Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:36:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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OP-ED: Egyptian-Saudi Coalition in Defence of Autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:28:37 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133684 The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism. The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism.

The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated a “terrorist” organisation and are vowed to dismantle.It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

The two new partners and the UAE also loathe Qatar for hosting and funding Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The continued incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists and dozens of other journalists on trumped up charges is no coincidence.

The court case is symptomatic of the current Saudi-Egyptian relationship in their counter-revolution against the 2011 pro-democracy upheavals that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his fellow autocrats in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.

The pro-autocracy partnership between the Egyptian military junta and the Saudi ruling family goes beyond their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the perceived threat of terrorism. It emanates from the autocrats’ visceral opposition to democracy and human rights, including minority and women’s rights.

What should be most critical to them as they contemplate the future of their coalition of counter-revolutionaries, however, is the growing Western conviction that dictators can no longer provide stability.

The Egyptian Field Marshall and the Saudi potentate also abhor the key demands of the Arab uprisings and reject their peoples’ calls for freedom, dignity, justice, and genuine economic and political reform.

They are equally terrified of the coming end of the authoritarian paradigm, which could bring about their demise or at least force them to share power with their people. The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, are willing to trample on their people’s rights in order to safeguard family tribal rule.

The Saudi-Egyptian partnership is also directed at the Obama administration primarily because of Washington’s diplomatic engagement with Iran.

According to media and Human Rights Watch reports, at least 15,000 secular and Islamist activists are currently being held in Egyptian prisons, without having been charged or convicted. This number includes hundreds of MB leaders and activists and thousands of its supporters.

Many of them, including teenagers, have also been tortured and abused physically and psychologically. These mass arrests and summary trials and convictions of Islamists and liberals alike belie the Saudi-Egyptian claim that theirs is a campaign against terrorism.

A brief history of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations in the past 60 years have been erratic, depending on leadership, ideology, and regional and world events. During the Nasser era in the 1950s and ‘60s, relations were very tense because of Saudi fears of Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

The Saudis saw Nasser a nationalist firebrand arousing Arab masses against colonialism and Arab monarchies. He supported national liberation movements and wars of independence against the French in North Africa and the British in the Arab littoral of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi monarchy viewed Nasser’s call for Arab unity “from the roaring ocean to the rebellious Gulf” as a threat to their survival and declared a war on “secular” Arab nationalism and “atheist” Communism.

They perceived Nasser’s war in Yemen against the tribal monarchy as an existential threat at their door and began to fund and arm the royalists in Yemen against the Egyptian military campaign.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the two opposite poles of the “Arab cold war” during the 1950s and ‘60s. Nasser represented emerging Arab republicanism while Saudi Arabia epitomised traditional monarchies. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union; Saudi Arabia turned to the United States.

In the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia declared the proselytisation of its brand of Islam as a cardinal principle of its foreign policy for the purpose of fighting Arab nationalism and Communism.

It’s ironic that Saudi Arabia is currently supporting and funding the military junta in Egypt at a time when the military-turned-civilian presidential shoe-in Sisi is resurrecting the Nasserist brand of politics.

In the next three to five years, the most intriguing analytic question will be whether this partnership would endure and how long the post-2011 generation of Arabs would tolerate a coalition of secular autocracy and a religious theocracy.

Saudi Arabia supported Egyptian President Sadat’s war against Israel in 1973 but broke with him later in that decade after he visited Jerusalem and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

By the early 1980s, however, the two countries re-established close relations because of their common interest in supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and in pushing for the Saudi-articulated Arab Peace Initiative.

The Saudi King viewed President Hosni Mubarak warmly and was dismayed by his fall. He was particularly incensed by Washington’s seeming precipitous abandonment of Mubarak in January 2011.

The Saudi monarchy applauded General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi and pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian treasury. They also indicated they would make up any deficit in case U.S. aid to Egypt is halted.

The Saudis have endorsed Sisi’s decision to run for president of Egypt and adopted similar harsh policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and all political dissent. Several factors seem to push Saudi Arabia closer to Egypt.

The Saudis are concerned about their growing loss of influence and prestige in the region, especially their failure in thwarting the interim nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Their policy in Syria is in shambles.

Initially, they encouraged jihadists to go to Syria to fight the Assad regime, but now they cannot control the pro-Al-Qaeda radical Salafi jihadists fighting the Damascus tyrant.

The Saudis also failed in transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council into a more unified structure. Other than Bahrain, almost every other state has balked at the Saudi suggestion, viewing it a power grab.

In an absurd form of retaliation against Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from that country. The Saudis are engaged in tribal vendettas against their fellow tribal ruling families, which is out of place in a 21st century globalised and well-connected world.

The oil wealth and the regime’s inspired religious fatwas by establishment clerics have a diminishing impact on the younger generation connected to the global new social media.

Despite the heavy-handed crackdown, protests, demonstrations, and confrontations with the security forces are a daily occurrence in Egypt. It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

It won’t be long before Western governments conclude that autocracy is bad for their moral sensibilities, destructive for business, and threatening for their presence in the region. The Saudi-Egyptian coalition of autocrats will soon be in the crosshairs.

In order to endure, such a coalition must be based on respect for their peoples, a genuine commitment to human rights, and a serious effort to address the “deficits” of liberty, education, and women’s rights that have afflicted Arab society for decades.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:07:26 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133622 When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme. The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai […]

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By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.

The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”The text of the indictment ...was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.

The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.

But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order required allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.

The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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“Sanitation for All” a Rapidly Receding Goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sanitation-rapidly-receding-goal/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:10:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133616 World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate. The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could […]

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An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery. Madagascar receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year for WASH programmes . Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

World leaders on Friday discussed plans to expand sustainable access for water, sanitation and hygiene, focusing in particular on how to reach those in remote rural areas and slums where development projects have been slow to penetrate.

The meeting, which took place amidst the semi-annual gatherings here of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be the world’s largest ever to take place on the issue."Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine." -- Darren Saywell

Water, sanitation and hygiene, collectively known as WASH, constitute a key development metric, yet sanitation in particular has seen some of the poorest improvements in recent years.

Participants at Friday’s summit included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake as well as dozens of government ministers and civil society leaders.

“Today 2.5 billion people do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” the World Bank’s Kim said Friday. “This results in 400 million missed school days, and girls and women are more likely to drop out because they lack toilets in schools or are at risk of assault.”

Kim said that this worldwide lack of access results in some 260 billion dollars in annual economic losses – costs that are significant on a country-to-country basis.

In Niger, Kim said, these losses account for around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) every year. In India the figure is even higher – around 6.4 percent of GDP.

Friday’s summit was convened by UNICEF.

“UNICEF’s mandate is to protect the rights of children and make sure they achieve their full potential. WASH is critical to what we hope for children to achieve, as well as to their health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, associate director of programmes for UNICEF, told IPS.

“Every day, 1400 children die from diarrhoea due to poor WASH. In addition, 165 million children suffer from stunted growth, and WASH is a contributory factor because clean water is needed to absorb nutrients properly.”

Over 40 countries came to the meeting to share their commitments to improving WASH.

“Many countries have already shown that progress can be made,” Wijesekera said. “Ethiopia, for example, halved those without access to water from 92 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2012, and equitably across the country.”

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

Good investment

Indeed, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water halved the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water five years ahead of schedule. Yet the goal to improve access to quality sanitation facilities was one of the worst performing MDGs.

In order to get sanitation on track, a global partnership was created called Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), made up of over 90 developing country governments, donors, civil society organisations and other development partners.

“Sanitation as a subject is a complicated process … You have different providers and actors involved at the delivery of the service,” Darren Saywell, the SWA vice-chair, told IPS.

“NGOs are good with convening communities and community action plans. The private sector is needed to respond and provide supply of goods when demand is created. Government needs to help regulate and move the different leaders in the creation of markets.”

In addition, sanitation and hygiene are not topics that can gain easy political traction.

“It is not seen as something to garner much political support,” Saywell says. “Ministers are much happier to talk and support a hydro project, like a huge dam, and are less happy to open up a public latrine.”

Saywell says that an important part of SWA’s work is to demonstrate that investing in WASH is a good economic return.

“Every dollar invested in sanitation brings a return of roughly five dollars,” he says. “That’s sexy!”

Sustainable investments

Friday’s summit covered three main issues: discussing the WASH agenda for post-2015 (when the current MDGs expire), tackling inequality in WASH, and determining how these actions will be sustainable.

“We would like the sector to the set the course for achieving universal access by 2030,” Henry Northover, the global head of policy at WaterAid, a key NGO participant, told IPS.

Although the meeting did not set the post-2015 global development goals for WASH, it was meant to call public attention to the importance of these related goals and ways of achieving them.

“Donors and developing country governments need to stop seeing sanitation as an outcome of development, but rather as an indispensable driver of poverty reduction,” Northover said.

WaterAid recently published a report on inequality in WASH access, Bridging the Divide. The study looks at the imbalances in aid targeting and notes that, for instance, Jordan receives 850 dollars per person per year for WASH while Madagascar, which has considerably worse conditions, receives just 0.5 dollars per person per year.

The report says this imbalance in aid targeting is due to “geographical or strategic interests, historical links with former colonies, and domestic policy reasons”. Northover added to this list, noting that “donors are reluctant to invest in fragile states.”

“In India, despite spectacular levels of growth over the past 10 years, we have seen barely any progress in the poorest areas in terms of gaining access to sanitation,” he continued. “Regarding inequality, we are talking both in terms of wealth and gender: the task falls to women and girls to fetch water, they cannot publicly defecate, and have security risks.”

Others see funding allocation as only an initial step.

“Shift the money to the poorer countries, and then, so what?” John Sauer, of the non-profit Water for People, asked IPS. “The challenge is then the capacity to spend that money and absorb it into district governments, the ones with the legal purview to make sure the water and sanitation issues get addressed.”

Friday’s meeting also shared plans on how to use existing resources better, once investments are made.

“If there is one water pump, it will break down pretty quickly,” WaterAid’s Northover said. “This often requires some level of institutional capability for financial management.”

Countries also described their commitments to make sanitation sustainable. The Dutch government, for instance, introduced a clause in some of its WASH agreements that any related foreign assistance must function for at least a decade. East Asian countries like Vietnam and Mongolia are creating investment packages that also help to rehabilitate and maintain existing WASH systems.

“This is probably one of the biggest meetings on WASH possibly ever, and what we mustn’t forget is that the 40 or 50 countries coming are making a commitment to do very tangible things that are measurable, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS. “That bodes well for achieving longer-term goals of achieving universal access and equality.”

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OP-ED: The World Bank’s Waste of Energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-banks-waste-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-banks-waste-energy/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:31:23 +0000 Janet Redman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133566 The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense. Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have […]

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By Janet Redman
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The World Bank’s job is to fight poverty. Key to lifting people out of poverty is access to reliable modern energy. It makes sense.

Kids do better in school when they can study at night. Microbusiness owners earn more if they can keep their shops open after sundown. And when women and children don’t have to gather wood for cooking they’re healthier and have more time for other activities.The programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

What doesn’t make sense is using a failed scheme — like carbon trading — to pay for it.

Carbon trading was developed as a way for industry to comply with laws limiting their greenhouse gas emissions more cheaply. Companies that can’t or won’t meet carbon caps can purchase surplus allowances from others that have kept pollution below legal limits.

The U.N. established an international system called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to make it even cheaper for businesses in rich countries to meet carbon regulations by paying for clean energy projects in developing nations. Purchasing these offsets through the CDM was promoted as a new way to provide financing to poorer countries.

But the poorest countries most in need of climate and development money generally don’t benefit from the CDM.

First, they often don’t have large industrial or fossil fuel-based energy sectors that generate significant volumes of carbon pollution. Also, it takes enormous time and effort to verify project plans, register with the CDM, and validate that emissions have been cut, making it impractical for investors to finance small projects that only generate a low number of carbon credits.

That was the case even before the CDM “essentially collapsed,” in the words of a U.N.-commissioned report on its future. Weak emissions targets and the economic downturn in wealthy nations had resulted in a 99-percent decline in the price paid for offsets between 2008 and 2013.

cdm graphThere was also evidence that the scheme’s largest projects actually increased greenhouse gas emissions. Add on the tax scandals, fraud, Interpol investigations, and human rights violations, and the scheme had fallen into disarray.

Ci-Dev to the rescue?

Given this record of failure, it’s odd that the World Bank is spending scarce donor resources to convince the world’s poorest countries to buy into the CDM. But that’s exactly what the Bank’s Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) proposes to do.

Ci-Dev was launched in 2013 to increase energy access in “least developed” (LDCs) and African countries by funding projects that use clean and efficient technologies through “emission reduction-based performance payments” — in other words, by purchasing carbon credits from them.

But the programme seems to be more about erecting scaffolding around the crumbling CDM than about getting renewable energy to impoverished families.

The Bank lists the following as the initiative’s goals: extending the scope of the CDM in poor countries; demonstrating that carbon credit sales are part of a successful business model; developing “suppressed demand” accounting for LDCs to inflate their emissions baselines to earn more credits; and influencing future carbon market mechanisms so that LDCs get a greater share of the financing.

The Ci-Dev has one programme — the readiness fund — to build countries’ capacities to engage with the carbon market and to experiment with new methods for fast-tracking small-scale CDM projects. It channels millions of dollars into helping create offsets for which there are few buyers.

The initiative has a second programme — the carbon fund — to pay for carbon credits that are eventually produced but don’t sell on the market.

The Bank says it is prioritising support for community and household-level technologies like biogas, rooftop solar, and micro-hydro power. But it will also fund projects in “underrepresented” sectors such as waste management.

Because there’s no clear definition of what types of technologies it can and can’t fund, the Ci-Dev could end up financing electricity from natural gas and other controversial sources of “lower carbon” power.

A better approach

Regardless of technology, it’s irresponsible of the World Bank to spend development dollars on building carbon trading infrastructure in low-income countries for offset projects that have diminishing demand, and whose financial success is linked to a failing international market.

A better approach would be to directly build governance, operational, and financing capacity in the least developed countries for renewable energy infrastructure, alongside providing grant and concessional financing for distributed solar, wind, and small-scale hydropower projects.

The private sector can play a critical role, but the most important businesses to engage are small and medium-sized enterprises that provide mini- and off-grid services to the rural poor.

The paltry climate finance and development assistance being provided by wealthy countries should be spent on what people actually need. Women, children, and small business owners desperately need reliable energy that’s affordable and clean.

It’s a shame that the World Bank is wasting so much time, money, and energy on constructing a market that has little worth and attracts few investors.

Janet Redman is the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Zimbabwe’s Urban Farmers Combat Food Insecurity — But it’s Illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwes-urban-farmers-combat-food-insecurity-illegal/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 09:04:56 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133556 It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest. But Zondo is not a […]

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Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

Residents in Bulawayo's high density urban suburbs have taken to farming vacant plots of land after last year’s unexpected rains, thereby combatting food insecurity. However, in Zimbabwe, urban farming in illegal. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

It is harvest season in Zimbabwe and Janet Zondo is pressed to find space on the piece of land she is farming to erect a makeshift granary. Zando says she could very well build a miniature silo, judging by the size of the maize crop that she is preparing to harvest.

But Zondo is not a communal farmer somewhere deep in the rural areas. She is one of the many residents in Bulawayo’s high-density urban suburbs who have taken to farming vacant plots of land here after last year’s unexpected rains filled rivers, destroyed dams and claimed lives.

In the residential suburbs of Tshabalala, Sizinda and Nkulumane, here in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, vacant plots of land are flourishing with maize. "It's a self-regulating mechanism, and for the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal." -- Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher

Like many here, Zondo had always dabbled in farming. But her maize crop always failed because of successive poor rains. Last year’s heavy, unexpected rains provided the right conditions for planting.

“I have never harvested this much maize crop,” Zondo, who is from Nkulumane, told IPS.

“I expect to produce more than 100 kilograms of mealie meal [course flour made from maize] from my maize field,” Zondo estimated.

Other residents farming on vacant plots also expect to harvest a bountiful crop this season. But there are no guarantees that Zondo, or any of the other residents who have taken to farming, will be tilling the same piece of land next season.

This is because the land is owned by the local municipality. And Zimbabwe’s bylaws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

“We are aware people are farming on undesignated areas but we also must make humanitarian considerations. People need food and we know not everyone can afford mealie meal,” a Bulawayo city councillor, who himself planted maize on a vacant municipal plot, told IPS.

“Most of the land is reserved for residential homes, which means these farming activities are not permanent,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), while acknowledging that urban agriculture is illegal in many countries, estimates that more than 800 million people around the world practice urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity.

FAO says the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion, with the “urban poor particularly being vulnerable.”

Under its Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture Growing Greener Cities project, FAO is working with governments in developing countries on “integrating horticulture into urban master development plans,” and this is what residents like Zondo could benefit from.

“We are always in constant fear of our crop being chopped down by the municipality. I am in a rush to harvest before anything like that happens,” Zondo said.

Regina Pritchett, global organiser for land and housing, and community resilience at the U.S.-based Huairou Commission, a global coalition of women in development and policy advocacy, says that while women are at the forefront of sustainable development, they are still bogged down by bureaucracy in accessing land.

“You need local solutions for women and access to land,” Pritchett told IPS.

However, experts note that this lack of formal ownership of small pieces of land could threaten livelihoods and food security in the long term in developing countries.

As increasing numbers of urban residents grow their own food, it could help cushion them against food shortages in Zimbabwe’s cities, says Japhet Mlilo, a development researcher at the University of Zimbabwe.

This southern African nation is already facing a food crisis. Last year it imported 150,000 tonnes of maize from Zambia in what experts say is a sign that local farmers are once again not going to meet demand.

According to the agriculture ministry, the country requires 2.2 million tonnes to meet its annual maize requirements.

“At the end of the day it’s simple arithmetic. Make urban farming totally illegal and people fail to plant their maize, which means [they will] starve. Or you can let them plant their own crop and you help reduce the number of people who need food assistance,” Mlilo told IPS.

“Residents already know which piece of land is theirs even without having titles to it. I am yet to hear residents fighting over land they allocated to themselves without municipality approval. It’s a self-regulating mechanism. For the sake of sustainability, trying to feed yourself must not be illegal,” he explained.

If globally women were given title deeds to land, it will help contribute to the sustainability of farming projects as owning resources provides some “incentive” for  women to continue farming, said Karol Boudreaux, a land expert with the Cloudburst Group, a U.S.-based think tank.

“Securing land rights can help deal with issues that range from food security and women’s economic empowerment,” Boudreaux told IPS.

For Zondo, however, the assurance that the her crop will not be destroyed by municipality’s police is enough.

“I have worked hard for this, imagine losing it,” Zondo said.

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Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

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Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

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Kenya’s Pastoralists Show their Green Thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kenyas-pastoralists-show-green-thumbs/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:58:25 +0000 Noor Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133534 For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources. “We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks […]

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Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, has moved away from pastoralism and become a farmer in the country’s semi-arid region. Credit: Noor Ali/IPS

By Noor Ali
ISIOLO COUNTY, Kenya, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

For more than a decade Dima Wario from Rupa, a village in Merti division, northern Kenya, escaped death and watched helplessly as many in his community died in a spate of fatal clashes over receding resources.

“We were attacked from all sides, as different communities battled over water points and pasture. I survived many attacks and raids, lost almost all my animals to raids for them to only be wiped out by drought four years ago,” Wario told IPS.

Merti division lies in Isiolo County, in Kenya’s Eastern Province which stretches all the way to the country’s northern border with Ethiopia.

Kenya’s underdeveloped, vast and semi-arid north is plagued by prolonged and recurrent violent conflicts over resources, deadly cattle raids, and increased incidents of natural disasters like droughts and floods.“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house.” -- farmer Amina Wario

The African Development Bank’s Kenya’s Country Strategy Paper 2014 to 2018 indicates the region is the poorest in the country, with more than 74 percent of the population living in a desperate state of poverty.

“First we believed the El Niño phenomenon, flash floods, Rift valley fever and severe droughts [from the 1980s through to 2009] were a curse. Our people conducted rituals to prevent similar phenomena but it became more rampant,” Wario said. Emergency food aid offered little relief.

Although traditionally communities in Kenya’s arid regions have been pastoralists, over the years “the impacts of climate change have combined with other environmental, economic and political factors to create a situation of increasing vulnerability for poor and marginalised households,” says a report by CARE International.

But Wario and his household can no longer be classified as vulnerable. He’s moved away from the livelihood of his forefathers and is currently one of a new generation of successful crop farmers in this far-flung, remote village in Merti division some 300 km north of the nearest established town of Isiolo.

His only regret is that he took so long to switch from pastoralism.

His first wife, Amina Wario, told IPS this change was thanks to the Merti Integrated Development Programme (MIDP), an NGO in the region which educates pastoralists and livestock owners on climate change resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

“We grow enough food for our family, relatives, traders and local residents. This farm produces watermelons, paw paws, onions, tomatoes, maize, and tobacco for us for sell to those with livestock and earn an average profit of Ksh 50,000 [581 dollars] a month,” Amina Wario told IPS.

The Wario family farm is partitioned by trenches of flowing water from the nearby Ewaso Ng’iro River, which is drawn by a pump.

Five years ago, the MIDP began teaching 200 families who had lost all their livestock to drought about alternative livelihoods.

Now, more than 2,000 families across Merti division, a region where people are predominantly pastoralists, are part of the programme.

At Bisan Biliku, a settlement 20km from Merti town, many wealthy former livestock owners are now farmers.

Khadija Shade, chairperson of the Bismillahi Women’s self-help group, said the community’s departure from pastoralism has empowered and emancipated people in Bisan Biliku.

Women are now innovators and the main breadwinners in their families, she said. The women’s group grows a wide variety of crops and also purchases livestock from locals, all of which is sold to a chain of clients in Isiolo County, central Kenya and the country’s capital, Nairobi.

She also runs an exclusive shop that sells women’s and children’s clothes, and perfumes.

“[Now] we have enough money but nowhere to keep the money safe. We need banking facilities. At the moment we travel far to use mobile phone banking,” she added. This is because there is no mobile network coverage in Bisan Biliku and locals are forced to travel to an area with coverage.

A respected clan elder in Bisan Biliku, who requested not to be identified, told IPS that after attending a series of seminars by the MIDP a few years ago, he sold some of his livestock, bought a truck and built two house in Isiolo town, the capital of Isiolo County. He rents out the houses and earns an additional income.

“From the seminars I learnt how to reduce risks and increase my income and lead a better life. Now I am obviously not at risk of being a poor man,” he said.

Abdullahi Jillo Shade from the MIDP told IPS that the project “has been embraced by many families in Merti [town], and the neighbouring settlements of Bisan Bilku, Mrara and Bulesa and Korbesa.”

“Our people are proud farmers and traders. They have changed the tidal wave. These days we have more trucks transporting food to the market in Isiolo town than trucks with relief food…” he said.

Others too are adapting to the changing climate in their own way.

Isiolo legislator Abdullahi Tadicha says decades of deliberate marginalisation and punitive policies have denied those in northern Kenya development funding and subjected communities to displacement, massive losses of wealth, and severe poverty.

However, money has now been set aside to assist communities.

“The Isiolo south constituency development fund committee has identified, prioritised and allocated funds to address food insecurity and disaster management, and to support families rendered poor by past drought, floods and conflicts,” he told IPS.

The constituency fund, he said, helped start the Malkadaka irrigation scheme on 400 hectares of land in Isiolo south in August. It supports 200 families whose livestock were wiped out by successive droughts and floods.

Yussuf Godana from the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform, a community-based organisation, told IPS that locals suffered the most during the recurrent droughts but said education has helped people accept that erratic and harsh weather trends are not a curse but a global crisis.

He said thanks to the community diversifying its livelihood and the reduced conflicts over resources, “this whole place is now covered with a green carpet of crops – it’s an oasis.”

Partners For Resilience (PFR) is an alliance of various associations including Netherlands Red Cross (lead agency) and CARE Netherlands. It is working in partnership with Kenya to empower communities, with a focus on educating people about disaster prevention and management, and strengthening the resilience of at-risk communities.

Abdi Malik, a PFR official working with the Kenya Red Cross, told IPS that the various adaptation programmes in the region have created relief-free food zones and recorded significant decreases in families seeking food and assistance with school fees.

These programmes, said Malik, have also changed how the Kenya Red Cross engages with the local communities. Now people only visit their office to seek support for various projects, unlike in the past when they camped outside for days waiting for relief food.

Amina Wario is optimistic that her family will never need aid again.

“Our family is now respected, from the proceeds from this farm we have constructed a house … and educated our children.

“Now have enough food. Relief food is forbidden in our house,” she said happily.

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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In Eastern Caribbean, Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/eastern-caribbean-chronicle-disaster-foretold/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:30:59 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133516 Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time. “It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator. Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of […]

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A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of the major roadway leading from Dominica’s Melville Hall Airport to the capital, Roseau. The island is highly vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MERO, Dominica, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Christmas 2013 was the most “dreary and depressing” Don Corriette can remember in a very long time.

“It was a bleak time. People obviously did not plan their Christmas to be like this,” said Corriette, 52, Dominica’s national disaster coordinator.“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching." -- Sophie Sirtaine

Days of holiday preparations were swept away when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the island on Dec. 24 and 25. The “freak weather system”, which also affected St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, killed 13 people and destroyed farms and other infrastructure.

Officials said the impact from the extraordinary torrential rainfall, flash floods and landslides was concentrated in areas with the highest levels of poverty.

Just six months earlier, in July 2013, tropical storm Chantal battered Dominica’s southern tip. The worst affected was the tiny southern community of Gallion, where the population is under 100.

“It [the Dec. 24 trough] did cause a high level of distress and anxiety, leaving many not knowing what to do next,” Corriette told IPS.

“There is no doubt that within my lifetime, not only in Dominica but throughout the region and the world by extension, we have seen some very significant differences in patterns of weather over the last 30-40 years that indicate that something is happening and we have to tie it to probably climate change,” he said.

“There are those who do not believe that theory but we have seen it developing and unfolding in front of our very eyes – the melting of the glaciers in the northern regions, the expansion of dry lands in Africa and other places, and the higher intensity of rainfall in the Caribbean islands – not that we are getting more rain but we are getting more intense rainfall in a shorter period of time,” Corriette added.

Flooding as a result of climate impacts has been identified as a threat to a number of communities in Dominica.

Under the Reduce Risks to Human and Natural Assets Resulting from Climate Change (RRACC) project, administered by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a demonstration project to improve drainage in the Mero community is expected to inform the rest of the country on how to mitigate the impacts of flooding.

The RRACC Project evolved after a series of one-day stakeholder meetings in July 2010 on Climate Variability, Change, and Adaptation in the Caribbean region with individuals from national governments, nongovernmental organisations, the private sector, and donor agencies.

These meetings were convened by the USAID, the OECS, and the Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU). As a result of these meetings, USAID formulated a five-year (2011-2015) framework for climate change adaptation strategy for the Caribbean region to be implemented using “fast-start” financing as part of the U.S. commitment at the December 2009 U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

The strategy draws from regional and national climate change plans and addresses high priority vulnerabilities in sectors key to the region’s development and economic growth, while identifying specific interventions that could contribute to greater resilience in the Eastern Caribbean.

In St. Vincent and St. Lucia, more than 30,000 people affected by the December 2013 flash floods will start recovering and regaining access to markets, water and electricity through an extra 36 million dollars approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors under the International Development Association (IDA) Crisis Response Window.

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James’ sister had died in the floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was also missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Governments’ Rapid Damage and Loss Assessments conducted in January with assistance from the World Bank, the Africa Caribbean Pacific – European Union (ACP-EU) Natural Risk Reduction Programme and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), estimated total losses to be around 108 million dollars, or 15 percent of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ gross domestic product (GDP); and 99 million dollars or eight percent of GDP in Saint Lucia.

“We will never forget the people who lost their lives as a result of this disaster, and will use their deaths as a wake-up call for the entire nation that we are a country that is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of climate variability,” St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told IPS.

The disaster happened at the peak of the tourism season. While the full financial impact remains unknown, early estimates conclude that this event will affect the agriculture and tourism sectors and result in economic contractions in both countries.

“While services and transport access have been largely reinstated, parallel efforts will need to be undertaken to mobilise resources required to stabilise and permanently rehabilitate, reconstruct and retrofit damaged infrastructure,” St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony told IPS.

Within a few weeks of the disaster, the World Bank was able to make 1.9 million dollars in emergency funds available to support the governments’ recovery efforts.

“The reconstruction efforts are crucial as the hurricane season in the Caribbean is fast approaching,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank country director for the Caribbean. “Our financial support will not only rebuild critical infrastructure and boost the economy, it will also help build long-term climate resilience.”

Last week, St. Lucia announced it is conducting a survey to determine the potential impact of climate change on the supply of and demand for freshwater as well as on the exposure, sensitivity and vulnerability of the livelihoods of communities.

The Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for Water Resources and Human Livelihoods in the Coastal Zones of Small Island Developing States (CASCADE) is being undertaken by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in collaboration with the Italty-based Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) and the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

The survey will also seek to determine how households view environmental issues affecting their communities.

“The survey results will provide guidance for future public awareness programmes and policy development. The knowledge obtained will also allow government agencies, NGOs and community groups to take appropriate measures to adapt to and, hopefully, minimize the negative impacts identified, which will be to the benefit of all the citizens of St. Lucia,” according to a statement issued by the government.

It said that surveyors would be visiting households throughout the island until May 13, reiterating that the results of the exercise “will be of critical importance to individuals, their families and to St. Lucia”.

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To Tell or Not to Tell? Ugandan Teens Grapple with HIV Disclosure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 08:07:34 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133502 This is the second in a three-part series on youth and AIDS in Africa

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Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Silence is golden, it is said. But not for Constance Nansamba* from Uganda, who paid a dear price for keeping silent about being HIV positive and pregnant at age 18.  

“I was terrified. I ran away from my brother’s home. I could not follow the PMTCT [prevention of mother-to-child transmission] guidelines, so the baby is HIV positive,” she told IPS.“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12." -- Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist

Nansamba knew she was born with the virus but, afraid of rejection, she did not tell her boyfriend. “We used a condom, he always complained, we abandoned the condom, I got pregnant.” Although he did not contract HIV from her, they broke up.

Nansamba, now 20, has found the courage to tell her story to help others. She is a member of Uganda Young Positives (UYP), an organisation that offers HIV counselling, testing and treatment adherence advice.

She told IPS that many teenagers born with HIV do not know their status when they start having sex, or they know but don’t tell their sex partners.

A survey by Uganda’s Mildmay Health Centre involving 200 adolescents receiving antiretroviral treatment found that 75 percent were not willing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners and 30 percent did not want to have protected sex.

“They simply don’t have information to guide them in negotiating disclosure, dual protection and consistent condom use,” said Nansamba. “I faced the same challenge because I would not discuss issues about sex with my elder brother, who was like my father.”

Nansamba’s parents died when she was a baby and her brother raised her.

HIV among the young

Uganda is a young country; nearly 80 percent of its 34 million people are below the age of 30.

National seroprevalence is 7.2 percent and, worryingly, is slowly rising. Among youth aged 15-24, five percent of women and two percent of men are HIV-positive, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey 2011.

The United Nations Children’s Fund’s Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS 2013 estimates that Uganda has some 110,000 adolescents aged 10-19 living with HIV, of whom 64,000 are girls and 48,000 boys.

Emmanuel Elwanu was 14 years old when he learned that he had been born HIV positive. Fearing discrimination, he struggled with telling his HIV negative friends. “I had to go through a lot of counselling before I could open up,” he told IPS.

Elwanu was lucky: his school had weekly counselling sessions around HIV and he joined the Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS initiative.

“Many of my HIV positive colleagues out there are going through really difficult times with relationships,” explained the 18-year-old Elwanu. “I think about sex, but it is not my biggest priority.”

Elwanu, whose parents died while he was a child, has decided to abstain from sex until completing his studies.

Polly Nuwagaba, a counsellor with the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre in Kampala, told IPS that most adolescents have a problem with disclosure.

“They look healthy, they attract HIV negative partners, and they have sexual desires,” she explained. “Some tell us that when they say they have HIV, those they tell don’t believe it, and they end up having unprotected sex.”

No condoms for teens

Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist at Makerere University’s College of Health and Sciences in Kampala, notes the gap in health services for the youth.

“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12. So adolescents are typically admitted to adult wards,” said Kitaka.

In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the failure to put in place effective HIV services for youth has resulted in a 50 percent increase in AIDS-related deaths among adolescents globally, compared with the 30 percent decline of such deaths in the general population from 2005 to 2012.

WHO asked governments to review their laws to make it easier for adolescents to obtain HIV testing without parental consent.

But Ugandan health officials are divided on whether teenagers should be offered family planning services and condoms.

Dr. Stephen Watiti, a physician who lives with HIV, observed that the laws and policies surrounding condoms and contraceptives for adolescents in Uganda are unclear and interpreted inconsistently. This makes it difficult for both youth and health staff to understand their options.

Officially, only those 18 and over qualify for family planning services and condom distribution. However, more than half of young women aged 18-24 had had sex before the age of 18, according to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey.

“As clinicians, you cannot go to schools and promote condoms or contraceptives. But when you come across a 14-year-old who is sexually active, then you have no option but to teach them how to use condoms,” Watiti told IPS.

At the UYP meeting held in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in late January, Nansamba told the young audience: “You guys, it is not easy to live with HIV. You will always feel guilty whenever you sleep with someone, but at the same time you have sexual desires that need to be fulfilled.”

Her decision these days is “to abstain [from sex] because I don’t want to put anybody at risk of HIV.”

But for many HIV positive teenagers, abstaining is not an easy option – and neither is disclosing their status or practicing safe sex.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Mercury Still Poisoning Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mercury-still-loose-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/mercury-still-loose-latin-america/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:08:13 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133493 Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry. After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in […]

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Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Informal gold mining is the main source of mercury emissions in Latin America. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is not taking the new global agreement to limit mercury emissions seriously: the hazardous metal is still widely used and smuggled in artisanal gold mining and is released by the fossil fuel industry.

After the European Union banned exports of mercury in 2011 and the United States did so in 2013, trade in the metal shot up in the region.

“Mexico’s exports have tripled in the last few years,” Ibrahima Sow, an environmental specialist in the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Climate Change and Chemicals Team, told Tierramérica. “And activities like the extraction of gold from recycled electronic goods are on the rise.”

The global treaty on mercury was adopted in October 2013. It includes a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines, control measures for air emissions, and the international regulation of the informal sector for artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

But of the 97 countries around the world that have signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury – including 18 from Latin America and the Caribbean – only one, the United States, has ratified it, and 49 more must do so in order for it to go into effect.

Minamata is the Japanese city that gave its name to the illness caused by severe mercury poisoning. The disease, a neurological syndrome, was first identified there in the 1950s.

It was eventually discovered that it was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical plant run by the Chisso Corporation. The local populace suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish and shellfish containing a build-up of this neurotoxic, carcinogenic chemical.

The contamination occurred between 1932 and 1968. As of 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognised; at least 100 of them died as a result of the disease.

In Latin America, mercury is used in artisanal gold mining and hospital equipment. And emissions are produced by the extraction, refining, transport and combustion of hydrocarbons; thermoelectric plants; and steelworks.

It is also smuggled in a number of countries.

“It is hard to quantify the illegal imports,” Colombia’s deputy minister of the environment and sustainable development, Pablo Vieira, told Tierramérica. “Everyone knows that artisanal and small-scale mining uses smuggled mercury, mainly coming in from Peru and Ecuador, although hard data is not available.”

According to Colombia’s authorities, the mercury is smuggled through the jungle in the country’s remote border zones.

Mercury Watch, an international alliance which keeps a global database, estimated Latin America’s mercury emissions at 526 tonnes in 2010, with Colombia in the lead, accounting for 180 tonnes.

In an assessment published in 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that mercury emissions caused by human activities reached 1,960 tonnes in 2010, with artisanal mining as the main source (727 tonnes), followed by the burning of coal, principally from power generation and industrial use.

Artisanal gold mining is practised in at least a dozen Latin American countries, largely in the Andean region and the Amazon rainforest, but in Central America as well, UNEP reports.

Some 500,000 small-scale gold miners drive the legal or illegal demand for mercury.

Mexico and Peru have mercury deposits, but there is no formal primary mercury mining in the region. The extraction is secondary, because the mercury tends to be mixed with other minerals, or comes from the recycling of mercury already extracted and used for other purposes.

The biggest producers are Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, while the main consumers and legal importers are Peru, Colombia and Panama.

In 2012 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia headed the regional list of exporters of mercury and products containing the metal, according to Mercury Watch.

Mercury is naturally present in certain rocks, and can be found in the air, soil and water as a result of industrial emissions.

Bacteria and other microorganisms convert mercury to methylmercury, which can accumulate in different animal species, especially fish.

Mining industry laws in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Honduras ban the use of mercury.

And last year Colombia passed a law that would phase out mercury in mining over the next five years and in industry over the next 10 years.

Since November 2013, the Peruvian Congress has also been debating a draft law to eliminate mercury in mining and replace it in industrial activities.

According to UNEP, there were a total of 11 chlor-alkali plants operating with mercury technology in seven countries in the region in 2012. But several of the factories plan to adopt mercury-free technologies by 2020.

“The mercury content in products, the replacement of mercury, and the temporary storage and final disposal of mercury waste are significant aspects of mercury management,” Raquel Lejtreger, undersecretary in Uruguay’s ministry of housing, territorial planning and environment, told Tierramérica.

Uruguay imports products that contain mercury. But a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant operating in the South American country plans to convert to mercury-free technology, although financing to do so is needed.

GEF has provided funds to Uruguay and other countries in the region for the negotiation of the global treaty on mercury and for the adoption of alternative, mercury-free technologies. But there is still a long way to go.

This story was originally published Apr. 5 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Going Green Without Sinking into the Red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-green-without-sinking-red http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/going-green-without-sinking-red/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:34:57 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133485 Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of […]

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Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Dr. David Smith, coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI), believes the Caribbean and other small states should look into payments for ecosystem services. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Most Caribbean countries are famous for their sun, sand and warm sea breezes. Far fewer are known for their wide use of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

It is one of the failings of the region, which is characterised by high external debt, soaring energy costs, inequality, poverty and a lack of human capital."Rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions - or indeed other people’s mistakes." -- Dr. David Smith

The 53-member Commonwealth grouping is now trying to fill this knowledge gap with a new green growth analysis that circulated at last week’s third Biennial Conference on Small States in St. Lucia, although the formal launch is not until May.

Titled “Transitioning to a Green Economy-Political Economy of Approaches in Small States,” the 216-page document provides an in-depth study of eight countries and their efforts at building green economies.

Dr. David Smith, one of the authors, notes that none of the eight, which include three from the Caribbean – Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica – has managed on its own to solve the problem of balancing green growth with economic development.

The other case studies are Botswana, Mauritius, Nauru, Samoa and the Seychelles.

“What is useful about this book is that rather than have us just looking inside our own borders for solutions, we can look at other people’s solutions – or indeed other people’s mistakes – and learn from those and try to tailor those to our own situations,” said Smith, the coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Smith said that all the countries studied revealed that high dependence on imported energy and its associated costs are major factors constraining growth of any kind. Progress in greening the energy sector would have the great advantage of benefitting other sectors throughout the economy.

“Within our constraints we have to try and change that. We have to try and make sure we are much more energy sufficient and our diversity in terms of our sources of energy is increased,” he said.

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been too dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Kitts residents welcome solar streetlights in areas they say have been dark and prone to crime. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell wants his country to become a “centre of excellence” for a clean and green economy that will result in the dismantling of an electricity monopoly with a high fossil-fuel import bill.

He said that despite help under the Venezuela-led PetroCaribe initiative – an oil alliance of many Caribbean states with Caracas to purchase oil on conditions of preferential payment – Grenada has one of the highest electricity rates in the region.

“We are now engaging with partners on solar, wind and geothermal energy to make Grenada an exemplar for a sustainable planet,” he told IPS.

Mitchell believes that the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa this September must advance small states’ quest for energy that is accessible, affordable and sustainable.

“The threat of climate change is real and poses a clear and present danger to the survival of SIDS. We call on the international community to release long-promised resources to help small states like Grenada move more rapidly on our disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts,” he added.

Last month, the University of Guyana announced that it was teaming up with Anton de Kom University of Suriname (AdeKUS) and the Beligium-based Catholic University of Leuven to be part of an 840,000-dollar programme geared at capacity-building in applied renewable energy technologies.

The overall objective is to improve the capacity of the Universities of Guyana and Suriname to deliver programmes and courses with the different technologies associated with applied renewable energy.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud says that one of the biggest needs for the local manufacturing sector is the availability of cheap energy.

“For us, it is an economic imperative that we develop not only clean energy, but affordable energy as well, and we are lucky that we possess the resources that we can have both,” he told IPS. “The low-hanging fruit in this regard is hydro.”

When he presented the country’s multi-billion-dollar budget to Parliament at the end of March, Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said that with the intensification of the adverse impacts of climate change, the government would continue to forge ahead with “our innovative climate resilient and low carbon approach to economic development backed by our unwavering commitment to good forest governance and stewardship”.

Guyana has so far earned 115 million dollars from Norway within the framework of its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Singh said that this year, 90.6 million dollars have been allocated for continued implementation of the Guyana REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) + Investment Fund (GRIF).

“Guyana is on track to have the world’s first fully operational REDD+ mechanism in place by 2015. This will enable Guyana to earn considerably more from the sale of REDD+ credits than we do today,” he told legislators.

But the case studies showed that locating suitable and adequate financing for greening was a major constraint, even in those countries that had allocated government resources to green activities.

The study on Jamaica for example, noted that the country is still dependent on natural resource-based export industries and on imported energy, with debt servicing equalling more than 140 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It said all these factors also contributed to constraining implementation of new policies.

With regard to financing, Smith argues that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the World Bank to consider allowing countries to access concessional financing up and until their human development index hits 0.8.

“We want to look at renewable energy and lower cost energy. We want to make sure that the human and environmental capitals that we have within our countries are maintained,” he said.

Smith said the countries could look at the payment for ecosystem services, charging realistic rents for the use of their beaches and looking at ways debt can be used creatively.

He believes that the repayment should “not always [be] to reduce the stock of debt but at least to use the payments for something that will build either human capital or financial capital…that can be used for real growth and development.”

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

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Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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Hard-Hit CDM Carbon Market Seeks New Buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/hard-hit-cdm-carbon-market-seeks-new-buyers/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:21:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133457 Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2. The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for […]

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WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

WindWatt Nevis Ltd uses eight wind turbines to produce a maximum capacity of about 2.2 megawatts, which works out to approximately 20 percent of the tiny island’s total energy needs.The increase in renewable energy projects means the Caribbean's energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Since they first emerged as a result of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, carbon offset markets have been a key part of international emissions reductions agreements, allowing rich countries in the North to invest in “emissions-saving projects” in the South while they continue to emit CO2.

The biggest is the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) for verifying carbon emissions reduction projects in developing countries."At some point the developed countries will wake up and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions." -- Dr. Hugh Sealy

According to Dr. Hugh Sealy, chairman of the Executive Board of the CDM, it has generated 396 billion dollars in financial flows from developed to developing countries.

“We are fairly proud of that. Very few development banks can say they have had that kind of investment,” Dr. Sealy told IPS.

The CDM, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), validates and subsequently certifies the effectiveness of projects in reducing carbon emissions.

Such certification can then be used as a basis for obtaining Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) credits that are sold to developed countries seeking to meet emissions reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

The big problem for local entrepreneurs is that the market for CER credits has collapsed in recent years.

In the Caribbean, many of the emissions reductions projects tend to be in the area of windfarming, said Dr. Sealy, since wind technology is proven and banks understand the risks.

The Caribbean’s North-East trade winds make it a very viable one as well. Guyana also has a bagasse project for generating steam and electricity.

In the Caribbean, there are 18 CDM projects, but only one, the Wigton Windfarm project in Jamaica, has made an application for CER certification. Dr. Sealy said that Wigton, which was registered as a CDM project in 2006, reduced carbon emissions by more than 52,000 tonnes per year in its first phase, and then by 40,000 tonnes per year in its second phase.

The challenge facing the Wigton project, as with all CDM projects currently, is the steep decline in the value of CER credits over the past couple of years. Four years ago, Dr. Sealy said, the credits were worth about 104 each dollars. Now they are worth about 50 cents.

He said the actual value the Jamaican company obtains for its CERs “will depend on the contract between it and the buyer.”

Dr. Sealy said the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties agreed at a recent meeting to the sale of CERs to entities that do not have obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, in an effort to widen the market for CERs. Under this new arrangement, “anybody, whether private or government, if they are going to voluntarily cancel the CER credits” can buy them as their contribution to the fight against climate change, he said.

The Brazilian government bought 40,000 CER credits to “green” the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and has done the same for the upcoming World Cup Football championship in that country.

Microsoft has done something similar under a different UNFCCC scheme for reducing emissions, known as REDD+, by buying an unspecified number of carbon credits from Madagascar generated by a rainforest conservation project in that country, according to a report by environmental news website Mongabay.com.

According to the report, attributed to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Microsoft bought the credits as part of its carbon neutrality programme.

Dr. Sealy attributes the steep decline in CER values to the downturn in the developed countries’ economies since 2008 that led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and thus to a decline in the need for carbon offsets. At the same time, the target set by developed countries for carbon emissions reductions was too low in the first place, he said.

“The EU is saying it will aim for 20-30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Science is saying we must peak emissions by 2020” in order to reach the target of less than two degrees global warming, Dr. Sealy said.

“At some point the developed countries will wake up to that and turn back to the one legal, internationally recognised, functioning market mechanism for reducing carbon emissions,” he said.

In the meantime, however, he said, the carbon reduction projects in the region are still bringing the Caribbean many benefits. He pointed out that the increase in renewable energy projects means the energy generation mix is more diverse, making the region more resilient to the effects of natural disasters.

Landfill gas mitigation projects in the region are bringing health and environmental benefits, and projects such as one in Haiti for improved cooking stoves are resulting in less soot and less smoke that saves lives.

The UNFCCC’s Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) in Grenada is working to create awareness in the region of current opportunities available to the region through CDM, said Karla Solis-Garcia, the RCC’s team leader.

So far, she told IPS, the RCC has provided support “to at least 60 CDM stakeholders with renewable energy (wind, solar and biomass), energy efficiency (improved cooking stoves, and efficient buildings) and landfill gas technology projects.

The RCC in Grenada is active in 16 Caribbean countries.

Solis-Garcia said the solid waste management sector and electricity sector were particular focuses of the RCC.

The solid waste sector was of particular interest since “Caribbean states share common challenges on how to deal with waste, considering especially the geographical limitations,” she said. “The waste challenge also represents an opportunity for investors, as emission reductions from landfill gas – methane gas – are significant.”

Regarding electricity, she said, the key issues are “the significant dependency on fossil fuels to generate electricity, the increase of electricity demand, and the potential for renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and wave/tidal.”

Dr. Sealy said that the region was in a good place with regard to deriving benefit from CDM projects, since it is accepted that failure to deal with climate change means that many islands will cease to exist.

For that reason, he said, countries with obligations under the Kyoto protocol “are quite willing to assist the small islands in any reasonable way they can.” Caribbean islands can, therefore, negotiate for a good price on CER credits, he said, especially if these are from renewable energy projects.

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Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-beans-fight-hidden-hunger-rwanda/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:36:24 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133453 Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda.  Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of […]

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Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Joane Nkuliye, a rural entrepreneur from Rwanda’s Eastern Province, grows biofortified beans on a commercial scale. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

Joane Nkuliye considers herself an activist. She is part of a select group of farmers producing biofortified crops on a commercial scale in Rwanda. 

Nkuliye owns 25 hectares in Nyagatare district, Eastern Province, two hours away from the capital, Kigali. She was awarded land by the government and moved there in 2000, with plans of rearing cattle. But she soon realised that growing food would be more profitable and have a greater impact on the local community as many of the kids in the area suffered from Kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition caused by lack of protein.

“I have a passion for farming. We are being subsidised because very few people are doing commercial farming,” the entrepreneur, who is married with five children and has been farming for over 10 years, told IPS.

Biofortification on a Global Scale

Every second person in the world dies from malnutrition. In order to fight the so-called hidden hunger — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals — biofortification aims to increase nutrition and yields simultaneously.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which helps realise the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor.

The HarvestPlus programme is coordinated by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the International Food Policy Research Institute. It has nine target countries: Nigeria, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Brazil has also begun introducing biofortified crops.

The director of HarvestPlus, Howarth Bouis, told IPS that the goal was to reach 15 million households worldwide by 2018 and ensure that they were growing and eating biofortified crops such as cassava, maize, orange sweet potato, pearl millet, pumpkin and beans.

“It is always a challenge but it’s much easier than it was before, because we have the crops already. Years ago I had to say we wouldn’t have [made an] impact in less than 10 years. Now things are coming out and it has been easier to raise money,” Bouis said.

Four years ago, she was contacted by the NGO HarvestPlus, which is part of a CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. The NGO is considered a leader in the global effort to improve nutrition and public health by developing crops and distributing seeds of staple foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

HarvestPlus provided Nkuliye with seeds, packaging, outlets for distribution and know-how. Now she grows biofortified beans on 11 of her 50 hectares of land.

“After harvesting beans I grow maize as an intercrop. I also grow sweet bananas, pineapples and papaya. I harvest 15 tonnes of food; I talk in terms of tonnes and not kilos,” she smiled.

Nkuliye was invited by HarvestPlus to speak at the Second Global Conference on Biofortification held in Kigali from Mar. 31 to Apr. 2, which was a gathering of scientists, policymakers and stakeholders.

Rwanda has ventured into a new agricultural era as it boosts its food production and enhances the nutrition level of the crops grown here.

In this Central African nation where 44 percent of the country’s 12 million people suffer from malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, biofortified foods, like beans, are seen as a solution to reducing “hidden hunger” — a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals.

One in every three Rwandans is anaemic, and this percentage is higher in women and children. An estimated 38 percent of children under five and 17 percent of women suffer from iron deficiency here. This, according to Lister Tiwirai Katsvairo, the HarvestPlus country manager for the biofortification project, is high compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Biofortified beans have high nutritional levels and provide up to 45 percent of daily iron needs, which is 14 percent more than commonly-grown bean varieties.

They also have an extra advantage as they have proved to produce high yields, are resistant to viruses, and are heat and drought tolerant.

Now, one third of Rwanda’s 1.9 million households grow and consume nutritious crops thanks to an initiative promoted by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Rwandan government. The HarvestPlus strategy is “feeding the brain to make a difference,” Katsvairo said.

The national government, which has been working in partnership with HarvestPlus since 2010, sees nutrition as a serious concern. According to Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, five government ministers are working cooperatively to address nutrition issues here.

She said that biofortified crops ensured that poor people, smallholder farmers and their families received nutrients in their diets. Around 80 percent of Rwanda’s rural population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Beans in Rwanda are our staple food, they are traditional. You cannot eat a meal without them. Beans that are biofortified have the main protein that will reach everybody, they are the main source of food,” she said.

Katsvairo explained that Rwanda has 10 different varieties of biofortified beans and that Rwandan diets comprise 200 grams of beans per person a day.

“Our farmers and population cannot afford meat on a daily basis. In a situation like this we need to find a crop that can provide nutrients and is acceptable to the community. We don’t want to change diets,” Katsvairo told IPS.

The ideologist and geneticist who led the Green Revolution in India is an advocate of what he calls “biohappiness”. Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan became famous for the Green Revolution that increased food production and turned India into a sustainable food producer.

“I am an enthusiast of biofortification. It is the best way to add nutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A. In the case of biofortification it is a win-win situation,” he told IPS.

According to Swaminathan, who has been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “the Father of Economic Ecology”, the concept of food security has grown and evolved into nutritious security.

“We found it is not enough to give calories, it is important to have proteins and micronutrients.”

Swaminathan says it is also a way of attacking silent hunger — hunger caused by extreme poverty.

“It fortifies in a biological matter and not in chemical matter, that is why I call it biohappiness,” said the first winner of the World Food Prize in 1987. He  has also been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the 20 most influential Asians of the 20th century.

According to Katsvairo, Rwanda has become an example to other sub-Saharan countries as the issue of nutrition is now part of public strategic policy here.

“Rwanda is still at the implementation stage but it is way ahead of other African countries,” confirmed Katsvairo.

Meanwhile, Nkuliye aims to expand her farm over the next few years and increase her crop of biofortified beans.

“I wanted to improve people’s lives. My husband is proud of me but I feel I haven’t done enough yet,” she said. Currently, she employes 20 women and 10 men on a permanent basis and hires temporary workers during planting and harvesting.

She first started her business with a three-year bank loan of five million Rwandan Francs (7,700 dollars). Now, she has applied for 20 million Rwandan Francs (30,800 dollars).

“I want to buy more land, at least 100 hectares. What I am producing is not enough for the market,” Nkuliye explained. While she harvests tonnes of produce to sell to the local market, she says it is not enough as demand is growing.

But she is proud that she has been able to feed her community.

“I have fed people with nutritious beans, I changed their lives and I have also changed mine. We have a culture of sharing meals and give our workers eight kilos of biofortified food to take to their families,” she said.

Fabíola Ortiz was invited by HarvestPlus and Embrapa-Brazil to travel to Rwanda.

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Chile Graduates in Earthquake Preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/chile-graduates-earthquake-preparedness/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:52:06 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133441 Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country. Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the […]

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President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

President Michelle Bachelet visiting a shelter on Apr. 3 in Camarones, one of the areas worst-hit by the quake, 2,000 km north of Santiago. Credit: Office of the Chilean President

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Chile appears to have learned a few lessons from the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and it successfully drew on them the night of Apr. 1, when another quake struck, this time in the extreme north of the country.

Frightened by the intensification of seismic activity in the last few years, local residents fled for the hills, two km away from the Pacific ocean, after a tsunami alert was issued by the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service.

But despite the fear, nearly one million people participated efficiently in a mass evacuation, and the six people who were killed died of heart attacks or falling debris.

The 8.2-magnitude temblor occurred at GMT 23:46 and was the strongest in a series of quakes that have hit northern Chile since Jan. 1.

“We were in our apartment, which is on the third floor of a building. My daughter and my husband and I all held onto each other. Suddenly, the windows burst and glass started to fall on our backs. It was horrible,” a woman who lives in the northern city of Iquique, and had later evacuated to higher ground away from the coast, told Tierramérica.

“We have learned a lot, and many of the elements that didn’t work right in 2010 functioned perfectly now,” the director of the National Seismological Centre, Sergio Barrientos, told Tierramérica.

Four years ago, “the seismological monitoring system broke down and we were only able to provide information on the earthquake a couple of hours later,” he said.

“On this occasion, even though it was a much smaller earthquake, we managed to deliver the necessary information just a few minutes after it occurred,” he added.

President Michelle Bachelet flew over the most heavily affected areas, Iquique and Arica, 1,800 and 2,000 km north of Santiago, respectively, to view the destruction.

“There has been an exemplary evacuation process, with strong solidarity that has made this a process without major setbacks, which has protected people from a tsunami or other serious problems linked to the quake,” she said.

Tuesday’s earthquake was also a trial by fire.for Bachelet, who took office as president for the second time, on Mar. 11.

The president ended her first term just 12 days after the 8.8-magnitude quake and tsunami that devastated vast areas in central and southern Chile on Feb. 27, 2010.

That time the emergency preparedness protocols didn’t work, and a tardy tsunami alert was blamed for some 500 deaths, added to the destruction of over 200,000 housing units. Bachelet faced legal action, and several members of her first administration are still under investigation.

Four years later, the president decreed a timely state of emergency for the affected regions and called out the armed forces and the security forces to keep public order.

The tsunami warning sirens sounded early enough to allow thousands of people to begin evacuating calmly.

Significant investment in economic and human resources lies behind these changes. In 2012, the National Seismological Centre signed an agreement with the Interior Ministry to strengthen the network of sensors and set up new stations, while creating a robust communications system.

The ongoing investment of nearly seven million dollars has included the installation of 10 new monitoring stations, the purchase of satellite equipment, and training for the staff at the National Seismological Centre and the National Emergency Office.

The disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies are bearing fruit not only in Chile, but in the rest of Latin America as well, according to the regional office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes are common in different parts of the region, often associated with conditions of vulnerability, poverty and insecurity.

However, local populations are better prepared today, regional cooperation is effective, and warning and response systems are efficient, UNESCO reports.

“The situation has improved greatly since the 27 February 2010 tsunami that impacted Chile,” said UNESCO which, in alliance with the authorities, is involved in work on education for tsunami preparedness in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

In Chile, the work has been carried out in 144 schools in areas at risk of flooding – lower than 30 metres above sea level.

“Citizen education is essential in these situations, especially in a country like Chile, where a tsunami can occur 15 or 20 minutes after an earthquake and it takes 10 minutes to analyse the information,” hydraulic engineer Rodrigo Cienfuegos of the National Research Centre for Integrated Natural Disaster Management (CIGIDEN) told Tierramérica.

“People have to react in an autonomous manner; they have to know where to evacuate to immediately after an earthquake of the characteristics of the one we had on Tuesday,” added Cienfuegos, an expert on tsunamis.

One of the biggest challenges now is for people to be prepared to deal with the impacts that follow the quake itself: living in evacuation centres, and putting up with the lack of food, water and electricity.

“The idea is that, once the emergency is over, people will be more ready to live through that complex period,” he said.

According to Cienfuegos, an academic at the Catholic University, this South American country, one of the world’s most earthquake-prone, with more than 4,000 km of coastline, should rethink human settlements in the future.

“We have to be aware of the threat that living so close to the coast means,” he said. “It’s hard to move people away who for years have been living close to the sea, but measures have to be taken when the construction of new human settlements is being studied.”

For now, the people of northern Chile should be ready, seismologists warn. It has been 137 years since the last major quake in the north of the country and the energy that has accumulated is greater than what was released on Tuesday.

*Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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Brazilian Dams Accused of Aggravating Floods in Bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:42:11 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133433 Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept. Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo […]

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A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept.

Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built by Brazil, which they blame for the disaster that has already cost 59 lives in Bolivia and material losses of 111 million dollars this year, according to the Fundación Milenio.

Bolivian President Evo Morales himself added his voice on Wednesday Apr. 2 to the choir of those who suspect that the two dams have had to do with the flooding in the Amazon region. “An in-depth investigation is needed to assess whether the Brazilian hydropower plants are playing a role in this,” he said.

The president instructed the foreign ministry to lead the inquiry. “There is a preliminary report that has caused a great deal of concern…and must be verified in a joint effort by the two countries.”

Some 30,000 families living in one-third of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities have experienced unprecedented flooding in the country’s Amazon valleys, lowlands and plains, and the attempt to identify who is responsible has become a diplomatic and political issue.

Environmentalists argue that among those responsible are the dams built in the Brazilian state of Rondônia on the Madeira river, the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, whose watershed is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

In Bolivia – where the Madeira (or Madera in Spanish) emerges – some 250 rivers that originate in the Andes highlands and valleys flow into it.

“It was already known that the Jirau and San Antonio [as it is known in Bolivia] dams would turn into a plug stopping up the water of the rivers that are tributaries of the Madera,” independent environmentalist Teresa Flores told IPS.

“Construction of a dam causes water levels to rise over the natural levels and as a consequence slows down the river flow,” the vice president of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), Patricia Molina, told IPS.

Her assertion was based on the study “The impact of the Madera river dams in Bolivia”, published by FOBOMADE in 2008.

“The Madera dams will cause flooding; the loss of chestnut forests, native flora and fauna, and fish; the appearance and recurrence of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue; the displacement of people, increased poverty and the disappearance of entire communities,” the study says.

“Considering all of the information provided by environmental activists in Brazil and Bolivia, by late 2013 everything seemed to indicate that the elements for a major environmental disaster were in place,” Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA) researcher Marco Octavio Ribera wrote in an article published Feb. 22.

But Víctor Paranhos, the head of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) sustainable energy consortium, rejected the allegations.

The dams neither cause nor aggravate flooding in Bolivia “because they are run-of-the-river plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and the dams are many kilometres from the border,” he told IPS.

In his view, “what’s going on here is that it has never rained so much” in the Bolivian region in question. The flow in the Madeira river, which in Jirau reached a maximum of “nearly 46,000 cubic metres per second, has now reached 54,350 cubic metres per second,” he added.

Moreover, the flooding has covered a large part of the national territory in Bolivia, not only near the Madeira river dams, he pointed out.

The ESBR holds the concession for the Jirau hydropower plant, which is located 80 km from the Bolivian border. The group is headed by the French-Belgium utility GDF Suez and includes two public enterprises from Brazil as well as Mizha Energia, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui.

At the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, which are still under construction, the reservoirs have been completed and roughly 50 turbines are being installed in each dam. When they are fully operative, they will have an installed capacity of over 3,500 MW.

Claudio Maretti, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Amazon Initiative, said “there is neither evidence nor conclusive studies proving that the dams built on the Madera river are the cause of the floods in the Bolivian-Brazilian Amazon territories in the first few months of 2014 – at least not yet.”

In a statement, Maretti recommended “integrated conservation planning, monitoring of the impacts of infrastructure projects on the connectivity and flow of the rivers, on aquatic biodiversity, on fishing resources and on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the major alterations imposed by human beings.”

The intensity of the rainfall was recognised in a study by the Fundación Milenio which compared last year’s rains in the northern department or region of Beni – the most heavily affected – and the highlands in the south of Bolivia, and concluded that “it has rained twice as much as normal.”

Several alerts were issued, such as on Feb. 23 for communities near the Piraí river, which runs south to north across the department of Santa Cruz, just south of Beni.

At that time, an “extraordinary rise” in the water level of the river, the highest in 31 years, reached 7.5 metres, trapped a dozen people on a tiny island, and forced the urgent evacuation of the local population.

The statistics are included in a report by SEARPI (the Water Channeling and. Regularisation Service of the Piraí River) in the city of Santa Cruz, to which IPS had access.

The plentiful waters of the river run into the Beni plains and contributed to the flooding, along with the heavy rain in the country’s Andes highlands and valleys.

The highest water level in the Piraí river was 16 metres in 1983, according to SEARPI records.

Flores, the environmentalist, acknowledged that there has been “extraordinarily excessive” rainfall, which she attributed to the impact of climate change on the departments of La Paz in the northwest, Cochabamba in the centre, and the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Reyes and San Borja, in Beni.

Molina, the vice president of FOBOMADE, cited “intensified incursions of flows of water from the tropical south Atlantic towards the south of the Amazon basin,” as an explanation for the heavy rainfall.

She and Flores both mentioned deforestation at the headwaters of the Amazon basin as the third major factor that has aggravated the flooding.

In Cochabamba, former senator Gastón Cornejo is leading a push for an international environmental audit and a lawsuit in a United Nations court, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

“The state of Bolivia has been negligent and has maintained an irresponsible silence,” he told IPS.

Molina proposes taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to denounce the environmental damage reportedly caused by the Brazilian dams.

With reporting by Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro.

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