carried out in coordination with ground attacks by Iraqi special forces, Shi’a militias, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a counteroffensive that initially recaptured the giant Mosul dam from ISIS forces and, more recently, reportedly broke the group’s siege of the largely Shi’a Turkomen town of Amerli.

“I’m back, Obama,” the same masked executioner said on the latest video. “I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” he added, while standing over yet another unidentified captive who is believed to be a British citizen.

For its part, the White House released a statement noting that it had seen the video and that the intelligence community was working to determine its authenticity. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Obama, who left Tuesday for the NATO summit in Wales later this week, is expected to urge other members of the alliance to adopt a coordinated strategy of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure against ISIS, which spread from its base in eastern Syria into Iraq’s Al-Anbar province in early 2014 before its sweep down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys into northern and central Iraq beginning in June.

Among other measures, Washington wants its European allies to adhere to U.S. and British policies against ransom payments to free citizens who are captured by ISIS – a practice that has reportedly become a major source of income for the group.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel are also scheduled to visit key allies in the Middle East next week, especially in the Sunni-led Gulf states, to persuade them to crack down harder against their citizens who fund or otherwise support ISIS, offer greater support to a new government in Baghdad, and possibly contribute direct support for expanded international military efforts against the group.

Like the administration itself, U.S. lawmakers, who return here from their summer recess next week, are divided on how aggressively Washington should take military action against ISIS.

While many Republicans are urging Obama to conduct air strikes – and even deploy ground forces – against the group in Syria, as well as Iraq, many Democrats are concerned that such an escalation could well lead to Washington’s becoming bogged down in yet more Middle Eastern conflicts.

Some key Democrats, however, are becoming more hawkish, a process that is likely to strengthen as a result of Sotloff’s execution.

“Let there be no doubt we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday in announcing legislation that would give Obama legal authority to strike ISIS in Syria.

In its report, Amnesty detailed mass killings last month by ISIS forces of hundreds of non-Sunni Muslim men and boys as young as 12 in the predominantly Yazidi regions in Nineveh Province, as well as the mass abductions of women and children, many of whom, according to the report, are being held in Mosul, Tal ‘Afar, and Bi’aj under pressure to convert to Sunni Islam. Many others remain unaccounted for.

“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trade of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser currently based in northern Iraq.

In addition to Yezidis, targeted groups include Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Kakai and Sabean Manaeans, as well as many Arabs and Sunni Muslims who are believed to oppose ISIS, according to the report which also called for Iraq’s government to disband Shi’a militias, some of which are believed to have targeted Sunni communities in the region.

“Instead of aggravating the fighting by either turning a blind eye to sectarian militias or arming Shi’a militias against the Islamic State as the authorities have done so far, Iraq’s government should focus on protecting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” according to Rovera.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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Afghan “Torn” Women Get Another Chancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 14:14:35 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136457 Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

“The smell of faeces and urine isolates them completely. Their husbands abandon them and they become stigmatised forever” – Dr Pashtoon Kohistani barely needs two lines to sum up the drama of those women affected by obstetric fistula.

Alongside the health centre in Badakhshan – 290 km northeast of Kabul – Malalai Maternity Hospital is the only health centre in Afghanistan with a section devoted to coping with a disease that is seemingly endemic to the most disadvantaged members of the population: women, young, poor and illiterate.

“Given that a caesarean birth is not an option for most Afghan women, the child dies inside them while they try to give birth. They end up tearing their vagina and urethra,” Dr Kohistani told IPS. “Urinary, and sometimes faecal incontinence too, is the most immediate effect,” added the surgeon as she strolled through the hospital corridors where only women wait to be seen by a doctor, or just come to visit a sick relative.“Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law. They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide” – Dr Nazifah Hamra

They are of practically all ages. Some show obvious signs of pain while others look almost relaxed. In fact, they are in one of the very few places in Afghanistan where the total lack of male presence allows them to uncover their hair, take off their burka and even roll up their sleeves to beat the heat.

According to Nazifah Hamra, head of Malalai´s Fistula Department, “malnutrition is one of the key factors behind this problem. You have to bear in mind that women from remote rural areas in Afghanistan always eat after the men. Girls often don´t get enough milk and essential nutrients for their growth. And add to it that they only get to see a doctor when they marry, and usually at a very early age.”

Dr Hamra told IPS that she attends an average of 4-5 patients suffering from a fistula at any one time. Rukia is one of the two recovering in an eight-bed ward on the hospital´s second floor.

“I was 15 when I got married and 17 when I got pregnant,” recalls the 26-year-old woman from a small village in the province of Balkh, 320 km northwest of Kabul.

“When I was about to give birth, I had a terrible pain but the road to Kabul was cut so I was finally taken to Bamiyan, 150 km east of Kabul.”

Sitting on the bed carefully in order not to obstruct the catheter that still evacuates the remaining urine, Rukia tells IPS that her son died in her womb. An unskilled medical staff only made things worse.

“What the doctors did to her is difficult to believe. She was brutally mutilated,” said Dr Hamra, adding that medical negligence was “still painful common currency” in Afghanistan.

In a 2013 report on the risks of child marriage in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch claims that children born as a result of child marriages also suffer increased health risks, and that there is a higher death rate among children born to Afghan mothers under the age of 20 than those born to older mothers.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called on Afghan officials to end the harm being caused by child marriage. “The damage to young mothers, their children and Afghan society as a whole is incalculable,” Adams stressed.

Rukia´s husband left to marry another woman so she had no other choice but to move back to her parents´ house, where she has lived for the last nine years. But even more painful than her ordeal and the defection of her husband, she says, is the fact that she will never be a mother.

Dr Hamra knows Rukia´s story in detail, as well as those of many others in her situation. “Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law,” she told IPS. “They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide.” However, preferring to look towards the future, she said that Rukia will do well after the operation.

“From now on she´ll be able to enjoy a completely normal life again,” stressed the surgeon, who also wanted to express her gratitude to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which “seeks to guarantee the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.”

Annette Sachs Robertson, UNFPA representative in Afghanistan, briefed IPS on the organisation´s action in the country:

“We started working in 2007, in close collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. We train surgeons and we provide Malalai with the necessary equipment and medical supplies. Thanks to this initiative, over 435 patients have been treated and rehabilitated at Malalai Maternity Hospital and we have plans to extend the programmes to Jalabad, Mazar and Herat provinces,” explained Robertson, a PhD graduate in biology and biomedical sciences from the University of Harvard.

“You hardly ever see these cases in developed countries,” she added.

According to a 2011 report on obstetric fistula in six provinces of Afghanistan conducted by the country’s Social and Health Development Programme (SHPD), “the prevalence of obstetric fistula is estimated to be 4 cases per 1000 (0.4 percent) women in the reproductive age group. 91.7 percent of women with confirmed cases of obstetric fistula cannot read and write while 72.7 percent of fistula patients reported that their husbands are illiterate.”

“Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old and 67 percent reported they were 16 to 20 years old when they had got married. Seventeen percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old when they had their first delivery. Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they developed the fistula after their first delivery, while 64 percent reported prolonged labour.”

Meanwhile, thanks to yet another successful operation, Najiba, a 32-year-old from Baghlan – 220 km north of Kabul – will soon be back home after suffering from a fistula over the last 14 years.

Born in a remote rural village, she was married at 17 and lost her first son a year later, after three days of labour. Despite the fistula problem, she was not abandoned by her husband and, today, they have six children.

“I was only too lucky that my husband heard on the radio about this hospital,” explains Najiba, with a broad smile hardly ever seen among those affected.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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