Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 05 May 2015 21:53:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.4 Costa Rica’s Energy Nearly 100 Percent Cleanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 17:01:30 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140463 Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Costa Rica has almost reached its goal of an energy mix based solely on renewable sources, harnessing solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as the energy of the country’s rivers.

In April, the state electricity company, ICE, announced that in 2015, 97 percent of the country’s energy supply would come from clean sources.

“The country as such, along with its energy and environmental policies, has decided that it wants its energy development to be based on renewable sources,” Javier Orozco, the head of ICE’s System Expansion Process, told Tierramérica.

But this Central American country of 4.5 million people still depends partially on fossil fuels. The official said “we use thermal energy generation as a complement because renewables depend on the climate and you can’t guarantee that there will always be wind or water.”

The country’s energy supply is based almost totally on clean sources. In March ICE announced that in the first 75 days of the year, not a single litre of oil nor kilo of coal were burnt to generate electricity in the country.

“In our country, we build thermal plants to keep them turned off. Our aim is to have thermal plants that are turned off most of the time,” Orozco said.

That objective is not always met, principally because hydroelectric power varies with seasonal stream flows. The year 2014 was dry and the country’s fossil fuel use hit a record level, generating 10.3 percent of the total electricity supply.

Since the mid-20th century, Costa Rica’s energy mix has been largely based on hydroelectricity. But the country has gradually reduced its dependence on that energy source, and in 2014 hydropower accounted for only 63 percent of the total demand of 2,800 MW, while geothermal energy supplied 15 percent and wind power seven percent.

Last year’s large petroleum bill was caused by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world, which hit Central America hard and triggered one of the worst droughts in over half a century.

Projections of the future impact of climate change play a double role: while the world has to seek cleaner sources of energy to curb global warming, Costa Rica must diversify its energy mix because of the changes in hydrological patterns.

The country is thus exploring the limits of renewable energies and the possibility of generating 100 percent clean energy is on the table, as part of a strategy based especially on geothermal power.

This source of energy is hidden under the volcanoes of northwest Costa Rica. Local scientists and engineers are perfecting the technique of using the earth’s heat to generate electricity.

“We are planning the construction of the new geothermal plant, Pailas II, and we are at the stage of feasibility studies for a new field. Geothermal power is important because it isn’t subject to climate change, but is constant,” Orozco explained.
The plant will have 50 MW of installed capacity and it will join the ones already in operation: Pailas (35 MW), and Miralles (165 MW). That means that only 23 percent of the country’s geothermal potential of 865 MW is being used, according to ICE figures.

But the problem with respect to developing this source of energy is that the rest of the potential lies in national parks, where exploiting it is banned by law.

That raises the question of what definition of green energy the country will accept.

Experts like former minister of environment and energy René Castro (2011-2014) see the development of geothermal energy as viable.

“It is possible,” Castro told Tierramérica. “Two changes are needed: ICE would need to expand geothermal energy production, and the extraction of this source of energy in national parks would need to be authorised, while paying royalties to the parks and replacing the land used, twice over: if 50 hectares are used (in a park), the equivalent of 100 percent of its ecological value would be replaced.”

The other measure proposed by Castro is “to authorise the private sector to generate electricity with biomass from pineapple or banana plant waste, or sawdust,” and later sell it to ICE, which administers the energy supply and is the biggest producer of electricity.

Private operators represent 14.5 percent of total energy generation and one-fourth of installed capacity. But they face legal restrictions when it comes to expanding their share.

The investment needed would be similar to what is projected by ICE, which is close to one percent of GDP, the former minister said. “What would change is that instead of one single investor, ICE, it would be the dominant one, accompanied by around 30 other companies and cooperatives,” he said.

The country is in urgent need of holding this debate.

In July 2014, the legislature approved a loan from the European Investment Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to build the Pailas II geothermal project.

ICE is building plants that will expand its current installed capacity of 2,800 MW by an additional 800 MW.

At the same time, the government is holding a national dialogue on electrical energy, to discuss these issues, and a national dialogue on transportation and fuels, which will address the hurdle to Costa Rica’s dream of green energy: the fuel used in transportation.

Transport, the weakest link

“The transportation sector is the biggest energy consumer at a national level and is responsible for 67 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” said the current minister of environment and energy, Édgar Gutiérrez, at the start of the national dialogue talks.

That is why “addressing the challenges in this sector is a priority” for the government, he said.

No matter how clean Costa Rica’s energy mix becomes, the country will still produce emissions and will still have a “dirty” development model because of land transport.

One possible solution could come from Costa Rican-born scientist and former astronaut Franklin Chang, who is working on a hydrogen-based renewable energy system.

“The problem doesn’t lie in electricity but in transportation,” he told Tierramérica. “That’s where we have to distance ourselves from the use of petroleum, introduce our own fuel in our own country with hydrogen-based technologies.”

From his laboratory in Guancaste, in western Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean, Chang has partnered with Costa Rica’s state oil refinery, RECOPE, to create a pilot plan with several hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and has reached the test stage. But a technicality has stalled the 2.3 million dollar project.

In October, his company, Ad Astra, announced that it was ready to launch the final phase.

“It was the final flourish – we were going to install and create a small ecosystem of hydrogen vehicles,” said Chang. But RECOPE was unable to overcome the legal obstacle to operate using that energy source. “In March I announced that I was totally fed up.”

The legislature is currently studying a solution to enable RECOPE to invest in clean energy sources, but until then the project will be stalled.

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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Families in Quake-Hit Nepal Desperate to Get on With Their Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/families-in-quake-hit-nepal-desperate-to-get-on-with-their-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 16:47:56 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140458 Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Sixty-five-year-old Rita Rai still has not received emergency relief in the remote village of Mahadevsthan in Kavre district, 100 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
KAVRE DISTRICT, Nepal, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Just over a week after a dreadful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, displaced families are gradually – but cautiously – resuming their normal lives, though most are still badly shaken by the disaster and the proceeding aftershocks that devastated the country.

However, delivery of humanitarian aid and basic relief supplies remains slow, hindered by the scale of the tragedy. With the annual summer monsoon just around the corner – and heavy rains already lashing some parts of the country – experts say the clock is ticking for effective relief efforts.

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave." -- Sunita Tamang, a teenager from rural Nepal who lost her home and school in the recent quake
As of May 3, the death toll was 7,250 in 30 districts, with half of them in Kathmandu and its neighbouring Sindupalchok district, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), the largest humanitarian NGO in the country.

A further 14,122 people have been injured.

Over one million families have been displaced in 35 districts, while over 297,000 houses have been completely destroyed.

The United Nations says close to eight million people – over a quarter of Nepal’s population of 27 million – have been impacted by the crisis.

Of these, about 3.5 million are in need of food aid. The World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an urgent appeal for 116.5 million dollars to deliver aid to those most in need – some 1.4 million people – over the next three months.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), meanwhile, is worried about the plight of the country’s wheat harvest.

The agency had predicted a yield of 1.8 million tonnes in 2015, but is concerned that this forecast will change, as farmers struggle to access devastated fields and deal with severely damaged drainage systems and irrigation canals.

As the government scrambles to meet the needs of its people, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced Tuesday that it had begun to airlift 80 metric tonnes of humanitarian aid to the worst-affected areas.

According to a statement on the agency’s website, “[The] aircraft will deliver water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, such as chlorination material, diarrhoea and cholera kits, as well as water bladders, to provide clean and safe water supplies as fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases grow. Also on board are health kits and tarpaulins, with many families having fled to open spaces under threat of further aftershocks.”

Families yearn for normalcy

“We have stopped crying out of fear because we need to move on now and be brave,” 13-year-old Sunita Tamang tells IPS, hugging her best friend – 12-year-old Manju Tamang.

The girls hail from the remote Ghumarchowk village of Shankarpur municipality, 80 km from the centre of Kathmandu city. Both of their families lost their homes, cattle and food stocks in the quake.

Their school remains dilapidated and though they are desperate to resume their classes, they must patiently wait out the month-long government-declared closure of schools in case of further natural calamities.

In this village, which is only accessible after a steep, three-hour uphill trek, most of the 500 homes remain unsafe for residence, a major obstacle for families who are getting tired of sleeping under the stars in their potato and squash farms where they are living in makeshift tents, nothing but thin plastic sheets covering their heads.

This village in Nepal's Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

This village in Nepal’s Kavre district was one of the worst casualties of the Apr. 25 earthquake that devastated great swathes of this South Asia nation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The torrential rainfall that is lashing this village makes life in agricultural fields difficult, as the ground becomes too muddy to sleep on.

“I would rather return home and take the risk,” a social worker named Bikash Tamang from the Scout Community Group tells IPS.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET), which aims to create “earthquake safe communities in Nepal by 2020”, has begun a series of assessments of major offices and residential areas across the country.

Chief of communications for the NSET tells IPS in Kathmandu that the organisation is assessing the extent of the damage, to ensure that key service providing agencies within the government, as well as the medical and communications sector, can access those most in need.

But the destruction is so extensive that an exhaustive assessment will take time.

Residents of affected areas are receiving sporadic assistance from local Nepali engineers, who have been volunteering their services to assess damages and safety issues in neighborhoods across the country.

“These engineers are helping us free of charge, and I am so grateful to them,” Shankar Biswakarma, hailing from Bagdol ward in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

But these charitable efforts will not be enough.

Migrant families remain in limbo

The number of residents in Tundikhel, the largest camp area for the displaced in Kathmandu, has halved over the last few days. The remaining families are largely migrant workers, a 25-year-old mother of two children tells IPS.

“Many have left who have relatives and friends to help,” says young Manisha Lama. “Those who come from outside Kathmandu are the ones left here in the camps.”

Her home is in the remote village of Deupur in Kavre district, which is among the most affected districts, nearly 100 km south of the capital.

Kavre also has a record number of destroyed homes – some 30,000 lost to the quake, according to NRCS records.

“The needs of the most affected families are crucial and the response is becoming a huge challenge,” NRCS Chief of Communications Dibya Paudel tells IPS.

He explains that affected people are growing extremely frustrated at the snail’s pace of the emergency response, adding that the government and its relevant agencies are inundated by requests, and under intense pressure to respond to the specific humanitarian needs of million of affected people.

As of May 2, the combined total pledged by the international community to the relief effort stood at 68 million dollars, far short of the required 415 million dollars needed for full recovery, according to estimates prepared by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To make matters worse, aid agencies are reporting incidents of looting of relief goods before they reach their specified destination; those on the ground say families are getting too desperate to wait for supplies to reach them through formal channels.

“We’re still waiting for relief but I heard the government and agencies are now scared to come because of the incidents of looting,” Sachen Lama, a resident of the affected village of Bajrayogini, 10 km from Kathmandu, tells IPS.

He and his fellow villagers have been asking the community to stay calm when the relief arrives, and let the aid workers do their job so that there is no obstruction in the distribution process.

“But there was looting two days ago by some local people as they were desperate, [so our] relief supplies never arrived here,” Lama says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israel Slammed Over Treatment of Palestinian Children in Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:15:29 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140450 Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council demanding that action be taken against Israel over the abuse of Palestinian children after they have been arrested by Israeli security forces.

“Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers,”  wrote Mansour. “These crimes committed against our children are intolerable and unacceptable.”

"Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers” – Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations
The letter, sent on May 1, followed the detention of a nine-year-old boy, Ahmad Zaatari from Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, who had been detained on the night of Apr. 28 for approximately eight hours by Israel police after they alleged that he and his brother, 12-year-old Muhammad Zaatari, had thrown stones at an Israeli bus.

Allegations of the mistreatment of Palestinian children while in Israeli police and military detention facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are not new.

“The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process,” said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention, which recommended that 38 changes be made after consulting with Israeli authorities.

However, in February 2015, UNICEF released an update reviewing progress made in implementing the report’s 38 recommendations during the intervening period, which found that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

In an April 2015 report on ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, rights group Military Court Watch (MCW), which monitors the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, said that “at least 87 percent of UNICEF’s recommendations lack effective implementation and the ill treatment of children who come in contact with this system still remains ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’.”

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a Palestinian human rights organisation specifically focused on child rights has been reported as saying that “Palestinian children are treated as mercilessly as adults. Most troubling are brutal beatings, other forms of torture and prolonged isolation in solitary confinement.”

According to DCIP, unlike Jews, Palestinian parents cannot accompany their children when interrogated, and there are cases of children even younger than 12 arriving at interrogation centres shackled, blindfolded and sleep-deprived.

Most experience physical abuse amounting to torture before, during and after interrogation, and “almost all children confess regardless of guilt to stop further abuse,” said DCIP, adding that the children are often forced to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read or understand.

“Similarities in the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank exist because of the inevitable tensions that arise due to the prolonged military occupation,” Gerard Horton from MCW told IPS.

“You can tinker with the system as much as you like but unless the underlying causes are addressed the situation will remain the same.

“Most Palestinian children are arrested near Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. If you insert 500,000 settlers into occupied territory and the security forces’ job is to protect them, this inevitably results in the local population being terrorised,” added Horton.

Meanwhile, Israel was harshly criticised in a report of the board of inquiry regarding incidents during last year’s Gaza war released by U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-moon on Apr. 27.

The board of inquiry concluded that Israel was responsible for the death of 44 Palestinians, and the injuring of 227 others, when they carried out seven attacks on six U.N. sites in Gaza where Palestinian civilians were sheltering.

Ban condemned the shelling attacks with “the utmost gravity” and said that “those who looked to them [U.N. shelters] for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”

According to Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations provided the Israelis with the exact locations of the U.N. facilities where the civilians were sheltering.

“The U.N. inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces],” said Gunness.

However, the U.N. Secretary General also criticised Palestinian groups for putting some of the U.N. schools at risk by hiding weapons in some of them.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms. However, the three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters,” said Ban.

Israeli diplomats put pressure on the United Nations not to release its findings into the war until the Israeli authorities had conducted their own investigation into alleged human rights violations. In September last year, Israel opened investigations into five criminal cases, including looting.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 122nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Unsafe Abortions Continue to Plague Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 11:43:33 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140427 By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, May 2 2015 (IPS)

She is just 14, but Janida avoids eye contact with others, preferring to look down at the ground and nodding her head if someone tries to engage her in conversation.

Janida (not her real name) was once a sociable and playful child, but that was before she was sexually abused by her stepfather and giving birth to a baby who is now four months old.

Her days marked by trauma and depression, Janida is just one of many girl children in Kenya who have been abused and robbed of their childhood, leaving them emotionally scarred.

“The little girl [Janida] underwent both physical and mental torture,” Teresa Omondi, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Programmes at the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya, told IPS. ”Her best option was to terminate the pregnancy rather than suffer the mental and physical torture, but she could not afford the cost of a safe abortion.”Many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common” – Teresa Omondi, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya

Under Article 26 (4) of the Kenyan constitution, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”

In September 2010, Kenya’s Ministry of Health released national guidelines on the medical management of rape or sexual violence – guidelines that allow for termination of pregnancy as an option in the case of conception, but require psychiatric evaluation and recommendation.

Then, in September 2012, the health ministry released standards and guidelines on the prevention and management of unsafe abortions to the extent allowed by Kenyan law, only to withdraw them three months later under unclear circumstances.

According to Omondi, “the law has not yet been fully put into operation and many providers have not been trained to provide safe abortion, meaning many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common.”

The health ministry is responsible for doctors and nurses not being permitted to be trained on providing safe abortion, said Omondi, so “it is ridiculous that while Kenya’s Ministry of Health accepts that post-abortion care is a public health issue regarding numbers, practitioners have their hands tied.”

The issue of unsafe abortions in Kenya hit the headlines in September last year, when Jackson Namunya Tali, a 41-year-old nurse, was sentenced to death by the high court in Nairobi for murder, after the death of both Christine Atieno and her unborn baby in a botched illegal abortion.

Various inter-African meetings attended by Kenya have been held on reducing maternal mortality rates by providing safe abortions, with health ministers agreeing that statistics show that countries that do provide safe abortions have reduced their maternal mortality rates.

In a recent analysis, Saoyo Tabitha Griffith, Reproductive Health Rights Officer at FIDA and an advocate at the High Court of Kenya, said that despite Kenya having adopted a Constitution that affirms among others, women’s rights to reproductive health and access to safe abortion, Kenyan women continue to die from unsafe abortion – a preventable cause of maternal mortality.

For Dr Ong’ech John, a health specialist in Nairobi, perforated uteruses and intestines, heart and kidney failures, anaemia requiring blood transfusion as well as renal problems are just a few of the health complications arising from an abortion that goes wrong.

“Unsafe abortion complications are not just about removal of the products of conception that were not completely removed. One can evacuate but the perforated uterus has to be repaired, or you remove the uterus and it is rotten,” Dr Ong’ech told IPS.

“When the health ministry issued a directive in February this year instructing all health workers, whether from public, private or faith-based organisations, not to participate in any training on safe abortion practices and the use of the medication abortion, many questions were left unanswered,” said Omondi.

A highly respected Kenyan doctor, Dr John Nyamu, spent one year in prison in 2004 after his clinic was raided following the discovery of 15 foetuses on major roads together with planted documents from a hospital he had worked for but had since closed.

Speaking of his ordeal with Mary Fjerstand, a senior clinical advisor at Ipas, a global non-governmental organisation dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion, Nyamu said that the publicity surrounding his imprisonment helped people to “realise the magnitude and consequences of unsafe abortion in Kenya; women were dying in great numbers. Before that, abortion was never spoken of in public.”

He went on to say that Kenya wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality, but that “it can’t be achieved if safe abortion is not available.”

A May 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) updated fact sheet indicates that every day, approximately 800 women die worldwide from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99 percent of all maternal deaths occurring in developing countries.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The Blue Amazon, Brazil’s New Natural Resources Frontierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 06:49:52 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140417 An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 2 2015 (IPS)

The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil.

The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both biodiversity and energy resources, is similar in extension to the country’s rainforest – nearly half the size of the national territory.

And 95 percent of the exports of Latin America’s giant leave from that coast, according to official figures.

Brazil’s continental shelf holds 90 and 77 percent of the country’s proven oil and gas reserves, respectively. But the big challenge is to protect the wealth of the Blue Amazon along 8,500 km of shoreline.

“We haven’t fully grasped just how immense that territory is,” Eurico de Lima Figueiredo, the director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Fluminense Federal University, told Tierramérica. “To give you an idea, the Blue Amazon is comparable in size to India.”

“But we aren’t prepared to take care of it; it isn’t yet considered a political and economic priority for the country,” the political scientist said.

Figueiredo, who presided over the Brazilian Association of Defence Studies (ABED) from 2008 to 2010, said the Blue Amazon is a term referring to the territories covered by new treaties on international maritime law.

Brazil is one of the 10 countries in the world with the largest continental shelves, in an ocean like the Atlantic which conceals untold natural wealth that offers enormous economic, scientific and technological potential.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprises an area which extends to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast.

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Brazil’s EEZ was originally 3.5 million sq km. But it later claimed another 963,000 sq km, which according to different national institutions – including scientific bodies – represents the natural extension of the continental shelf.

The U.N. Convention’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), made up of 148 countries, has so far sided with Brazil, adding 771,000 sq km to its EEZ. The decision on the rest is still pending.

Brazil’s demand, at least with respect to the expansion of the continental shelf granted so far, meets the requisites of the U.N. Convention and grants the country the power to exploit the resources in the expanded area and gives it the responsibility of managing it.

The recognition of Brazil’s claim, although only partial, has annoyed some neighbour countries, because of the huge economic benefits offered by the additional continental shelf it was granted.

Figueiredo said the challenge now is to monitor and protect the continental shelf. “We don’t have full sovereignty with regard to the maritime territory. Brazilian society is unaware of the important need to protect the Blue Amazon. There are enormous shortcomings, with respect to our needs.”

In 2005 a plan was approved to upgrade the navy with an estimated investment of 30 billion dollars until 2025. Defending a country is a complex task, said Figueiredo, because it involves a number of dimensions: military, economic, technical and scientific.

But scientific research in Brazil’s marine territory is currently far outpaced, he said, by the exploitation of resources such as the oil located 250 km off the coast and 7,000 metres below the ocean surface, beneath a thick layer of salt, sand and rocks.

Development of the so-called presalt reserves, discovered a decade ago, would make Brazil one of the 10 countries with the largest oil reserves in the world. And they already provide 27 percent of the more than three million barrels a day of oil and gas equivalent produced by this country.

“That region belongs to Brazil, the country has assumed commitments with the U.N. to monitor and study the living and non-living resources like oil, gas and minerals. If we don’t preserve it, we’ll lose this great treasure,” oceanographer David Zee, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, Brazil is far from living up to the commitments assumed with the international community. “We have duties – we have to meet the U.N.’s scientific research requirements. We have to take greater care of our marine resources,” he said.

Apart from the oil and gas wealth, a large part of the EEZ borders the Mata Atlántica ecosystem, which extends along 17 of Brazil’s 26 states, 14 of which are along the coast.

The environmental organisation SOS Mata Atlántica explains that coastal and marine areas represent the ecological transition between land and marine ecosystems like mangroves, dunes, cliffs, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and beaches. The biological wealth of these ecosystems turns marine areas into enormous natural nurseries.

And the convergence of cold water from the South with warm water from the Northeast contributes to biological diversity and provides shelter for numerous species of flora and fauna.

But only 1.5 percent of Brazil’s maritime territory is under any form of legal protection, Mata Atlantica reports.

Thus, ensuring national sovereignty over jurisdictional waters is still an enormous political and military challenge. In March, some 15,000 naval troops and 250 Navy boats and aircraft took part in Operation Blue Amazon, the biggest of its kind carried out so far in Brazilian waters.

“This was an opportunity to train and guarantee the security of navigation, crack down on drug trafficking, and patrol the sea. The mission involved the entire territorial extension of Brazil,” Lieutenant Commander Thales da Silva Barroso Alves, commander of one of the three offshore patrol vessels that Brazil has to monitor the Blue Amazon, told IPS.

These vessels control the extensive coast in “areas of great economic interest, exploitation and accidents. Illegal fishing is also a recurrent issue,” he said.

The officer argued that the extraction of marine resources should be carried out in a “conscious, sustainable fashion,” with the aim of preserving biodiversity.

Figueiredo, the political scientist, concurs. “Our ability to defend the Blue Amazon depends on our capacity to develop technical-scientific means of protecting biodiversity in such an extensive area,” he said.

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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The U.N. at 70: Impressive Successes and Monumental Failureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 13:38:19 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140414 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, May 1 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, protect human rights, maintain international peace and security, and uphold international law. Its 70-year history is marked with many successes, but also disappointments. We need to look at both sides so that we can make the U.N. more effective in the future.

The U.N. has an impressive record of resolving many international conflicts. U.N. peacekeepers have, since 1945, undertaken over 60 field missions and negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ended regional conflicts. Right now, peacekeepers are in 20 hot spots around the world trying to save lives and avert wars.The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

The U.N. also fought for the liberation of countries that have been under colonial rule for over 450 years. Eighty nations and more than 750 million people have since been freed from colonialism.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowered the U.N. to act as custodian for the protection of human rights, discrimination against women, children’s rights, torture, missing persons and arbitrary detention that was occurring in many countries.

Moreover, the U.N. and its specialised agencies are engaged in enhancing all aspects of human life, including education, health, poverty reduction, the rights of women and children, and climate change.

As a result, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 12 times to the U.N., its specialised agencies, programmes and staff. This included an award in 1988 to the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces, and in 2001 to the U.N. and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

The U.N. defined, codified and expanded the realm of international law, governing the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. More than 560 multilateral treaties on human rights, refugees, disarmament, trade, oceans, outer space, etc. encompassing all aspects of international affairs were negotiated by the U.N.

The U.N. has made progress with its eight Millennium Development Goals, which will be followed by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance social, environmental and economic progress by 2030. But it could not stop the United States from abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, and repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The U.N. is not without shortcomings. In 1970, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 190 nations, all five superpowers owned nuclear weapons. Later, despite the NPT and Partial Test Ban Treaty, several countries – North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India – developed nuclear weapons. This revealed the U.N.’s inability to enforce regulations on offending nations.

Along similar lines, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice has resolved major international disputes, but the U.N.’s veto powers have limited its effectiveness at critical times.

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, has prosecuted several war criminals – but it has been criticised for prosecuting only African leaders while Western powers too have committed war crimes.

Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general  from 1953-1961, said that the “U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The U.N. has solved many violent conflicts, prevented wars, and saved millions of lives but it also faced disappointments.

In Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission (1991–95) ended violence and established a democratic government, but well after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1975-79) had executed over 2.5 million people.

In Rwanda, over 800,000 were massacred in 100 days. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the “safe zone” of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys. In Darfur, an estimated 300,000 Sudanese civilians were killed. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people.

A recent report by “Body Count” revealed that “in addition to one million deaths in Iraq, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan as a result of US foreign policy”.

Last year, Israel attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza killing 2,200 Palestinians. Condemning that action, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.” The U.N. Security Council (SC) has failed as the United States vetoes any action against Israel.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East caused thousands of deaths and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya is devastated with over 40,000 deaths, and the civil war in Syria has killed over 220,000 people. These wars have displaced over 50 million people. Now, ISIS has infiltrated these countries causing gruesome killings, human rights abuses, and war crimes, at an unprecedented rate.

These catastrophic events might have been prevented if the Member States of the U.N. had the ability to resolutely act in a timely manner. But the U.N. is not a world government, and it does not have a standing army of peace-keepers ready for deployment. And, it is the Member States that make decisions at the U.N.

These setbacks clearly reflect the shortcomings of the U.N. Security Council, and its veto powers that allow some members’ own interests to be placed ahead of the need to end a raging conflict.

Navi Pillay, addressing the Security Council, said that “short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security.”

During the last 70 years, geopolitics have changed drastically that call for reform of the U.N. – to meet global needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Member States accuse the Security Council of being arrogant, secretive and undemocratic but the veto powers resist change. Meanwhile, violations of the U.N. Charter by powerful countries continue to erode the effectiveness of the United Nations.

However, as mandated by its Charter, the U.N. has prevented another World War. The U.N. has made impressive and unprecedented progress in all aspects of human development, bringing great benefits to millions of people around the world.

Our convoluted world needs the U.N. The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

As President Obama has said, the U.N. is imperfect, but it is also indispensable.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Draconian Ban on Abortion in El Salvador Targeted by Global Campaignhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140406 One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women.

Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent to jail for supposedly undergoing illegal abortions.

There are currently 15 women in prison who were sentenced for alleged abortions after reported miscarriages. At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortions between 2000 and 2011, according to local organisations.

The campaign by Amnesty International and local human rights groups collected 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding a modification of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.

This Central American country of 6.3 million people is one of the few nations in the world to ban abortion under any circumstances and penalise it with heavy jail terms.

The campaign was launched when a woman was freed by an appeals court. She had been found guilty of homicide and spent 15 months in prison.

Carmelina Pérez wept tears of joy when a judge declared her innocent on Apr. 23, after a hearing in a court in the eastern city of La Unión, the capital of the department of the same name.

“I’m happy, because I will be back with my son and with my family, free,” a still-handcuffed Pérez told IPS. She has a three-year-old son in her native Honduras.

Pérez, 21, was working as a domestic employee in the town of Concepción de Oriente, in La Unión, when she suffered a miscarriage. She ended up sentenced in June 2014 to 30 years in prison for homicide – a sentence that was overturned on appeal.

Of the 17 women imprisoned in similar cases since 1998, 15 are still in prison.

That was the year the legislature modified the penal code to make abortion illegal under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is deformed or unviable, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Article 1 of the Salvadoran constitution was amended in January 1999 to protect the right to life from the moment of conception, making it even more difficult to reform the ban on abortion.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez, 25, was another one of the 17 women imprisoned, who are referred to by rights groups as “Las 17”. She had been sentenced to 25 years after being raped and suffering a miscarriage. She spent seven years in prison but was pardoned by the legislature in January 2015, after the Supreme Court recognised prosecutorial errors in her trial.

And in November 2014, 47-year-old Mirna Ramírez was released after serving out her 12-year sentence.

At least five other women have been accused and are in prison awaiting final sentencing.

Most of these women sought medical care in public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or stillbirths, but were reported by hospital staff fearful of being accused of practicing abortions. Many were handcuffed to the hospital bed and sent to prison directly, under police custody.

“The total ban on abortion is a violation of the human rights of girls and women in El Salvador, such as the rights to health, life and justice,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said at an Apr. 22 forum in San Salvador.

Guevara added that El Salvador’s law on abortion “criminalises the country’s poorest women.”

Although there are no recent figures, a 2013 study carried out by the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) found that 129 women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011.

Of this total, 49 were convicted – 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide in different degrees. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office argued that the fetuses were born alive and the mother was responsible for their death.

Of the 129 women accused, seven percent were illiterate, 40 percent had only a primary school education, 11.6 percent had a high school education and just 4.6 had made it to the university. And 51.1 percent of the accused had no income while 31.7 had small incomes.

In El Salvador, it is no secret that middle- and upper-class women have access to safe abortions in private clinics, and are neither reported by the doctors nor arrested and charged.

In its petition to modify the ban, Amnesty International demanded that El Salvador ensure access to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape or incest, where the woman’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is malformed or unlikely to survive.

Only the Vatican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Surinam and Chile have total bans on abortion, although in Chile the legislature is studying a bill that would legalise therapeutic abortion (under the previously listed circumstances).

Delegates from Amnesty International, the Agrupación Ciudadana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights met on Apr. 22 with representatives of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, to demand a reform of the law and deliver the 300,000 signatures.

They also met with the presidents of the legislature and judiciary.

“There is at least a willingness to talk, we see a certain openness,” activist Paula Ávila with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organisation based in the United States, told IPS.

Ávila added that as women who have suffered these cases increasingly speak out and tell their stories, the state will have to accept the need to sit down and talk.

The Center, along with the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, demanded a response from the Salvadoran state to a communication sent on Apr. 20 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) urging the state to recognise its responsibility in the death of “Manuela”.

Manuela – who never allowed her real name to be revealed – had a stillbirth, was erroneously accused of having an abortion, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was later discovered that she had lymphatic cancer, a disease that can cause miscarriages. She died in prison in 2010 without being treated for her cancer.

The IACHR has accepted the case and has given the Salvadoran state three months to respond with regard to its responsibility for her death.

The debate on the flexibilisation of the total ban on abortion is marked by the “machismo” of Salvadoran society and moralistic and religious overtones, with heavy pressure from Catholic Church leaders and evangelical churches that stands in the way of political changes.

But the release of Carmelina Pérez in La Unión has given rise to hope in similar cases.

For the first time, an appeals court judge dismissed the statement of the gynecologist who testified against the defendant. That decision was key in overturning her conviction.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Watch What Happens When Tribal Women Manage India’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:46:51 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140401 Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her." -- Kama Pradhan, a tribal woman from the Gunduribadi village
Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India’s policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country’s bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country’s forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state’s heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

“We who stayed back had to sell our family’s brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre,” recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation’: each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours’ verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation’

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot’ project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

“When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests,” Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back,” she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities’ hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state’s 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

“But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze,” Nayak recounts.

“Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades,” she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

“When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women,” Nayak tells IPS.

“Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences,” she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

“Corporations’ officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use,” recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women’s protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use’, primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha’s women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha’s forests.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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In Nicaragua Marriage Is Only for ‘Him’ and ‘Her’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:49:55 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140394 One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

A new Family Code that went into effect in Nicaragua this month represents an overall improvement in terms of the rights of Nicaraguans. However, it has one major gap: it fails to recognise same-sex marriage, and as a result it closes the doors to adoption by gay couples.

Organisations that defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons (LGBTI) fought to the end without success to get the new Code – Law 870 – to include the right of gay couples to marry and adopt children.

Marvin Mayorga, an activist with the Urgent Actions Against Discrimination for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project in Nicaragua, told IPS that the law is discriminatory.

“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family,” he said.“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family.” -- Marvin Mayorga

“And outside the family there are more barriers to achieving minimal guarantees and benefits like decent work, social security coverage, education, healthcare and housing,” he complained.

The activist stressed that “families in Nicaragua are diverse, but they want to impose one single model of what a family is.”

The new Code, approved by the legislature in 2014, finally entered into force on Apr. 8.

Its aim is to protect the rights of each member of the family as well as enforce the collective rights and obligations of families.

The driving force behind the drafting of the new Code, lawmaker Carlos Emilio López of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), told IPS that the 674-article Code updates and brings together in one legal instrument what was previously dispersed in 47 different laws and regulations.

The new Code addresses questions such as marriage, property rights, adoption, retirement, the rights of mothers, fathers and children, divorce, alimony and paternal and maternal responsibility.

Up to now, family questions were mainly included in the 1904 Civil Code, which according to López regulated these issues with a strongly conservative and Catholic tint, which subordinated women and children to the father as the breadwinner of the family.

“A careful analysis was made so that each member of society, as individuals that form part of families, had clear rights, obligations and duties in keeping with the country’s constitution and laws, so that there would be no discrimination against anyone for any reason,” he said.

López argued that there is no discrimination against the LGBTI community because the Nicaraguan constitution, which is above the new Code, protects the right of all Nicaraguans, and provides guarantees against inequality.

But Luis Torres, head of the local NGO Nicaraguan Sexual Diversity Alternative, told IPS that the new Code does discriminate against LGBTI persons by excluding them from the right to marry and forcing the state to provide social benefits only to family units recognised as such by the new Code.

“It’s a step backwards,” he complained. “Through the Code, the state excludes cohabiting same-sex couples from social security coverage. Neither marriage nor civil union between people of the same sex are recognised.”

That means in practice that “LGBTI couples do not have access to related rights like the right to a family loan, to adopt children, or to obtain social security coverage in case of the death or injury of a spouse, among other rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples,” Torres said.

The advances made by the new Code include recognition for the first time in this Central American country that civil unions – but only between a man and a woman – have the same rights and obligations as traditional married couples.

Ramón Rodríguez, a professor of criminal law and human rights law at the Central American University and the American University, said that because the Code “establishes that marriage and stable civil unions are only between a man and a women, a significant segment of the population, which forms part of the sexual diversity spectrum, is the direct victim of the violation of the universal principals of equality and non-discrimination.”

But Samira Montiel, Nicaragua’s ombudswoman for sexual diversity, disagreed with the criticism by human rights activists and LGBTI rights organisations.

“I would also have liked the Code to allow me to marry and adopt, but the constitution does not permit that and the Code cannot be above the constitution,” she told IPS.

Montiel said that although “for now” same-sex marriage has not been recognised, “the individual rights of each member of the lesbian-gay community are protected because they have equal rights as siblings, children, parents, relatives and citizens.”

“No lesbian woman or gay man who has a child will lose their right to parenthood, and they won’t be denied any benefits. So far I haven’t received a single formal complaint about the Code, no one has appealed it, there isn’t a single request for adoption of a child by a gay couple, and healthcare has not been denied to any lesbian or bisexual,” she told IPS.

One of the positive aspects of the Code is the fact that it accelerates the legal process for suing for alimony in divorce cases. Instead of dragging on for up to five years, the process can now take no longer than 150 days.

It also sets child support for sons and daughters under 18 to up to half of the income of the parent who is being sued, and creates fines for incompliance.

In addition, it creates a process for elderly parents to sue their children for abandonment, and gives sons and daughters up to the age of 24 the right to receive from their families money to buy food, in the case of proven need.

Furthermore, it addresses matters related to divorce, the division of assets, child protection, parental leave and other areas.

It also prohibits physical punishment or other humiliating treatment of children in any setting, and sets the age of marriage at 18 – the age of majority for both sexes, in terms of legal obligations.

The Nicaraguan federation of non-governmental organisations that work on behalf of children and adolescents had demanded that the age of marriage be raised, in order to put an end to marriages between girls aged 14 or even younger to adult men.

These marriages are often the so-called “family remedy” in cases of sexual abuse or pregnancy of girls and adolescents by adult men.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-comprehensive-ban-on-nuclear-testing-a-stepping-stone-to-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140382 Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Campaign Against Glyphosate Steps Up in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/campaign-against-glyphosate-steps-up-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 19:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140377 Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

Glyphosate spraying of illegal drug crops has caused environmental damage in Colombia’s rainforest. Credit: Public domain

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, the campaign has intensified in Latin America to ban the herbicide, which is employed on a massive scale on transgenic crops.

In a Mar. 20 publication, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that the world’s most widely used herbicide is probably carcinogenic to humans, a conclusion that was based on numerous studies.

Social organisations and scientific researchers in Latin America argue that thanks to the report by the WHO’s cancer research arm, governments no longer have an excuse not to intervene, after years of research on the damage caused by glyphosate to health and the environment at a regional and global level.“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air. And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer. “ -- Joao Pedro Stédile

“We believe the precautionary principle should be applied, and that we should stop accumulating studies and take decisions that could come too late,” said Javier Souza, coordinator of the Latin American Pesticide Action Network (RAP-AL).

The precautionary principle states that even if a cause-effect relationship has not been fully established scientifically, precautionary measures should be taken if the product or activity may pose a threat to health or the environment.

“We advocate a ban on glyphosate which should take effect in the short term with restrictions on purchasing, spraying and packaging,” Souza, who is also the head of the Centre for Studies on Appropriate Technologies in Argentina (CETAAR), told IPS.

Carlos Vicente, a leader of the international NGO GRAIN, told IPS that the herbicide first reached Latin America in the mid-1970s and that its use by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto spread massively in the Southern Cone countries.

“Its widespread use mainly involves transgenic crops, genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, such as RR (Roundup Ready) soy, introduced in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and other countries,” said Vicente, a representative of GRAIN, which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity.

There are 50 million hectares of transgenic soy in the region, and 600 million litres a year of the herbicide are used annually, he said.

According to Souza, there are 83 million hectares of transgenic crops in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay alone.

The WHO report “is very important because it shows that despite the pressure from Monsanto, independent science at the service of the common good rather than corporate interests is possible,” Vicente said.

Monsanto sells glyphosate under the trade name Roundup. But it is also sold as Cosmoflux, Baundap, Glyphogan, Panzer, Potenza and Rango. And among small farmers in some countries, it is popularly referred to as “randal”.

It is used not only on transgenic crops but also on vegetables, tobacco, fruit trees and plantation forests of pine or eucalyptus, as well as in urban gardens and flowerbeds and along railways.

But in traditional agriculture it is used after the seeds germinate and before they are planted, while in transgenic crops it is used during planting, when it acts in a non-selective fashion, thus destroying a variety of plants and grass, according to RAP-AL.

 

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The people of the town of Malvinas Argentinas, in the central province of Córdoba, have blocked the construction of a Monsanto transgenic maize seed treatment plant since 2013, in their fight against the alleged toxic effects to human health and the environment. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“This rain – literally – of glyphosate has a direct impact on ecosystems, communities, the soil and water – and these impacts cannot be hidden any longer,” Vicente said.

“We can no longer accept the use of these poisons because they destroy biodiversity, aggravate climate change, destroy the soil’s fertility, and contaminate the water and even the air,” said Joao Pedro Stédile, leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). “And above all, they bring more illness, such as cancer,” he told IPS.

Rafael Lajmanovich, an expert on ecotoxicology at Argentina’s Universidad Nacional del Litoral, has heavily researched glyphosate.

“Although the studies do not refer to human health or carcinogenesis, they have demonstrated in animals (amphibian embryos) that glyphosate is ‘teratogenic’ – in other words it causes malformations during the development of these vertebrates,” Lajmanovich, who is a member of the government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS.

“In addition, we found that it has effects on the activity of very important enzyme systems (cholinesterases), which means it has a certain degree of neurotoxicity,” he added.

Epidemiological studies have found effects of glyphosate spraying in communities.

“The main effects that scientists and rural doctors have linked to the spraying are specifically respiratory diseases, allergies, miscarriages, an increase in children born with malformations, and a higher incidence of tumors,” said Lajmanovich.

Vicente, meanwhile, noted that applied research carried out in several Latin American countries point in the same direction as the WHO study. In Argentina, for example, studies in the provinces of Rosario and Córdoba “clearly demonstrate the rise in cases of cancer, which in some instances are three or four times the national average.”

In Colombia, agronomist Elsa Nivia, director of the Pesticide Action Network in that country, found that in the first two months of 2001 local authorities reported 4,289 people suffering from skin and gastric disorders, and 178,377 animals – including horses, cattle, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and fish – killed as a result of exposure to the pesticide.

Cases of intoxication have also been reported in Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to RAP-AL.

Souza complained that in Latin America, glyphosate is sold without restrictions by animal feed and agrochemical suppliers, hardware stores and other businesses, often “in smaller quantities, in soft drink bottles.”

Stédile, who is also a member of the international small farmers movement Vía Campesina, hopes this region and Europe will ban its use in agriculture, as Mexico, Russia and the Netherlands have done.

As an alternative, he proposed “agroecological production that combines scientific know-how with the age-old knowledge of peasant farmers, to develop crops without the use of poisons, suited to each ecosystem.” That methodology has increased “the productivity of the soil and labour, better than practices that use poisons,” he said.

It is not, said Vicente, a question of replacing glyphosate with new weed killers, several of which are even more toxic, “but of switching to a model of agroecological smallholder agriculture aimed at achieving food sovereignty for our people.”

Stédile said governments in South America continue to support transgenic agriculture despite the evidence of damage to health and the environment, because they believe “agribusiness can help the economy by increasing exports of commodities, contributing to achieving a positive trade balance.”

“This exports illusion keeps governments from taking a stance against a veritable genocide,” he said.

Vicente called for concrete government measures that reflect the results of research carried out in this region, now that the WHO has issued conclusions backing it up.

In a statement, Monsanto criticised the IARC report as “junk science”, saying “this result was reached by selective ‘cherry picking’ of data and is a clear example of agenda-driven bias.” They demanded a rectification.

In response, the researchers pointed out that they stated that glyphosate was a “probable carcinogen”.

Monsanto said “This conclusion is inconsistent with the decades of ongoing comprehensive safety reviews by the leading regulatory authorities around the world that have concluded that all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe for human health.”

Lajmanovich argued that the position taken by a company “cannot prevail over that of an international institution of renowned prestige, the WHO, which is the guiding body in world health.”

He also noted that Monsanto considered WHO reports reliable “when they indicated that glyphosate was innocuous.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Stakes Out “Red Lines” for Paris Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/caribbean-stakes-out-red-line-issues-for-paris-climate-talks/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 17:20:34 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140370 A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

A woman purchases fish at a market in Kingstown, St. Vincent. CARICOM leaders say fisheries is one of the important economic sectors already being impacted by climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

When the international climate change talks ended in Peru last December, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a political and economic union comprising small, developing, climate-vulnerable islands and low-lying nations, left with “the bare minimum necessary to continue the process to address climate change”.

“The Lima Accord did decide that the Parties would continue to work on the elements in the Annex to develop a negotiating text for the new Climate Change Agreement. We wanted a stronger statement that these were the elements to be used to draft the negotiating text,” Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre told IPS."We are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads [of state] to speak with one unified position on climate change." -- Minister James Fletcher

“We did not get the specific mention that Loss and Damage would be included in the new agreement, but there is also no mention that it would not be included. On Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), we got an agreement that all parties would submit their contributions for the new agreement during 2015.

“However, we lost all the specifics that would inform parties on what should be submitted. We lost the review process for the INDCs and only those parties who wished to respond to questions for clarification would do so,” Fuller said.

The Lima talks forms part of the homestretch leg of negotiations ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), slated for Paris in December.

The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

At the meeting in Paris, parties are expected to sign a legally binding accord intended to keep human-induced global temperature rise within levels that science says will avert catastrophic climate change.

CARICOM negotiators are trying to avoid a repeat of Lima and are identifying the “red line” issues that are “sacrosanct” for their populations as they prepare for the Paris summit.

In preparation for the Paris talks, lead negotiators from CARICOM met here on Apr. 21, first, to prepare for an engagement of CARICOM heads with French President François Hollande in Martinique on May 9.

“President Hollande, I guess, is intending to meet with CARICOM heads to get from them what are the main concerns of Caribbean small island developing states and to see how he can develop some momentum, some consensus leading to Paris,” James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, tells IPS.

The Castries meeting brought together CARICOM lead negotiators and technical experts on climate change, Fletcher says, adding, “Our meeting was a meeting of technical experts to really refine what are our main positions, what are the issues that are sacrosanct for us, what are the red line issues, that, as far as we are concerned, any new agreement on climate change must address.”

Serge Letchimy, president of the Regional Council of Martinique, tells IPS that the regional summit in Martinique “is dedicated to preparation and mobilisation toward” COP 21 and will bring together states and territories of the Caribbean.

The regional summit aims to list the initiatives of the Caribbean region “which must be integrated in a ‘schedule of solutions’ adapted to the specificities of these territories,” explains Maïté Cabrera, a media relations official involved in the organisation of the Martinique meeting.

“It also aims to contribute to the writing of an ambitious and binding global agreement which must be adopted during COP21,” Cabrera tells IPS.

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia’s Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy Science and Technology, James Fletcher, says a climate change deal favourable to the Caribbean will help to protect the important tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Castries meeting of CARICOM climate change negotiators was also a stocktaking gathering at which officials examined the status of their proposals ahead of COP 21.

“Our negotiators have been involved in negotiations; the first round of negotiations was in Geneva this year. There are still negotiations to take place on a range of issues — adaptation, climate finance, loss and damage, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and a range of issues,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“This really allows us to take stock of how the negotiations are going and what are the main issues and where we should be identifying with the negotiations,” he says.

A third element of the Castries gathering had to do with preparing for a meeting of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and CARICOM leaders at the CARICOM Head of Government meeting in Barbados in July.

“So, again, we are looking to develop a position that will allow our heads to speak with one position, one unified position on climate change in that meeting with the Secretary General, which, again, deals with climate change and climate finance.”

Fletcher is optimistic that the Caribbean will make progress on its positions on climate change ahead of and ultimately at COP 21, saying that the region has been “very united in its position on climate change”.

“If there is one thing I can say from the time I have been involved in this process is that Caribbean heads, Caribbean countries have all been united on our issues, there is no disagreement amount us,” says Fletcher, who has attended several COPs, including in Warsaw in 2013 and Lima in 2014.

However, he also identified areas in which the region can do more to shore up its negotiating ahead of Paris.

“I think what needs to happen a little more is coordination and this is what today’s meeting is about, ensuring that that coordination is there,” he tells IPS, adding that coordination worked well at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa last year.

Fletcher tells IPS that at the Samoa conference “there was a very strong Caribbean presence and a very good coordinated presence to ensure that we were able to speak with the same voice and we attended all the meeting in numbers and that is what we are aiming for in Paris this year”.

He pointed out that the outcome of the Paris summit will have a direct impact on the residents of the Caribbean.

“We have been saying for a long time now that climate change represents an existential threat for small island developing states like the Caribbean, that we have to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and that anything above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause catastrophic sea level rise, will cause warming of our oceans, will cause acidification of our oceans, which will impact our fisheries, impact our tourism sector, will cause reduction in water availability and that has impacts for agriculture, for ordinary lives, for availability and accessibility of potable water,” he tells IPS.

“Anything above 1.5 degrees will result in an increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events like storms and hurricanes. So, we have a very real stake in what comes out of Paris, and we cannot allow the Paris agreement to be one that we know will cause us to have a climate that is warming at a rate that is catastrophic for us, small island countries like ours, and low-lying countries like Guyana,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cash-Strapped Latin American Countries Turn to China for Credithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:06:31 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140358 Cidade de Kilamba is a new housing development built entirely by Chinese firms south of Luanda, the Angolan capital, to accommodate half a million people in five- to 13- storey apartment buildings with “smart” elevators, schools, shops and leisure facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Angolans are generally grateful for China’s participation in the reconstruction of their central African country, in spite of the fact that some of the roads and buildings built by Chinese firms are of poor quality, and mainly Chinese labourers have been hired rather than local workers.

To rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the civil war, Angola needed finance which was denied to it by the West, whereas China supplied credit and engineering expertise without imposing impossible conditions on a country that only achieved peace 27 years after winning independence in 1975, Angolan leaders declare.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean, several Latin American countries in financial difficulties have recently turned to China as a sort of lender of last resort. Argentina and Venezuela, for example, lacking access to international credits, obtained large loans from Chinese banks.

For China, it makes no sense to refuse loans to countries with strong agricultural production or that possess plenty of commodities, especially oil and gas. There is no need to be concerned about their solvency if their products guarantee their loans, whatever the reasons for their difficulties.

Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras announced on Apr. 1 an injection of 3.5 billion dollars from China to relieve its finances, which have suffered from the corruption scandal that has rocked the economy, the government, large companies and several political parties in the country since 2014.

The loan from China Development Bank is helping Petrobras weather a storm that also includes gross management and planning mistakes which raised the cost of constructing two refineries, of the purchase of another plant in the U.S. city of Pasadena, Texas, and of other projects by tens of billions of dollars.

The crises faced by potential Petrobras suppliers provide opportunities for China, but are not seen as indispensable. China Development Bank previously loaned Petrobras 10 billion dollars in 2009, when the oil company appeared prosperous and had recently discovered vast reserves in the pre-salt layer off the Brazilian coast.

This loan will be repaid by a minimum of 10 years’ oil supply to China.

Unequal exchange

“China’s financial power tends to accentuate the trade imbalance,” when countries or whole regions export virtually only commodities to China, and import Chinese manufactured goods, said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos de Empresas Transnacionais e da Globalizaçao Econômica (SOBEET – Brazilian Society for the Study of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation).

Iron ore and soy account for 75 percent of Brazilian exports to China, he said, while imports from China are nearly all manufactured goods.

But China “is a new trading partner with a high degree of complementarity, and a win-win situation could be created if we knew how to make the most of the opportunity,” Lima said.

“Brazil must do its homework and define what it wants from China in the long term, and then negotiate, instead of merely reacting passively to Chinese demands,” he said.

In his view, now is the time to make changes to that unequal exchange, because China is facing “the prospect of reducing its exports and stimulating the dynamics of internal demand, whereas in Brazil it is the reverse: the domestic market is weakening and more exports are needed.”

But Lima recognises that Brazil’s economic and political difficulties do not favour the definition of long term strategies and goals in negotiations with an ascendant power like China.

Booming investment

China’s growing involvement in Latin America is also marked by growing investment. SOBEET identified 69 projects announced by Brazil since 2010, the vast majority in processing industries involving medium-sized amounts, that is, less than 100 million dollars.

Only three investments are over one billion dollars: in the first, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) invested five billion dollars, mainly for the purchase of power transmission lines; the second is for extracting and exporting iron ore; and the third is for processing soy.

The list is not complete because of the difficulty of monitoring Chinese investments that are routed through other countries, such as European nations, and arrive at their productive destination without the nationality of origin being known, Lima complained.

China has been increasing its foreign direct investments since the turn of the 21st century, and they reached over 206.8 billion dollars in 2013, according to United Nations figures published by SOBEET.

Latin America has not been a priority destination for Chinese investments. The region has received only 4.1 percent of the total, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However this will change over the next 10 years. China will invest 250 billion dollars in the region over this period, President Xi Jinping announced in January in Beijing, at the first Ministerial Forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Some projects are exceptional, like the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua which will compete with the Panama Canal and will cost an estimated 40 billion dollars, four times the GDP of Nicaragua.

A large part of the capital already invested is oil-related. State Chinese oil companies are already taking part in oil and gas extraction in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

But the most spectacular growth in China-Latin America relations has occurred in trade, which increased 22-fold between 2000 and 2013, to reach 275 billion dollars in 2013. And it is set to double again by the end of this decade, Xi predicted.

The expansion in trade exacerbated the imbalance, but the terms of exchange improved with the boom in prices of Latin American commodities, which lasted at least until 2012.

Credit penetration

The amounts involved in Chinese loans to the region are lower than the trade figures, but also reflect the Asian giant’s expansion and its priority interests in oil, minerals and agricultural produce.

Between 2005 and 2014, borrowing from China by the region totalled 119 billion dollars, according to the databank of Inter-American Dialogue, a forum for political and business leaders of the Americas that includes former presidents of several countries.

Of this total, nearly half – 56.3 billion dollars – was loaned to Venezuela, which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves. Next in order of importance are Brazil and Argentina, which are big exporters of soy and received 22 billion and 19 billion dollars, respectively.

Mexico, the second largest Latin American economy, is in sixth place in terms of loans from Chinese state banks, with 2.4 billion dollars, less than one-quarter of the amount borrowed by Ecuador (10.8 billion dollars) and less even than the credit extended to The Bahamas (2.9 billion dollars).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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As Nuke Talks Begin, U.N. Chief Warns of Dangerous Return to Cold War Mentalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/as-nuke-talks-begin-u-n-chief-warns-of-dangerous-return-to-cold-war-mentalities/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 23:31:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140353 A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia, two of the world’s major nuclear powers, the United Nations is once again playing host to a four-week-long international review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A primary focus of this year’s conference, which is held every five years, is a proposal for a long outstanding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference.” -- Jackie Cabasso

“Eliminating nuclear weapons is a top priority for the United Nations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates Monday.

“No other weapon has the potential to inflict such wanton destruction on our world,” said Ban, who has been a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament.

He described the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and an essential basis for realising a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute and former chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IPS: “If we rely solely on the NPT to fulfil nuclear disarmament, we’ll have a lifelong wait, with the ever-present risk of nuclear detonations and catastrophe.

“That’s because the five nuclear-armed states treat the NPT as giving them permission to modernise their arsenals in perpetuity, while other nuclear-armed governments act as if the NPT has nothing to do with them,” she added.

A next-step nuclear ban treaty is being pursued by ICAN’s 400 partner organisations and a growing number of governments in order to fill the legal gap between prohibition and elimination.

Whatever the NPT Review Conference manages to achieve in 2015, said Dr. Johnson, “a universally applicable nuclear ban treaty is clearly on the agenda as the best way forward to accelerate regional and international nuclear disarmament, reinforce the non-proliferation regime and put pressure on all the nuclear-armed governments.”

Expressing disappointment over the current status on nuclear disarmament, the secretary-general pointed out that between 1990 and 2010, the international community took bold steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

There were massive reductions in deployed arsenals, he said, and States closed weapons facilities and made impressive moves towards more transparent nuclear doctrines.

“I am deeply concerned that over the last five years this process seems to have stalled. It is especially troubling that recent developments indicate that the trend towards nuclear zero is reversing. Instead of progress towards new arms reduction agreements, we have allegations about destabilising violations of existing agreements,” he declared.

Instead of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in force or a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, he said “we see expensive modernisation programmes that will entrench nuclear weapons for decades to come.”

Over the weekend, Peace and Planet Mobilization, a coalition of hundreds of anti-nuclear activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), delivered more than eight million petition signatures at the end of a peace march to the United Nations.

The president of the Conference, Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, and the United Nations have received several petitions from civil society organisations (CSOs) calling for the successful conclusion of the current session and negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

But the proposal is expected to encounter strong opposition from the world’s five major nuclear powers: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

According to the coalition, the weekend began with an international conference in New York attended by nearly 700 peace activists; an International Interfaith Religious convocation attended by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shinto religious leaders; and a rally with over 7,500 peace, justice and environmental activists – including peace walkers from California, Tennessee and New England at Union Square North.

“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference, with a clarion call for negotiations to begin immediately on the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation.

“We also recognised that a multitude of planetary problems stem from the same causes. So, we brought together a broad coalition of peace, environmental, and economic justice advocates to build political will towards our common goals”, she said.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee said people from New York to Okinawa, Mexico to Bethlehem “picked up on our ‘Global Peace Wave,’ with actions in 24 countries to build pressure on their governments to press for the beginning of ‘good faith’ negotiations for the elimination of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

The Washington-based Arms Control Association said rather than the dozens of nuclear-armed states that were forecast before the NPT entered into force in 1970, only four additional countries (India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of which have not signed the NPT) have nuclear weapons today, and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has grown stronger.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference provides an important opportunity for the treaty’s members to adopt a balanced, forward-looking action plan: improve nuclear safeguards, guard against treaty withdrawal, accelerate progress on disarmament, and address regional nuclear proliferation challenges, the Association said.

However, the 2015 conference will likely reveal tensions regarding the implementation of some of the 65 key commitments in the action plan agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, it warned.

“There is widespread frustration with the slow pace of achieving the nuclear disarmament goals of Article VI of the NPT and the lack of agreement among NPT parties on how best to advance nuclear disarmament.”

Though the United States and Russia are implementing the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) accord, they have not started talks on further nuclear reductions.

“Russia’s annexation of Ukraine will likely be criticized by some states as a violation of security commitments made in 1994 when Kiev joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state,” the Association said.

At the same time, most nuclear-weapon states–inside and outside the NPT–are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

This is leading some non-nuclear-weapon states to call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states; while others are pushing for a renewed dedication to key disarmament commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the Association argued.

Ban said the next few weeks “will be challenging as you seek to advance our shared ambition to remove the dangers posed by nuclear weapons”.

This is a historic imperative of our time, he said. “I call on you to act with urgency to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to you by the peoples of the world who seek a more secure future for all,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Want to Help Nepal Recover from the Quake? Cancel its Debt, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/want-to-help-nepal-recover-from-the-quake-cancel-its-debt-says-rights-group/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 20:05:10 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140345 School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

School children in Nepal’s Matatirtha village practice an earthquake drill in the event of a natural disaster. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal on Apr. 25, 2015, has endangered the lives of close to a million children. Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The death toll has now passed 3,300, and there is no telling how much farther it will climb. Search and rescue operations in Nepal entered their third day Monday, as the government and international aid agencies scramble to cope with the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck this South Asian nation on Apr. 25.

Severe aftershocks have this land-locked country of 27.8 million people on edge, with scores missing and countless others feared dead, buried under the rubble.

“Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.” -- Jubilee USA Network
With its epicenter in Lamjung District, located northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, and south of the China border, the massive quake rippled out over the entire country, causing several avalanches in the Himalayas including one that killed over 15 people and injured dozens more at the base camp of Mt. Everest, 200 km away.

The United Nations says Dhading, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Nuwakot, Dolakha, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Ramechhap are the worst affected areas. In total, 35 out of 75 districts in the Western and Central regions of the country are suffering the impacts of the quake and its severe aftershocks.

Questions abound as to how this impoverished nation, ranked 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) – making it one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – will recover from the disaster, considered the worst in Nepal in over 80 years.

One possible solution has come from the Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, which said in a press release Monday that Nepal could qualify for debt relief under the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) new Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCR).

The IMF created the CCR this past February in order to assist poor countries recover from severe natural disasters or health crises by providing grants for debt service relief. Already, the fund has eased some of the financial woes of Ebola-impacted countries by agreeing to cancel nearly 100 million dollars of debt.

Quoting World Bank figures, Jubilee USA said in a statement, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders and spent 217 million dollars repaying debt in 2013.”

Nepal owes some 1.5 billion dollars each to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as 54 million dollars to the IMF, 133 million dollars to Japan and 101 million dollars to China.

“In order for Nepal to receive relief from the IMF’s fund, the disaster must destroy more than 25 percent of the country’s ‘productive capacity’, impact one-third of its people or cause damage greater than the size of the country’s economy,” Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Network’s executive director, told IPS. “It seems clear that Nepal will qualify for immediate assistance from the IMF.”

According to Jubilee USA Network, Nepal is scheduled to pay back 10 million dollars worth of loans to the IMF in 2015 and nearly 13 million dollars in 2016. Relieving the country of this burden will free up valuable and limited funds that can be redirect into the rescue and relief effort.

Strong emergency response – but is it enough?

“Time is of the essence for the search and rescue operations,” Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Monday.

“The actions of the Government of Nepal and local communities themselves have already saved many lives. Teams from India, Pakistan, China and Israel have started work, and more are on their way from the U.S., the UK, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union and elsewhere.”

Early on Sunday morning the United States’ department of defense confirmed it had dispatched an aircraft to Nepal carrying 70 personnel and 700,000 dollars worth of supplies.

But it is unclear whether or not the immediate response will prove equal to the mammoth task ahead.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 940,000 children from areas severely affected by the quake are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been supplying emergency food rations, while the World Health Organisation has sent in enough medical supplies to meet the needs of 40,000 affected people, yet experts say much more will be needed in the weeks and months ahead.

Tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the open air in makeshift tents; almost all are in need of better accommodation, clean water, sanitation, tents and blankets, and improved medical supplies.

A situation report released over the weekend by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) revealed, “In Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded, running out of space for storing dead bodies and lack medical supplies and capacity. BIR hospital [one of the country’s leading medical facilities] is treating people in the streets.”

Scenes of devastation all around the country highlight the need for emergency relief, but do not do justice to the massive reconstruction effort that will be needed in the months and years to come.

“Nepal’s rebuilding efforts will take years and debt cancellation is a recipe for long-term financial stability,” LeCompte stressed.

“Since the IMF has clear rules in place and the financing available with their trust, aid [to Nepal] should come relatively quickly,” he added. “Unfortunately, with the bulk of the debt owed to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the rules for debt relief are less clear.

“It’s unfortunate that the World Bank, as a development institution, still has not yet released a plan similar to the IMF to respond rapidly to humanitarian crises. In the short term, the World Bank must offer a plan for grants and debt relief. I hope this crisis also motivates the World Bank to release their plans for a rapid response mechanism,” LeCompte concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Grenada Braces for Impacts of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/grenada-braces-for-impacts-of-climate-change/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:12:14 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140334 Grenadian fishermen prepare to head out to sea. They say they have been catching less fish and their livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenadian fishermen prepare to head out to sea. They say they have been catching less fish and their livelihoods are threatened by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PALMISTE, Grenada, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Henry Prince has lived in this fishing village for more than six decades. Prince, 67, who depends on the sea for his livelihood, said he has been catching fewer and fewer fish, and the decrease is taking a financial toll on him and other fisher folk throughout the island nation of Grenada.

I heard about the climate change but never paid too much attention towards it,” Prince told IPS, adding that “we don’t catch jacks as before.”

Jacks, a small fish widely used by the fishermen as bait, are also fried and eaten by poor families for whom they are an inexpensive source of protein.

Over the last few years, fisher folk have not been catching the jacks, which are usually found in abundance around the month of November. Due to the scarcity of jacks, fishermen have been forced to import sardines from the United States to use as bait.

Grenada’s Agriculture, Land, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Roland Bhola believes the dwindling numbers of fish in the country’s waters are a direct result of climate change.

“Our fishermen are reporting less and less catches in areas where there was once a thriving trade,” Bhola said.

“We have been able to associate that with the issues of climate change … the destruction of our coral reefs and other ecosystems like mangroves,” he said.

“The catch is one day good, one day bad as far as I am looking at it,” Ralph Crewney, another fisherman, told IPS.

“For the last few months we hardly catch anything. Last June, it was just at the last moment that we made big catches.”

Grenadian fishermen Henry Prince (right) and Ralph Crewney see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, despite the risks posed by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenadian fishermen Henry Prince (right) and Ralph Crewney see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, despite the risks posed by climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Crewney, 68, has been living on the seashore for close to 20 years. He noted that in recent times the sea is getting a lot closer to his small shack. But he has no immediate plans to move.

“I feel comfortable here because I like to be away from the noise,” he explained.

Other families in the area are now thinking about relocating to communities in hilly areas but are reluctant to move too far from their source of livelihood.

Fishing families in the Caribbean see beachfront living as a virtual birthright, with an alarming 70 percent of Caribbean populations living in coastal settlements.While storms and beach erosion have long shaped the geography of coastal environments, rising sea levels and surge from more intense storms are expected to dramatically transform shorelines in coming decades, bringing enormous economic and social costs.

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

Experts say that while storms and beach erosion have long shaped the geography of coastal environments, rising sea levels and surge from more intense storms are expected to dramatically transform shorelines in coming decades, bringing enormous economic and social costs.

Scientists and computer models estimate that global sea levels could rise by at least one metre (nearly 3.3 feet) by 2100, as warmer water expands and ice sheets melt in Greenland and Antarctica.

Global sea levels have risen an average of three centimetres (1.18 inches) a decade since 1993, according to many climate scientists, although the effect can be amplified in different areas by topography and other factors.

On Apr. 16, delegates attending a one-day National Stakeholder’s Consultation here urged the authorities to re-establish the National Climate Change Council as the island moves to strengthen measures to deal with the impact of climate change.

They said while Grenada had made progress on dealing with climate change and the environment, it still has some way to go to become climate resilient and to develop the capacity to implement climate resilience actions.

The one-day consultation was jointly organised by the World Bank and the Grenada government.

A government statement issued after the consultation said that the re-establishment of the Council will help “drive the climate change agenda of integrating climate change at the national planning level, the mainstreaming of climate change adaptation” as well as monitoring and reporting.

Grenada's Environment Minister Roland Bhola says the small developing country has very high vulnerability to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Environment Minister Roland Bhola says the small developing country has very high vulnerability to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Climate Investment Fund (CIF) Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) recently approved a 10.39-million-dollar grant funding for a Caribbean pilot programme for climate resilience.

Grenada along with St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica and Haiti stand to directly benefit from this grant.

A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the devastation wreaked on Grenada by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 “is a powerful illustration of the reality of small-island vulnerability.”

The hurricane killed 28 people, caused damage twice the nation’s gross domestic product, damaged 90 percent of the housing stock and hotel rooms and shrank an economy that had been growing nearly six percent a year.

Grenada and its tourism-dependent Caribbean neighbours are thought to be among the globe’s most vulnerable countries.

Scientists say the island has a high risk of being adversely impacted by climate change in several areas. These include coastal flooding due to natural disasters and storm surges. They also point to marine ecosystems being affected by increased ocean temperature, and increased freshwater run-off resulting in coral reef destruction and food chain interruption which affect fishing and tourism industries.

Over the last 25 years, the fragile Grenadian islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique have also been bombarded by storms, hurricanes, higher tides and sea surges.

This resulted in severe loss of mangrove vegetation along the coastline, beach erosion, damage to soil and serious threat to the local tourism industries which depend heavily on the pristine condition of the beaches and health of the marine life.

Meanwhile, as countries prepare to adopt a new international climate change agreement at the Paris climate conference in December, Bhola said Grenada is looking forward to the implementation with great anticipation.

“My country, Grenada, a small developing country, has very high vulnerability to climate change. A successful agreement for us therefore has to reduce the risks that we face from climate change and has to assist us in coping with the impacts on our country, our people and our livelihoods,” Bhola said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Peace Is Not a Boy’s Clubhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-is-not-a-boys-club http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/peace-is-not-a-boys-club/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140330 When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

When armed conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up afresh in December 2010, women organised a demonstration calling for peace. Credit: Abdullah Vawda/IPS TerraViva

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Governments have long pledged to bring more women to the peace table, but for many (if not most), it has been little more than lip service.

In a bid to accelerate this process, the Global Network of Women Peace-builders (GNWP) in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Chile and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations organised an international workshop on Apr. 23 to better integrate the Women, Peace, Security (WPS) U.N. Security Council Resolutions within the security sector.

The seminar focused on recommendations for the implementation of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 at the international, regional and national level, in order to bring more women to the peace tables in conflict areas, and bring their perspectives into post-conflict reconstruction processes.

According to the 2014 Secretary-General’s report on WPS, a reform of the security sector is needed in order to accomplish these goals.

Speaking from U.N. Headquarters in New York, the International Coordinator of GNWP, Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, stressed “the need for a systematic implementation of Resolution 1325 at the international level.”

In the past three years, GNWP has conducted over 50 localisation workshops in 10 countries, in various communities and municipalities, inviting police officers and the military forces to learn about Resolution 1325.

“It is no surprise to us when they come to our localisation workshops that these officers hear about Resolution 1325 for the very first time. However, working only at the local level is hard, because final approvals come from the higher ups, in order to actually get a full reform and training of officers of the security sector,” highlighted Cabrera-Balleza.

The GNWP is not only calling for a global reform of the security sectors and armed forces for the inclusion of women in peace-building, but also for demilitarisation of countries and the elimination of conflicts to achieve peace worldwide.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and member of the High-Level Advisory Group for Global Study on Resolution 1325, who was present at the seminar, underlined the inadequacy of governments and peacekeepers in protecting civilians, and especially women, in recent years.

“(We need) the integration of the culture of peace and non-violence in national and global policies, and education for global citizenship. We need a human security policy, and a more inclusive human way of thinking about our future, where women and men can share equally the construction of a safer and just world,” he said.

One positive example of the inclusion of women during peace negotiations comes from the Philippines.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the Philippine Government Peace Panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), explained that after 17 years of peace negotiations between the Philippine authorities and the MILF, in the last two decades, the government and armed forces have moved toward the “civilianisation” of peace processes.

“More and more women were allowed in, either as members of the bureaucracy or government, or civil society leaders, or academia members, and they have all been sitting at the peace table.”

As Coronel-Ferrel said, women brought a more gender-based response into the signing of the final peace agreement between the government and the MILF.

“Not only because there were more women inside the negotiating tracks, but also women around the panels, who would be lobbying the government but also the counter party, making sure that diverse frameworks would be included in the text.”

In addition, the reform of the security sector in the Philippines created local monitoring teams, where either police officers or lower ranking members of the armed forces worked closely with MILF members, leading to trust building and cooperation for better security on the ground, concluded Coronel-Farrel.

Participating in the event were also officers from police and military forces from Argentina, Australia, Burundi, Canada, Colombia, Ghana, Nepal, countries which are implementing reforms within their security sectors at the local, regional and national level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Planned Mega-Port in Brazil Threatens Rich Ecological Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:00:05 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140301 The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast’s long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the “unprecedented” environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the “Belo Monte of Bahia” – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex “shows a lack of respect for the region’s natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable,” activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”.

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

The project’s environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, “is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch,” Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, “the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population.” It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company’s total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil’s environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

“The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe,” Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin’s own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country’s third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine’s productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

“The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities,” Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

“The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company,” he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

“We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects,” said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Talk of Death Squads to Combat New Wave of Gang Violence in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:00:23 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140280 The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy.

After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege in the most violent urban areas, and the government ordered the creation of three quick response battalions, similar to the ones that operated during the 1980-1992 civil war.

These military units were responsible for a number of massacres of civilians, such as the 1981 mass killing in the village of El Mozote in the northern department of Morazán, where more than 1,000 rural villagers were killed by members of the Atlacatl battalion.

Meanwhile, police and local residents are openly discussing the creation of groups to exterminate gangs, along the lines of far-right paramilitary death squads active in the country from the 1970s until the end of the armed conflict in 1992.“This escalation of violence could have been avoided if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs.” -- Félix Arévalo

“It is extremely dangerous to be talking about a state of siege and all that, because it could affect the country’s democratic process,” the coordinator of the ecumenical Pastoral Initiative for Peace and Life (IPAZ), Félix Arévalo, told IPS.

IPAZ brings together leaders from different religious faiths seeking a negotiated solution to the problem of gang violence plaguing this impoverished Central American nation of 6.3 million.

If approved by parliament, the state of siege would suspend constitutional guarantees such as freedom of assembly and free passage, while militarising areas with high murder rates.

The last time a state of siege was declared in El Salvador was during the November 1989 guerrilla offensive known as “To the limit”, in the midst of the armed conflict that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 “disappeared”.

The country is now governed by one of the former guerrilla leaders, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the 1992 peace accords and has been in power since 2009.

His government says the new wave of violence is part of a backlash by the gangs against the Feb. 14 transfer of their leaders from a medium to a maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, located in the city of Zacatecoluca, 41 km east of San Salvador.

The transferred prisoners included several of the heads of the MS13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs that reached a truce in March 2012 which led to a sharp drop in the number of murders.

Raúl Mijango, who helped broker the truce, told IPS that as a result of the decision to isolate the leaders, younger, more fanatic members who have made violence a way of life now lead the gangs’ activities.

“The last thing these young men are thinking about is stopping this conflict,” he said.

The truce collapsed in May 2013, when then President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) of the FMLN was forced to remove the minister of justice and security, General David Munguía, one of the main drivers of the talks from within the government, over a technicality.

As of Monday Apr. 20, the gangs had killed – besides civilians – 20 police officers, six members of the military, one prosecutor and six prison guards in an undeclared war also fuelled by the police and military response that has left dozens of gang members dead in clashes.

On Apr. 18, nine gang members were shot by a military squadron in Uluapa Arriba, in the city of Zacatecoluca.

Some police have even openly talked about killing gang members.

“When they (the gang members) run into us, we’re going to kill them,” one police officer wearing a face mask told a local TV station.

And circulating on the social networks are amateur videos of police and locals urging people to kill the “mareros” – members of the gangs or “maras” as they are known in Central America – the same way death squads killed left-wing opponents during the war.

In March, the number of homicides shot up. That month was the most violent so far in the last decade, according to police figures: 481 homicides, an average of 16 murders a day, 56.2 percent more than in March 2014.

If that tendency holds steady, by the end of this year more than 5,000 murders will have been committed, for a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 population, far above the already high 2014 rate of 63 per 100,000.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The average Latin American murder rate is 29 per 100,000 inhabitants and the global average is 6.2.

The driving force behind the call for a state of siege are lawmakers from the right-wing Great Alliance for National Union, which holds 11 of the 84 seats in the single-chamber legislature whose term begins May 1, after the March elections.

“This escalation of violence could have been avoided,” said Arévalo, “if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs” – an idea that is staunchly opposed by most political factions, due to society’s outrage against the gangs, which have an estimated combined total of 60,00 members.

In January the government of Sánchez Cerén cut off any possibility of dialogue with the gangs.

Roberto Valent, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS that the scaling up of gang activity was in part a response to the state’s attempt, through a stepped-up police presence, to reassert control over territory in the hands of gangs.

Police action is important, he said, to pave the way for prevention, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reinsertion in those areas.

“It’s clearly a reaction to what the state is doing,” said Valent, who was technical coordinator of the National Council for Citizen Security and Coexistence.

The Council, set up by the president in September 2014, was tasked with setting forth proposals for fighting crime, with the participation of different segments of society and technical support from international donors.

In January, the Council proposed 124 measures that the government plans to adopt to fight the wave of crime and violence. Part of the two billion dollars needed to implement a five-year plan have been obtained.

The programme will include educational, healthcare and recreational initiatives, while creating 250,000 jobs for at-risk youngsters.

But in practice, the government has demonstrated more interest in stiffening its policy of cracking down on crime by stepping up police and military action.

The president has announced a restructuring and strengthening of the police, as well as the creation of more elite units to combat the gangs.

IPAZ’s Arévalo said it should be the other way around: “less police action and more prevention and reinsertion.”

“We have stirred up a hornet’s nest; the government acted mistakenly, you can’t implement a plan with corpses falling every which way,” he argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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