Inter Press Service » Projects http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 25 May 2015 22:49:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Pineapple Industry Leaves Costa Rican Communities High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 22:47:12 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140802 An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 25 2015 (IPS)

Twelve years after finding the first traces of pesticides used by the pineapple industry, in the rural water supply, around 7,000 people from four communities in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region are still unable to consume their tap water.

The communities of Milano, El Cairo, La Francia and Luisiana are located in the municipality of Siquirres, 100 km northeast of the capital, San José, in an agricultural region where transnational corporations grow pineapples on a large scale.

For years the four towns have depended on tanker trucks that bring in clean drinking water.

“It’s hard,” the head of the Milano community water board, Xinia Briceño, told IPS. “And while the truck used to come every day, now it comes every other day. And when it breaks down, or there’s an emergency in some other place, or it’s a holiday, people go without drinking water for up to four days.”

Briceño, the president of the community association that runs the rural water system in Milano which serves some 1,000 families, is frustrated with the delay in resolving the situation. “As of next August we will have been dependent on the tanker truck for eight years.”

Since Aug. 22, 2007, these rural communities have only had access to water that is trucked in. They can’t use the water from the El Cairo aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations in Siquirres, a rural municipality of 60,000 people in the Caribbean coastal province of Limón.

“Chemicals continue to show up in the water,” Briceño said. “During dry periods the degree of contamination goes down. But when it rains again the chemicals are reactivated.”

The failure of the public institutions to guarantee a clean water supply to the residents of these four communities reflects the complications faced by Costa Rica’s state apparatus to enforce citizen rights in areas where transnational companies have been operating for decades.

The technical evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte.

But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities.

As a temporary solution, the public water and sewage utility AyA decided in 2007 to provide the communities with water from tanker trucks. Today, the local residents bring containers three times a week to stock up on clean water.

In nearly eight years, AyA has spent over three million dollars distributing water to the four communities, according to official figures. Briceño said a system to bring in water from another nearby aquifer could have been built with those funds.

“The idea is to build a water system to bring in water from a new source, in San Bosco de Guácimo. But that means piping it in from 11.7 km away,” Briceño explained.

The first evidence of the pollution was discovered in 2003, when the National University’s Regional Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances found traces of pesticides in the local water supply. Studies carried out in 2007 and subsequent years found that the water was unfit for human consumption.

The Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber ruled that the Health Ministry, AyA and several other public institutions should resolve the problem.

But the state has not managed to obtain compensation from pineapple producers for the environmental damage, as it has failed to carry out an assessment of the harm caused, and lawsuits filed in the environmental administrative court since 2010 are still underway.

“That is one of the delays we have had, because part of the process of bringing a complaint before the environmental administrative court is an economic appraisal of the environmental damages,” Lidia Umaña, the vice president of the court, told IPS. “Not all of the different authorities have the capability to conduct appraisals.”

The judge said that without an appraisal it is impossible to determine whether the companies must pay damages or not, and that “in this case like in any other a group of experts must be appointed to appraise the damages.”

After years of waiting for a solution, the case has gone beyond the borders of this Central American country, reaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Mar. 20 Briceño and other representatives of the affected communities, and delegates of the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Centre (CEDARENA), asked the IACHR to intervene.

“The IACHR is currently preparing a report on the human right to water and they told us they would include this case,” said Soledad Castro, with CEDARENA’s integrated water management programme, which is supporting the communities in their complaint before the Washington-based regional human rights body.

In remarks to IPS, Castro complained about the state’s inertia in solving the problem. In her view, “only AyA has made an effort, bringing in water trucks at an extremely high cost. Although it hasn’t been sufficient, at least AyA did something. The rest have been conspicuously absent.”

The case has also drawn the attention of other international bodies and organisations, like the Water Integrity Network (WIN), which criticised the state’s failure to protect the rights of local residents and the slow, non-transparent reaction by the authorities to the pollution of the water.

“(The state) has lacked accountability and transparency in its laboratory tests, the information given to the community, and compliance with rules and regulations,” says the 2014 WIN report “Integrity and the Human Right to Water in Central America”.

According to the Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters (CANAPEP), which represents the industry in Costa Rica, pineapples were grown on 42,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2012 and exports of the fruit brought in 780 million dollars. The United States imported 48 percent of the total, and the rest went to the European market.

Worried about the growth of pineapple production and the possible impact on local communities, the municipalities of Guácimo and Pococí declared a moratorium on an expansion of the industry. But a 2013 court ruling overthrew the ban, after it was challenged by CANAPEP.

In 2014, the annual state of the nation report stated that pineapple production stood out because of the large number of conflicts, and noted that it had mentioned the same problem in earlier reports.

IPS received no response to its request for comment from Corporación Del Monte corporate relations director Luis Enrique Gómez with regard to the water problem.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Accusations of ‘Apartheid’ Cause Israelis to Backpedalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/accusations-of-apartheid-cause-israelis-to-backpedal/#comments Sun, 24 May 2015 16:24:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140792 Azzum Atme checkpoint border crossing from the West Bank into Israel, where hundreds of Palestinian labourers cross into Israel each day using Israeli buses. These labourers already face long delays at the checkpoint and if they are banned from Israeli buses their trips will take even longer. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Azzum Atme checkpoint border crossing from the West Bank into Israel, where hundreds of Palestinian labourers cross into Israel each day using Israeli buses. These labourers already face long delays at the checkpoint and if they are banned from Israeli buses their trips will take even longer. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 24 2015 (IPS)

A  decision by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to segregate buses in the occupied West Bank has backfired after causing an uproar in Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, and political damage on the international stage.

This came as Israel faces mounting international criticism over its land expropriation and settlement building in the West Bank, and other forms of discrimination levelled against Palestinians.

Israel’s new extreme right-wing government is also being attacked on the domestic front with liberal Israelis, and Israeli NGOs involved in human rights, accusing the government of damaging Israel’s image and values.“The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the threat of economic sanctions on Israel is a language the Israeli government understands far more than empty threats from the Americans who never followed any criticism of the Israeli government with any action” – Prof Samir Awad, political scientist at Birzeit University

Israeli settlers in the West Bank have been waging a campaign to prohibit Palestinians, particularly labourers who work in Israel, from using their buses in the occupied West Bank for over a year, saying that they represented a security threat, refused to give up their seats for Israelis and expressed sexual interest in Israeli women.

Last week, approval was given for buses to be segregated but after the backlash the plan was quickly scrapped.

However, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon quickly denied that segregation or racism had anything to do with the issue and that the decision to ban Palestinians from Israeli buses had only been based on “security” needs.

Neither has Ya’alon given up on the plan. He intends to instruct the IDF to come up with a new plan to cover all 13 crossing points from the West Bank into Israel.

This development came simultaneously as European Union foreign policy head Federica Mogherini paid a 24-hour visit May 20-21 to Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward, stating that Europe wanted to play a more prominent role in the process.

But behind Mogherini’s visit was growing approval within the European Union for more pressure to be exerted on Israel to stop expropriating land from the Palestinians to build more illegal Israeli settlements and enlarge current ones.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry was on the defensive following its perception of bias from the European Union.

“The Israeli government will not be pressured by the European Union into making any concessions with the Palestinians in regards to the peace process,” said a spokesman from Israel’s Foreign Ministry – who insisted on remaining anonymous due to “ongoing problems at the ministry”.

“If the EU exerts one-sided pressure on Israel, without putting any pressure on the Palestinians, the situation will backfire because it will allow the Palestinians to avoid direct negotiations with us at the negotiating table,” the spokesman told IPS.

“Any future peace negotiations will have to involve face to face talks between the Palestinians and us. We will accept nothing less.”

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, quoting a mediaeval biblical scholar, instructed all Israeli diplomats not to apologise for Israel’s occupation, stating that “all of the land (meaning East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories) belonged to Israel.

As Israel finds itself painted into a corner politically, Palestinian and Israeli analysts have been debating whether there would be any European pressure on Israel and whether that pressure would have any effect.

Political scientist Prof Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, believes that the European Union will be able to successfully pressure the Israeli government, despite its extremism.

“The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner and the threat of economic sanctions on Israel is a language the Israeli government understands far more than empty threats from the Americans who never followed any criticism of the Israeli government with any action,” Awad told IPS.

“EU pressure on Israel will also be buoyed by the fact that a number of EU countries have officially recognised a Palestinian state while others have recognised a state in principle and are critical of Israel’s continued occupation and land expropriation in the West Bank,” added Awad.

However, political analyst Benedetta Berti, a research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, is not convinced that the European Union will succeed in pushing Israel to any negotiating table.

“If we look at their record so far there has been a lot of rhetoric but not much actual action. So far, 16 out of the 28 EU ministers have told Mogherini to go ahead with labelling settlement goods exported to Europe,” Berti told IPS.

“It hasn’t happened yet as they have to get 20 of the 28 EU ministers on board for that and due to the divisions in the EU over Israel I’m not sure that it will happen in the near future,” explained Berti.

Meanwhile, an Israeli rights group has accused the Israeli authorities of being indifferent to attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers and security forces.

“Most cases of violent crimes against Palestinians not only go unpunished – but often are completely ignored by the authorities. Even when criminal investigations against soldiers accused of such offences are opened, they almost always fail,” said Yesh Din, a volunteer organisation working to defend the human rights of Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation.

The groups said that approximately 94 percent of criminal investigations launched by the IDF against soldiers suspected of criminal violent activity against Palestinians, and their property, are closed without any indictments. In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing.

“Moreover, Palestinians who attempt to file complaints about crimes committed against them face staggering obstacles in their way. The complete absence of military police stations open to the Palestinian public in the West Bank, for example, makes it literally impossible for Palestinians to file complaints directly with the military police,” stated Yesh Din.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Failure of Review Conference Brings World Close to Nuclear Cataclysm, Warn Activistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 20:55:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140789 United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

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

After nearly four weeks of negotiations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended in a predictable outcome: a text overwhelmingly reflecting the views and interests of the nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies.

“The process to develop the draft Review Conference outcome document was anti-democratic and nontransparent,” Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS.“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile." -- Ray Acheson

She said it contained no meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament and even rolled back some previous commitments.

But, according to several diplomats, there was one country that emerged victorious: Israel, the only nuclear-armed Middle Eastern nation, which has never fully supported a long outstanding proposal for an international conference for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

As the Review Conference dragged towards midnight Friday, there were three countries – the United States, UK, and Canada (whose current government has been described as “more pro-Israel than Israel itself”) – that said they cannot accept the draft agreement, contained in the Final Document, on convening of the proposed conference by March 1, 2016.

As Acheson put it: “It is perhaps ironic, then, that three of these states prevented the adoption of this outcome document on behalf of Israel, a country with nuclear weapons, that is not even party to the NPT.”

The Review Conference president’s claim that the NPT belongs to all its states parties has never rung more hollow, she added.

Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) told IPS the United States was primarily responsible, as in the 2005 review conference, for the failure of this year’s critically important NPT Review Conference.

“The United States and Israel, that is, even if Israel is one of the very few nations that has yet to sign onto the NPT,” he pointed out.

Rather than blame Israel, he said, the U.S., Britain and Canada are blaming the victim, charging that Egypt wrecked the conference with its demands that the Review Conference’s final declaration reiterate the call for creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

But, the tail was once again wagging the dog, said Gerson, who is also the AFSC’s director of Peace and Economic Security Programme.

He said that Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, the day prior to the conclusion of the NPT Review Conference, that the United States sent “a senior U.S. official” to Israel “to discuss the possibility of a compromise” on the draft text of the Review Conference’s final document.

“Israeli apparently refused, and (U.S. President) Barack Obama’s ostensible commitments to a nuclear weapons-free world melted in the face of Israeli intransigence,” said Gerson.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the problem with NPT Review Conference commitments on disarmament made over the last 20 years is not so much that they have not been strong enough. Rather the problem is that they have not been implemented by the NPT nuclear weapon states.

Coming into the 2015 Review Conference, he said, many non-nuclear weapon states were focused on mechanisms and processes to ensure implementation.

In this vein, the draft, but not adopted Final Document, recommended that the General Assembly establish an open-ended working group to “identify and elaborate” effective disarmament measures, including legal agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapons free world.

Regardless of the lack of an NPT outcome, this initiative can and should be pushed at the next General Assembly session on disarmament and international security, this coming fall, said Burroughs, who is also executive director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Acheson told IPS that 107 states— the majority of the world’s countries (and of NPT states parties)—have endorsed a Humanitarian Pledge, committing to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference is the Humanitarian Pledge, she added.

The states endorsing the Pledge now and after this Conference must use it as the basis for a new process to develop a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“This process should begin without delay, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has already been identified as the appropriate milestone for this process to commence.”

Acheson also said a treaty banning nuclear weapons remains the most feasible course of action for states committed to disarmament.

“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile,” she said.

This context requires determined action to stigmatise, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

“Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice,” Acheson declared.

Gerson told IPS the greater tragedy is that the failure of the Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the NPT, increasing the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and doing nothing to stanch new nuclear arms races as the nuclear powers “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems for the 21st century continues apace.

He said the failure of the Review Conference increases the dangers of nuclear catastrophe and the likelihood of nuclear winter.

The U.S. veto illustrates the central importance of breaking the silos of single issue popular movements if the people’s power needed to move governments – especially the United States – is to be built.

Had there been more unity between the U.S. nuclear disarmament movement and forces pressing for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace in recent decades, the outcome of the Review Conference could have been different, noted Gerson.

“If we are to prevail, nuclear disarmament movements must make common cause with movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite commitments made in 1995, when the NPT was indefinitely extended and in subsequent Review Conferences, and reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conference final documents to work for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, Obama was unwilling to say “No” to Israel and “Yes” to an important step to reducing the dangers of nuclear war, said Gerson.

“As we have been reminded by the Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear War held in Norway, Mexico and Austria, between the nuclear threats made by all of the nuclear powers and their histories of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations, that we are alive today is more a function of luck than of policy decisions.”

The failure of Review Conference is thus much more than a lost opportunity, it brings us closer to nuclear cataclysms, he declared.

Burroughs told IPS debate in the Review Conference revealed deep divisions over whether the nuclear weapon states have met their commitments to de-alert, reduce, and eliminate their arsenals and whether modernisation of nuclear arsenals is compatible with achieving disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states stonewalled on these matters.

If the nuclear weapons states displayed a business as usual attitude, the approach of non-nuclear weapon states was characterised by a sense of urgency, illustrated by the fact that by the end of the Conference over 100 states had signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” put forward by Austria.

It commits signatories to efforts to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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When Kenyan Children’s Lives Hang on a Driphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/when-kenyan-childrens-lives-hang-on-a-drip/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140785 Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Prof Grace Irimu shows IPS a drip feed bag and a copy of Kenya’s ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’ as she explains the importance of intravenous treatment in saving the lives of young children affected by acute watery diarrhoea. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 23 2015 (IPS)

Acute watery diarrhoea is a major killer of young children but misunderstanding over the benefits of fluid treatment is preventing many Kenyan parents from resorting to this life-saving technique and threatening to reverse the strides that the country has made in child health.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, released in April this year, reports that the country’s under-five mortality rate fell to 52 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2014, down from the 74 deaths in 2008-09, but still far from the 32 per 1,000 live births targeted under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).“Parents must … understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea” – Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics, University of Nairobi

The primary treatment for acute watery diarrhoea is rehydration, administered intravenously in the most severe cases of very young children suffering from shock after losing excessively high quantities of body fluids. A fluid bolus – or rapid liquid dose – delivered directly through an intravenous drip allows a much faster delivery than oral rehydration.

However, notes nurse Esther Mayaka at the Jamii Clinic in Mathare, Nairobi, “parents of children brought to hospital with acute watery diarrhoea are refusing to have them put on [drip] fluid treatment and this is a major concern because diarrhoea is a leading killer among children and giving fluids is still the main solution.”

She told IPS that the ongoing rains and floods in many parts of the country “have created a comeback for diseases like cholera whose most telling sign is watery diarrhoea which needs to be managed with fluids.”

In February this year, Kenya’s Director of Medical Services, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, issued a cholera outbreak alert following an increase in cases of acute watery diarrhoea in several counties, including Homa Bay, Migori and Nairobi.

According to Prof Grace Irimu, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Nairobi, the reluctance to resort to drip fluid treatment has arisen due to misunderstanding generated by a Fluid Expansion As Supportive Therapy (FEAST) study in 2011 to establish whether the bolus technique was the best practice to use among children diagnosed with shock.

The FEAST study, which was conducted among children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, found that fluid boluses increased 48-hour mortality in critically-ill children with poor blood circulation or shock in these resource-limited settings in Africa, but Irimu told IPS that the study excluded diarrhoea and only studied illnesses associated with fever, such malaria and sepsis.

“Parents must therefore understand that rapid fluid treatment is life-saving for children diagnosed with shock or poor blood circulation due to diarrhoea,” she said.

The Kenya Paediatric Association is also trying to set the record straight and, in a statement shared with IPS, the association reiterated that “diarrhoea complicated by severe dehydration is one of the biggest killers of children globally.”

According to the paediatrics association, the FEAST study excluded children with diarrhoea and dehydration because “the value of giving fluids in this group is well known. Giving appropriate fluid therapy is essential.”

Prof Irimu told IPS that the FEAST study had led to a revision of the ‘Basic Paediatric Protocols’, Kenya’s national guidelines for paediatric care, and clauses that address the treatment of diarrhoea were also revised.

Previously, a child diagnosed with shock as a result of diarrhoea would be given fluids in three cycles, every 15 minutes depending on the response. Now, the child receives the fluids in two cycles and if there is no response, health providers are advised to proceed to slower fluid administration where the child is given the amount that the body needs, depending on the level of dehydration.

Meanwhile, the country continues to make strides in dealing with HIV/AIDS – another critical health issue covered by the MDGs – among children. Studies show that the number of children with HIV aged between 18 months and 14 years fell from 184,000 in 2007 to 104,000 in 2012, according to the most recent Kenya Aids Indicator Survey.

However, Prof Joseph Karanja, a reproductive health and HIV/AIDs expert in Nairobi, says that the country can still do better because “through available antiretroviral drugs as a preventive measure among HIV positive mothers, HIV transmission to the infant can be reduced to as low as one percent.”

Dr Pauline Samia, a paediatric neurologist and a board member of the Kenya Paediatric Association, says that there is also a commitment to address conditions that challenge the management of HIV among children such as epilepsy.

“Though research in this area is limited, an estimated 6.7 percent of children with HIV also have epilepsy, with at least 50 percent of children with HIV having central nervous system problems such as delayed development, behavioural challenges and convulsions,” she observes.

Regarding progress in other MDGs, some progress has been made in reducing the prevalence of underweight children less than five years of age, one of the goals set for eradicating extreme hunger and poverty.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reports that not only has childhood malnutrition declined significantly, from 35 percent in 2008 to the current 26 percent, but the prevalence of underweight children also decreased from 16 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2014.

On the front of improving maternal health, the survey says that while maternal mortality remains high at 488 deaths in every 100,000 live births, in the past five years more than three in five births (61 percent) took place in healthcare facilities, a marked improvement compared with the 43 percent in 2008.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:31:40 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140778 Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

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

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Caribbean Looks to France as Key Partner in Climate Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:20:32 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140764 Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, May 22 2015 (IPS)

By the time leaders of the international community sit down in Paris later this year to discuss climate change, at least two Caribbean leaders are hoping that France can demonstrate its commitment to assisting their adaptation efforts by re-joining the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The CDB is the premier regional financial institution, established in 1969. It contributes significantly to the harmonious economic growth and development of the Caribbean, promoting economic cooperation and integration among regional countries.“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and [President] Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it." -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

Of the 19 regional member countries that are allowed to borrow funds from the CDB and also have voting rights, 15 are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In addition, Canada, China, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom all enjoy voting rights but, like Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, they are not entitled to borrow funds from the bank.

France was once a non-regional member, but withdrew its membership about a decade ago, supposedly because of domestic politics.

Now, two Caribbean prime ministers say with the region being among the countries worst affected by climate change and struggling to find the resources to fund adaptation and mitigation efforts, it is time for France to rejoin the CDB.

The lobby began on May 9 in Martinique, when French President François Hollande visited the French overseas territory to chair a one-day Caribbean climate change summit ahead of the world climate change talks in Paris during November and December of this year.

During the plenary, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves raised with Hollande the issue of France’s CDB membership.

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris, who is chair of the CDB’s Board of Governors, the bank’s highest policy making body, told the two-day 45th meeting of the board, which began on May 20, how Gonsalves raised the issue with his French counterpart.

“Caught by Gonsalves flighted googly, the president played just as Gonsalves had predicted and committed to have France returned as a member of the CDB,” Harris said, using an analogy from the Caribbean’s rich cricketing culture.

Harris further said that building resilience to climate change and natural disasters remains among the issues that “need critical attention in the context of reshaping a credible agenda for Caribbean development”.

He told IPS afterwards it would be “a significant win-win for us all” if Hollande follows through on his commitment to rejoin the CDB.

“It think it will enhance France’s own involvement in the region but beyond the region as a major country interested in bringing justice to small island developing states, many of which are found in the Caribbean region,” he said.

When France left the financial institution it raised issues such as the reputation of the bank, because France had been an important member and also had good credit ratings.

“Therefore, it coming back again will signal that it has renewed its confidence in the bank. Given France’s own standing as a member of the G20, that will be a positive in terms of the reputation for the CDB. And, therefore, when the bank wins, the people of the Caribbean, whom it serves, they also win and also all of us in the region,” Harris told IPS.

An economist, Harris said the Paris talks will “only bear fruits for us if in fact it makes special provisions for the vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

“… if a member of the G20 group such as France provide leadership in Europe and beyond, certainly it would be a good signal of that commitment for him to reinter into the CDB as a member,” he said, noting that climate change will continue to be high on the agenda of the CDB during his chairmanship.

“It has already been identified by the president of the bank as one of the areas in which the bank wants to have a forward thrust,” he told IPS.

CDB president Dr. William Warren Smith said that the Caribbean has already begun to experience “the damaging effects and associated economic losses of rising sea levels and an increase in the number and severity of natural hazards”.

He said that to participate effectively in climate change adaptation and mitigation, including exploiting the region’s vast renewable energy resources, the CDB must be able to access climate finance from the various windows emerging worldwide.

Smith, addressing the board of governors meeting, said that institutions from which climate finance can be accessed “understandably, have set the access bar extremely high”.

However, he stressed that the CDB has undergone reforms that will position the institution to gain wider access to climate resources.

“I am pleased to say that by the end of this year, we expect to be accredited to both the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund,” he said, adding that at a recent meeting of Caribbean foreign ministers in Berlin, he proposed the immediate establishment of a “Project Preparation Facility” for Caribbean countries.

This facility, to be managed by CDB, would enable the bank’s borrowing member countries to develop a pipeline of “bankable” projects that would be eligible for climate financing.

“These projects would climate-proof roads and other critical infrastructure. They would also address the vulnerability of our islands and coastal zones in order to protect vital industries, such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries,” Smith said.

Gonsalves told IPS that “there are several consequences, all of them positive, for France coming back to the CDB.”

He said France will be able to bring resources at the level of Germany, which currently holds a 5.73 percent stake in the capital of CDB, making Germany the third-largest non-regional, non-borrowing member.

“In relation to climate change particularly, given the agenda that the CDB has in terms of its strategic plan, and that’s a focal issue, France will bring its immense support resources and its intellectual clout and its political clout as an interlocutor for the Caribbean for the CDB, for developing countries in relation to climate change,” Gonsalves told IPS.

“More broadly, France, of course, as the host for the Paris Summit and what was promised at Fort-de-France as the steps we will take, they again are going to play an important role and to do some things conjoining with us.”

Gonsalves noted that the Caribbean will attend climate change related summits in Brussels, Addis Ababa, and at the United Nations ahead of the Paris Summit.

Gonsalves said he is confident that France is committed to an outcome that will benefit the Caribbean and other small island developing states that suffer the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change.

“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it and France has had a good history in this matter and has been playing a leading role in the European Union and also at the United Nations on this matter. So I am very happy that they are engaged with us in the manner in which they are engaged,” he said.

He was also confident that France will rejoin the CDB.

“As Harris said, the manner in which I put it, it was very difficult for him to say no,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Chimera in Growing Cooperation Between China and Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 22:31:02 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140757 Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 21 2015 (IPS)

A total of 35 agreements and contracts were signed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, as part of the growing ties between the two countries. But there is one project that drew all the attention: the Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad will stretch over 5,000 km from the port of Açú, 300 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to a port in Peru. The Peruvian port will be selected after feasibility studies are carried out to determine the viability of specific sites, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Brazil, China and Peru.

“It’s crazy,” said Newton Rabello, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in transportation systems. “The 4,000-metre barrier of the Andes mountains and the high costs make the project unviable from the start,” he told IPS.

“Railroads don’t like rugged terrain; all of the ones laid in the Andes mountains were closed down and the so-called bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo didn’t work because of the absurd costs,” explained Rabello, an engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He argued that other railways proposed for creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans won’t work, for the same reasons – including the ones that cross the areas of greatest economic density such as South America’s Southern Cone region, where the only thing needed is to build stretches to complement already existing railways.

Other accords signed by President Dilma Rousseff and Li, or by some of the 120 businesspersons who accompanied the Chinese leader, are more concrete and opportune for the Brazilian government, which is facing a fiscal adjustment and does not have the resources to carry out necessary infrastructure projects and revive the stagnant economy.

The accords involve a total investment by China of 53 billion dollars – a figure mentioned by the Brazilian government without confirmation from China or a detailed breakdown because it covers initiatives in different stages – some still on paper, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, and others which will go out to bid.

But the participation of Chinese companies and capital will make it possible to jumpstart many infrastructure projects that have been delayed or stalled, such as railroads for the exportation of the soy grown in Brazil’s Midwest and Northeast regions.

A 50 billion dollar fund will be established toward that end by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Brazil’s Caixa Econômica Federal.

Industry, meanwhile, will be the prime focus of the government’s Bilateral Productive Cooperation fund. China will provide 20 to 30 billion dollars and Brazil will later decide what its quota will be.

The industrialisation of Latin America is one aim of China’s development finance, Li said in Brasilia, in response to complaints about the asymmetry of trade relations, with Latin America’s exports practically limited to commodities.

Li’s visit to Brazil represented the first part of his first Latin America tour, which is taking him to Colombia, Peru and Chile until his return home on May 26.

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The agreements signed in Brasilia for financial cooperation accentuate the much-criticised asymmetry. Chinese banks granted seven billion dollars in new loans to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras, which come on top of earlier credits that guarantee oil supplies to China.

Another beneficiary of the agreements is Brazil’s mining giant Vale, included in a four billion dollar credit line for the purchase of ships to transport 400,000 tons of iron ore.

Oil and iron ore make up nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China. Hence China’s interest in improving this country’s transport infrastructure, to reduce the cost of Brazil’s exports, besides providing work for China’s construction companies now that domestic demand is waning.

Another agreement opens up the Chinese market to exports of cattle on the hoof from Brazil.

Brazil has exported some industrial products to China, mainly from the aeronautics industry. The sale of 22 planes from the Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) to a Chinese company was finalised during Li’s visit. A prior accord had established the sale of a total of 60.

Bilateral trade amounted to 77.9 billion dollars in 2014, with a trade surplus for Brazil, although it is shrinking due to the fall in commodity prices. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars in trade in the near future, according to the Chinese prime minister.

The stronger relations, especially the increase in Chinese investment, “could be positive for Brazil, but we have to control our enthusiasm over the closer ties,” said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Brazilian Society of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation.

“China may have more to gain than us in this process: they are seeking suppliers (of raw materials) throughout Latin America, but without any urgency because their economy has slowed down; they can think things through strategically, with a view to the long term,” the economist told IPS.

“With more experience built up in their ancient culture, they know what they want – they are seeking more global power, and alliances with emerging countries from other regions, like Brazil, expand their influence,” he said.

With nearly four trillion dollars in foreign reserves, they can finance the development of any country, he said.

Meanwhile, Brazil, “which is in an emergency situation and in need of short-term financing, is merely reacting, without any strategy,” he said. “That is why the enthusiasm over Chinese investment worries me; we could end up frustrated, and worse, it could expose us to manipulation, like what happened with Argentina.”

Lima said Brazil had already been frustrated once: when Brazil officially recognised China as a market economy in 2004, offering it better trade conditions, China failed to live up to its commitment of 10 billion dollars in investment in industry in this country.

Another disappointment was the promise to install in Brazil a 12 billion dollar plant by the Chinese company Foxconn, to produce electronic devices. In the end the investment amounted to less than one-tenth of what was promised when the deal was announced in 2011.

But today’s circumstances favour greater economic complementation between the two countries and more balanced bilateral trade.

“China stopped putting a priority on exports and is stimulating domestic consumption, while Brazil is in the opposite situation, with a reduction in internal demand and a greater export effort, which opens up a possibility of synergy between the two countries,” Lima said.

But clear goals are needed to take advantage of this opportunity, he said, “along with long-term planning with clearly defined priorities, the necessary reforms, and productive investment in manufacturing….but the Brazilian government seems to be lost.”

The Transcontinental Railway is designed “to prioritise exports of soy and minerals” to Asia, mainly China, he said.

“Historically railroads led to a major reduction in costs for land transport, replacing draft animals and carts,” said Rabello. “Costs fell from six to one, and even lower in some cases, and that stuck in the minds of people who still see trains as a solution, because they have no idea of today’s costs.”

As a result, several parallel railroads are being built in Brazil, running towards the centre of the country, where agricultural production, especially of soy, is on the rise. Where there was only one precarious railway for carrying exports they now want to offer three or four alternatives, or even more, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, which is “excessive,” the professor said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Insteadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:45:53 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140739 In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Universalisation and Strengthening Nuke Treaty Review Need to be Qualitativehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-universalisation-and-strengthening-nuke-treaty-review-need-to-be-qualitative/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-universalisation-and-strengthening-nuke-treaty-review-need-to-be-qualitative http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-universalisation-and-strengthening-nuke-treaty-review-need-to-be-qualitative/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 16:34:35 +0000 Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140721 A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at UN headquarters from 27 April to 22 May 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

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

By Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez
NEW YORK, May 19 2015 (IPS)

“Strengthening the Review Process” and “Universalisation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty” (NPT) are distinctly substantive issues, that require consideration with their specificities in view.

Nevertheless, there are a few aspects pertaining to the themes, which undoubtedly make them inter-related. They should not be lost sight of, as the NPT Review Conference, which concludes its month long session Friday, moves along its agenda.The five-yearly review process has been effectively reduced to one of stock-taking - of unmet timelines, benchmarks and undertakings.

The issue of strengthening the review process arose pursuant to, and as part of, the 1995 Review and Extension Conference. It remains on the agenda of each Main Committee of the NPT Review Conference since then.

While a special feature of the 1995 process is its important adjunct, the indefinite extension of the Treaty, a specific expectation of the outcome of that process was strengthening of the three pillars of the Treaty.

This was sought to be achieved in such a way that the implementation of the three pillars would be consummate and mutually reinforcing.

One should not be oblivious, however, to what provided the immediate context for indefinite extension. It was the expectation that those countries, which retained their nuclear weapons under the Treaty, would take practical measures towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

It was noted then, with concern, that expected measures towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals had floundered within the 25 years preceding the 1995 review and extension process.

Underpinning this standpoint was the commitment by nuclear weapon states that they would pursue disarmament as a matter of priority and without delay.

This is reflected in the outcomes of the review conferences, particularly that of the 2010 Review Conference, where a clear commitment was made, that disarmament would be taken forward in ‘good faith’ and ‘at an early date’.

Nevertheless, those who possess nuclear arsenals have not lived up to the commitments.

The five-yearly review process has thus been effectively reduced to one of stock-taking – of unmet timelines, benchmarks and undertakings!

The ‘forward looking’ thrust of the process, which was originally intended to inspire positive action, has sadly, due to overwhelming convergence of strategic interests, or other reasons, become an exercise of reinventing the wheel.

What is now required is to clearly state timelines and verification and other measures in any plan of action to be adopted.

There has been no progress in nuclear disarmament. Nuclear non-proliferation has made only a little headway in a few regions. The impact on ‘peaceful uses’, of restrictive and control measures, is all too apparent. They often appear to border on denial of technology.

The total lack of progress in the field of nuclear disarmament as against corresponding increase in restrictive or control measures in the area of ‘peaceful uses’, with nuclear non-proliferation swinging in-between, presents a spectre of regression for all humanity.

It seems to be reinforcing the view among countries, which look to ‘peaceful uses’ as a component in their national energy policies, or development strategies, that leaving aside the treaty construct of ‘three pillars’, playing field is not level, and will not be, in the foreseeable future.

In diplomacy, the emphasis always is on staying positive. As the review process is in its last week, the call for it is growing stronger.

But can one conceivably do so in the current scenario, which appears fraught with far too many challenges in area of nuclear disarmament with its inter-relationship to the other two pillars of NPT? Is cautious optimism in order?

A measure of pessimism has already set in, and has the potential to become irreversibly dominant. It would be so, unless and until there is an urgent re-summoning of necessary political will to achieve a radical change in our mindsets as well as in our policies and programmes.

Universalisation of the Treaty is an objective that needs to be continuously promoted. But behind what has led to this call remains its indefinite extension that was achieved in 1995.

If there had been no agreement on extension in 1995, there would be no treaty left behind today. The goal of strengthening the review process must therefore inspire, and be inspired by, the goal of universalisation.

The logic that led to the extension of the Treaty needs to bear on the call for its universalisation, both as part of, and pursuant to, review process.

The extension of the Treaty is indefinite, and it was intended to be outcome-oriented. When the three pillars of the Treaty are advanced equally, and progress towards nuclear disarmament becomes irreversible, the Treaty would be said to have achieved its objective.

A strengthened review process would thus contribute a great deal towards realising this intended outcome.

The goal of universalisation, however, needs to be advanced with a time span in view, and above all, it needs to be qualitative.

What does all this mean?

We should no doubt count on and increase the number of adherences, but equally, we should also emphasise the overall importance of integrating, without discrimination inter se, all the provisions of the Treaty. National policies and programmes of State parties need to reflect these thereby enabling the advancement of its three pillars.

The review process should strengthen efforts to achieve this twin goal.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Development Threatens Antigua’s Protected Guiana Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:11:17 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140683 Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GUIANA ISLAND, Antigua, May 18 2015 (IPS)

In June 2014, Gaston Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls with a pledge to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.

In their first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Browne’s Cabinet approved a number of private investment projects valued in excess of three billion dollars."We want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but what... are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs?" -- Tahambay Smith

The largest is the Yida Investment Group, Guiana Island Project which will see the development of the largest free trade zone in the country, an off-shore financial centre, a five-star luxury resort, internationally branded villa communities, a casino and gaming complex, a multi-purpose conference centre, a 27-hole golf course, a marina and landing facilities, commercial, retail, sports and other auxillary facilities.

Headquartered in western Beijing, Yida International Investment Group was founded in 2011.

But Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island to start the proposed development has raised the ire of local environmentalists who have launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Browne not to allow the Chinese developers to break laws and to conserve the Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith told IPS.

“Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something?” he said.

“First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic,” he added.

Guiana Island, located off the northeast coast of Antigua between the Parham Peninsula and Crump Island, is the fourth largest island of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a refuge for the Fallow Deer, Antigua’s national animal.

Smith said building a marina in the area would also result in the destruction of reefs and removal of sea grass beds, adding that a few jobs and some investment dollars do no equate to the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” Smith said.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected.”

Ruth Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, agrees with Smith.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected,” she told IPS.

“How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?”

Eli Fuller is the President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS), the group spearheading the petition which outlines that Guiana Island falls within an area protected by the nation’s Fisheries Act and also falls within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), which was designated a Marine Protected Area in 2005.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” Fuller told IPS.

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood,” Fuller said.

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” he added.

But Prime Minister Browne said those who have raised concerns about the mangroves have taken a fundamentalist position.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country,” Browne said.

He added that, “some fauna may have to be destroyed” as government proceeds with various developments.

“My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment,” Browne added.

Fuller maintains that Prime Minister Browne was the man to petition in large numbers so that he could see that it wasn’t a “fundamentalist” minority that was very concerned with this particular development.

“He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas,” he said.

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws.

“We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” Fuller said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Megaprojects” Can Destroy Reputations in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:04:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140652 Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

Megaprojects are high-risk bets. They can shore up the government that brought them to fruition, but they can also ruin its image and undermine its power – and in the case of Brazil the balance is leaning dangerously towards the latter.

As the scandal over kickbacks in the state oil company Petrobras, which broke out in 2014, grows, it is hurting the image of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom belong to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

In its 2014 balance sheet, the company wrote off 6.2 billion reais (2.1 billion dollars) due to alleged graft and another 44.6 billion reais for overvalued assets, including refineries.

But the real magnitude of the losses will never be known. The company lost credibility on an international level, its image has been badly stained, and as a result many of its business plans will be stalled or cancelled.

The numbers involved in the corruption scandal are based on testimony from those accused in the operation codenamed “Lava-jato” (Car Wash) and in investigations by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, which indicated that the bribes represented an estimated three percent of Petrobras’ contracts with 27 companies between 2004 and 2012.

The biggest losses can be blamed on poor decision-making, bad planning and mismanagement. But the corruption had stronger repercussions among the population and the consequences are still incalculable.

It will also be difficult to gauge the influence that corruption had on administrative blunders, which are also political, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the devaluation of the assets was concentrated in Petrobras’ two biggest projects, the Abreu e Lima Refinery in the Northeast, which is almost finished, and the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), both of which began to be built when Lula was president.

Petrobras informed investors that COMPERJ, a 21.6-billion-dollar megaproject, abandoned the petrochemical portion of its activities in 2014 as they were considered unprofitable, after three years of waffling, and was downsized to a refinery to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil.

It will be difficult for Petrobras, now under-capitalised, to invest millions of dollars more to finish the refinery, where the company estimates that the work is 82 percent complete. But failing to finish the project would bring much bigger losses.

Thousands of workers laid off, economic and social depression in Itaboraí, where the complex is located, 60 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro, purchased equipment that is no longer needed, which costs millions of dollars a year to store, and suppliers that have gone broke are some of the effects of the modification and delays in the project.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Petrobras crisis is also a result of the crash in international oil prices and of years of government fuel subsidies that kept prices artificially low to help control inflation.

It also endangers the naval industry, which expanded to address demand from the oil company.

Shipyards may dismiss as many as 40,000 people if the crisis drags on, according to industry statistics.

The industry was revived in Brazil as a result of orders for drills, rigs and other equipment to enable Petrobras to extract the so-called presalt oil reserves that lie below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock and sand, in deep water in the Atlantic ocean.

The Abreu e Lima Refinery, which can process 230,000 barrels a day, has had better luck because the first stage is already complete and it began to operate in late 2014. But the cost was eight times the original estimate.

One of the reasons for that was the projected partnership with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which Lula had agreed with that country’s late president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

PDVSA never made good on its commitment to provide 40 percent of the capital needed to build the plant. But the agreement influenced the design and purchase of equipment suited to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude. The project had to be modified along the way.

Plans to build two other big refineries, in the Northeast states of Ceará and Maranhão, were ruled out by Petrobras as non-cost-effective. But that was after nearly 900,000 dollars had already been invested in purchasing and preparing the terrain.

The disaster in the oil industry has stayed in the headlines because of the scandal and the amounts and sectors involved, which include four refineries, dozens of shipyards and major construction companies that provided services to Petrobras and have been accused of paying bribes.

But many other large energy and logistical infrastructure projects have suffered major delays. These megaprojects mushroomed around the country, impelled by the high economic growth during Lula’s eight years in office and incentives from the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme.

Railways, ports, the expansion and paving of roads and highways, power plants of all kinds, and biofuels – all large-scale projects – put to the test the productive capacity of Brazilians, and especially of the country’s construction firms, which also expanded their activities abroad.

The majority of the projects are several years behind schedule. The diversion of the São Francisco river through the construction of over 700 km of canals, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes, and a number of dams, to increase the supply of water in the semi-arid Northeast, was initially to be completed in 2010, at the end of Lula’s second term.

But while the cost has nearly doubled, it is not even clear that the smaller of the two large canals will be operating by the end of this year, as President Rousseff promised.

Private projects, like the Transnordestina and Oeste-Leste railways, also in the Northeast, have dragged on as well.

Resistance from indigenous communities and some environmental authorities, along with labour strikes and protests – which sometimes involved the destruction of equipment, workers’ housing and installations – aggravated the delays caused by mismanagement and other problems.

The wave of megaprojects that began in the past decade was explained by the lack of investment in infrastructure suffered by Brazil, and Latin America in general, during the two “lost decades” – the 1980s and 1990s.

After 1980, oil refineries were not built in Brazil. The success of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline postponed the need. The country became an exporter of gasoline and importer of diesel fuel, until the skyrocketing number of cars and industrial consumption of fuel made an expansion of refinery capacity urgently necessary.

Nor were major hydropower dams built after 1984, when the country’s two largest plants were inaugurated: Itaipú on the border with Paraguay and Tucuruí in the northern Amazon rainforest.

The energy crisis broke out in 2001, when power rationing measures were put in place for eight months, which hurt the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The return of economic growth during the Lula administration accentuated the deficiencies and the need to make up for lost time. The wishful thinking that sometimes drives developmentalists led to a mushrooming of megaprojects, with the now known consequences, including, probably, the new escalation of corruption.

Not to mention the political impact on the Rousseff administration and the PT and the risk of instability for Latin America’s giant.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Murders of Gays Raise the Question of Hate Crimes in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:16:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140666 “Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

During the events surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, it emerged that a young transsexual had recently been killed in the city of Pinar del Río near the western tip of this Caribbean island nation.

While efforts to combat discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) are stepped up in Cuba, this segment of the population remains vulnerable to harassment and violence – and even death.

The Apr. 26 murder of Yosvani Muñoz, 24, which is under investigation, as the legal advice office of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) confirmed to IPS, raised questions about a sensitive and little-known issue in Cuba: hate crimes.

IPS asked experts and members of the LBGT community about the causes of killings of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), of which no official statistics have been published, but which have been reported periodically since 2013 by word of mouth, or in blogs or alternative media outlets.

Hate crimes include verbal abuse, threats, physical assaults and homicides motivated by prejudice based on questions like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic group or religion.

“We are fighting hate crimes together with the Interior Ministry (which the police answers to),” CENESEX director Mariela Castro said in exclusive comments to IPS. Castro is the most visible face of the national campaign in favour of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A thorough expert analysis is needed to determine what kind of killing it was because not all crimes involving LGBT persons as victims are motivated by hatred,” Castro, a sexologist, explained during the May 5-16 events surrounding the Day Against Homophobia.

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In Havana and the eastern province of Las Tunas, this year’s activities, focused on the right to work, had the support for the first time of Cuba’s trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de Cuba and the blessing of protestant pastors for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples.

The activities involved a festive conga line and demonstration with signs and banners, video clips, and debates on the rights of LGBT persons to information, freedom of thought, access to justice, personal safety, and violence-free lives.

The situation in Latin America

In Latin America only Uruguay specifically mentions hate crimes in its legislation, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have laws against discrimination that take into account aggravating circumstances in certain crimes, and some Brazilian states have anti-discrimination clauses in their local constitutions.

Because of the lack of official figures, non-governmental organisations compile information that is not systematised.

The Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua documented some 300 hate crimes against the LGBT population, especially trans women, in Central America from 2009 to 2013. In Mexico and Brazil the number of crimes targeting this population group is high.

In Cuba, the Ibero-American and African Masculinity Network is the only organisation that has published the results of investigations, without explaining the methods used to compile the information. It reported that in 2013 it heard about “more than 40 murders of homosexuals” killed in the same circumstances as the cultural figures Velázquez and Díaz.

They preceded the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is observed on May 17 because on that date in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) general assembly removed homosexuality from the global body’s list of mental disorders.

Castro said “theft and common crime are more frequent aspects in murders of homosexuals, according to the data presented to us by the DGICO (criminal investigation bureau),” which receives advice from and collaborates with CENESEX.

“There might be a hate crime murder once in a while, but they are very few,” she said.

The sexologist added, however, that “the number of hate crimes is not completely clear because of the lack of a specialised institution dedicated to classifying them….and this classification is important because the old term ‘crime of passion’ hides gender violence, violence between men, and violence between couples.”

Violent crime is generally surrounded by silence in this island nation of 11.2 million people, and killings of LGBT individuals are no exception. The 1987 penal code does not specifically recognise hate crimes, or sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in murders.

The law provides for sentences of 15 to 30 years in cases of homicide, and the death penalty is still on the books, although it has not been applied since 2003.

“MSM are at greater risk of being killed than women,” Castro said, citing the results of DGICO investigations regarding a category of men that includes gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“Part of the gay population does not perceive the danger when they irresponsibly choose sexual partners, without information,” she said. “They seek out young men who work as prostitutes, some of whom are criminals and try to rob them, and even kill when they defend themselves.”

Along with its work raising awareness to prevent HIV/AIDS, CENESEX warns of other risks posed by irresponsible sexual practices in gay meeting and recreational places or community social networks.

Oneida Paz, a 59-year-old manager, has not heard of murders or rapes of lesbians, a population group she belongs to. “Violence among women can exist, but it’s not common,” she said. “I do have friends who have been injured, because they were married to men who beat them when they got into a relationship with another woman.”

CENESEX said the number of murders of MSM in 2013 and 2014 was high. At that time the issue came to the forefront because of the deaths of two high-profile openly gay cultural figures, who died in strange circumstances, according to activists.

The local media, which is entirely state-owned, gave ample coverage to the violent deaths of choreographer Alfredo Velázquez, 44, in September 2013 in the eastern city of Guantánamo, and theatre director Tony Díaz, 69, found dead in his Havana home in January 2014. But they only mentioned their careers in the arts.

“I haven’t seen statistics and I’m no expert, but the murders I know about were ruthless. We’re killed for some reason, like theft or vengeance, but also because we’re gay,” said Leonel Bárzaga, a 33-year-old chemical engineer who told IPS about the murder of his friend Marcel Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, a 28-year-old gay professional, was stabbed 12 times on Jan. 6 in his central Havana home. “The police haven’t shared the results of their investigation yet,” said Bárzaga, who preferred not to discuss the specific motives for the murder.

Veterinarian Manuel Hernández, 41, said “I haven’t heard of murders of gays. But verbal attacks are definitely common in small towns, and in the workplace there’s a lot of discrimination,” above all in the rural town where he lives, Quivicán, 45 km south of Havana.

“It wouldn’t be crazy to talk about ‘hate crimes’ against LGBT persons in Cuba,” said Jorge Carrasco, a journalist who investigated gay gathering places in the capital in 2013. “That’s a term used by the Cuban police, in fact, and it’s not a product of paranoia. But I know as little about them as any other Cuban.”

Based on his interviews conducted in lonely outlying parts of the city, like the Playa del Chivo, a beach frequented by MSM to talk, arrange meetings and have sex with strangers, Carrasco explained by email that “many criminals go to those places to steal, and there have been murders. That’s why the police patrol them.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Requires a Mindset Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:02:53 +0000 Prerna Sodhi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140665 CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

By Prerna Sodhi
NEW DELHI, May 16 2015 (IPS)

“Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, is a slogan that most Indians today associate with the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his first nation-wide campaign launched soon after taking office in 2014.

The call has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter. In fact, it is commonplace to find people calling out “Swachh Bharat” as they toss garbage onto the street.

However, while the campaign may not have brought about the change it was aimed to usher in, a dialogue has started and it is a watershed moment for all those working in this area to capitalise on its momentum.The call for “Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter

The idea of cleaning India up is not new, and neither is the term “Swachh Bharat” which has been used by many in the past and has now been “patented” by Modi. For decades, there has been concern with instilling an awareness of the need for cleanliness among citizens, many of whom even defecate in the open.

The current initiative by the government may address the issue of cleanliness at citizens’ level, but activists in the field of sustainable development argue that it should also cover issues related to water, energy and sewage disposal cleanliness.

Access to clean water is one of the main problems that the country faces. According to a report by UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Agency) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases.

The problem does not appear to lie in the lack of availability of water treatment methods, but rather in the unwillingness of people to adopt these methods.

“From the field, we observed that the lack of adoption of water purification techniques is not due to low awareness levels and it was not even illiteracy, as is often assumed,” said Kavneet Kaur, field manager for Development Alternatives (DA), a social enterprise set up in 1982 to tackle the serious impact of climate change on society and the environment.

“There was an evident lack of effort and prioritisation of safety among people to undertake one or more options consistently that made drinking water safe,” she added.

Most slum dwellers, for example, “opted for methods that did not cost their pocket a penny. Those who did have access to cheaper methods of treatment, like chlorination and solar water disinfection (SODIS), avoided adopting these methods because they were time consuming.”

For the last 30 years, DA, which works primarily in Bundelkhand in central India, has been addressing the behaviour change necessary for people to adopt water treatment methods.

According to Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi, DA Vice President, out of the three interrelated components of water, sanitation and hygiene, “hygiene behaviour has been shown to have the biggest impact on community health.”

However, she notes, “despite its merit as the most cost effective public health intervention, ironically there was no global target to improve hygiene during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era. It has become evident that the MDG framework has fallen short of addressing quality, sustainability and equity issues.”

To date, DA has reached out to 50,000 households and 26 schools through intensive advocacy campaigns in urban villages, offering training on how to adopt safe water treatment methods such as SODIS, boiling, chlorination and sieving, despite meeting strong resistance from the local population.

For example, storing water in a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle exposed to sunlight can kill up to 99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an “innovation” that uses nothing but natural ultraviolet (UV) light to provide safe drinking water for consumption. Water can also be purified by sieving boiled water.

Apart from advocating the adoption of these simple water purification methods, DA has also come up with innovations like the Jal-TARA Water Filter, which removes arsenic, pathogenic bacteria and excess iron from contaminated water, TARA Aqua+ (a sodium hypochlorite solution for purifying water), and TARA Aquacheck Vial, a device that tests for the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Nevertheless, these innovations are not destined to go very far unless there is a major change in the mindset of the Indian people, and this extends to the “Swachh Bharat” campaign, not just in terms of clean water but also of a cleaner environment.

This idea has also been the driving force behind a youth-led social media campaign known as CLEAN-India ‘The City I Want’, launched by SA and now covering ten Indian cities – Mirzapur, Mohali, Vadodara, Alwar, Ambala, Bharatpur, Indore, Nashik, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.

CLEAN-India (where CLEAN stands for Community Led Environment Action Network) is an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers. It has so far mobilised 28 NGOs, 300 schools, 800 teachers and over one million students.

The campaign is flanked by a number of other citizens’ groups such as resident welfare associations, parent forums, local business associations and clubs, which are actively participating in activities for environmental improvement.

“Going forward, it is crucial that civil society organisation practitioners interface with academic institutions in evidence gathering and inform policy-makers and investors in order to create enabling conditions where scalable innovation can flourish,” says Lakshmi.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Boatloads of Migrants Could Soon Be ‘Floating Graveyard’ on Southeast Asian Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 07:05:32 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140663 This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 16 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, May 14, a group of journalists rented a boat from Ko Lipe, a small island in Thailand’s southwest Satun Province, and headed out into the Andaman Sea – a water body in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca.

Ten miles into the journey, they came upon a sight not often spied in these waters: a three-storey, rickety wooden vessel, filled with ragged men, women and children who, upon seeing the boatload of journalists, began crying out for help.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships." -- Leonard Doyle, director of media and communications for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
This ship and its desperate human cargo – hundreds of migrants from the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar and Bangladesh – now symbolizes the plight of a persecuted people, and the harsh migration policies of a handful of Southeast Asian countries that have resulted in a game of ‘maritime Ping-Pong’ played out with human lives.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), smugglers abandoned the ship and its passengers after failing to dock in Thailand as a result of that country’s harsh crackdown on what it calls “illegal” maritime arrivals, but what rights activists say are beleaguered citizens fleeing ethnic persecution and economic hardship in their native lands.

Earlier, the boat made a failed attempt to land in Malaysia, and on Friday Thai authorities moved the vessel further out to sea, claiming that its passengers wanted to carry on with their journey – an unlikely scenario given that the emaciated group of refugees have been out at sea for three months, and have little to no food or water left onboard.

A regional crisis

And they are not the only ones – the IOM estimates that some 6,000 people out of roughly 8,000 who have been out at sea since early March remain marooned off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

These countries, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have taken an uneven approach to the refugee crisis: the IOM says some 1,500 people have managed to disembark in Malaysia and Indonesia, while thousands of others have been turned away, with the navies of each respective country going so far as to tow some of the boats further out to see.

A statement issued through the spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary-General Thursday called on governments in the region to respond to the crisis by upholding international obligations, including the prohibition on ‘refoulement’ – the forcible return of persecuted individuals to their country of origin.

The U.N. chief also asked governments to “facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need.”

However, these requests have so far gone unheeded.

Alarmed by the plight of those stranded out at sea, the IOM on Friday released one million dollars from its Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism, with the aim of expanding relief to refugees on shore and assisting those still on the water.

While the fund will provide potentially life-saving emergency aid to hundreds of people, “it’s really up to countries nearby to respond,” IOM Director of Media and Communications Leonard Doyle told IPS.

He said the emergency funds will be used to provide desperate migrants with whatever they might need, but they have to be brought ashore first.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships,” he stressed.

At the very least, he said, powerful emerging countries within range of the crisis should use their naval capacity to bring those needing medical attention ashore – it is believed that pregnant women are among the migrants still drifting well within reach of land – but no government has so far demonstrated a willingness to do so.

Risking death to flee their homes

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes that about 25,000 people “departed irregularly by sea” from the Bay of Bengal in the first quarter of 2015 – double the departure rate for the two preceding years.

The U.N. agency also says an estimated 300 people have died out at sea since October 2014, from starvation, dehydration or after being beaten severely by boat crews.

Hailing largely from Bangladesh and Myanmar, passengers pay between 90 and 370 dollars to board these ships, in addition to the thousands of dollars they might pay moneylenders in interest rates, or to immigration officials for their freedom once they land on safer shores.

The sudden spike in departures could be driven by a number of factors, not least of which the harsh conditions in IDP camps in Myanmar where over 140,000 refugees, the majority of whom identify as Rohingya Muslims, have been interned since inter-communal violence in the country’s western Rakhine State displaced them from their homes nearly three years ago.

Other reasons for the exodus include economic hardships, or ethnic persecution, the U.N. says.

That so many are willing to risk death by drowning for a mere chance of a better life speaks volumes of their plight in their home countries.

An IOM statement released Friday explained, “In the past three years, an estimated 160,000 migrants from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh were smuggled by boat to Thailand before being brought overland to Malaysia.”

But the discovery in early May of mass graves in smuggling camps drove a major crackdown on migrants in both countries, resulting in the current regional stalemate.

These and other issues are expected to be the focus of a regional summit scheduled to take place later this month, which U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon called an opportunity “for all leaders of Southeast Asia to intensify individual and collective efforts to address this worrying situation and tackle the root causes, of which the push factors are often human rights violations.”

Others believe that such a settlement, if it comes at all, will come too late.

“These people are not going to last that long,” IOM’s Doyle told IPS. “They need to be rescued now and that’s what we’ve been calling for. As you can imagine, one day out on a boat is enough, but these people have been out there for [months]… This is shocking, really shocking treatment of human beings.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Poor Land Use Worsens Climate Change in St. Vincenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:08:01 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140638 The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, May 14 2015 (IPS)

For 32 years, Joel Poyer, a forest technician, has been tending to the forest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

His job allows him a unique view of what is taking place in the interior of this volcanic east Caribbean nation, where the landscape mostly alternates between deep gorges and high mountains."Sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.” -- Joel Poyer

Poyer, a 54-year-old social and political activist and trade unionist, is hoping that during the 18 months before he retires, he can get the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to focus on how human activities on the nation’s beaches and in its forests are exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

“Right now, it’s like a cancer eating [us] from the inside,” he tells IPS of the actions of persons, many of them illegal marijuana growers, who clear large swaths of land for farming – then abandon them after a few years and start the cycle again.

Over the past few years, extreme weather events have shown the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines how activities happening out of sight in the forest can have a devastating impact on coastal and other residential areas.

Three extreme weather events since 2010 have left total losses and damages of 222 million dollars, about 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas left 24 million dollars in damage, including damage to 1,200 homes that sent scores of persons into emergency shelters.

The hurricane also devastated many farms, including the destruction of 98 per cent almost all of the nation’s banana and plantain trees, cash crops for many families.

In April 2011, heavy rains resulted in landslides and caused rivers to overflow their banks and damage some 60 houses in Georgetown on St. Vincent’s northeastern coast.

In addition to the fact that the extreme weather event occurred during the traditional dry season and left 32 million dollars worth of damage, Vincentians were surprised by the number of logs that the raging waters deposited into the town.

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

On Dec. 24, 2013, unseasonal heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, resulting in 122 million dollars in damage and loss.

Again, residents were surprised by the number of logs that floodwaters had deposited into towns and villages and the ways in which these logs became battering rams, damaging or destroying houses and public infrastructure.

Not many of the trees, however, were freshly uprooted. They were either dry whole tree trunks or neatly cut logs.

“We have to pay attention to what is happening in the forest,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the media after the extreme weather event of December 2013.

“If we are seeing these logs in the lower end, you can imagine the damage in the upper end,” he said, adding that the Christmas Eve floods had damaged about 10 per cent of the nation’s forest.

“And if those logs are not cleared, and if we don’t deal properly with the river defences in the upper areas of the river, we have a time bomb, a ticking time bomb, because when the rains come again heavily, they will simply wash down what is in the pipeline, so to speak, in addition to new material that is to come,” Gonsalves said.

Almost one and a half years after the Christmas disaster, Gonsalves tells IPS a lot of clearing has been taking place in the forest.

“And I’ll tell you, the job which is required to be done is immense,” he says, adding that there is also a challenge of persons dumping garbage into rivers and streams, although the government collects garbage in every community across the country.

The scope of deforestation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is extensive. In some instances, persons clear up to 10 acres of forest for marijuana cultivation at elevations of over 3,000 feet above sea level, Poyer tells IPS.

“Some of them may cultivate using a method that is compatible, whereby they may leave trees in strategic areas to help to hold the soil together and attract rain. Other will just clear everything, as much as five to ten acres at one time for marijuana,” he explains.

But farmers growing legal produce, such as vegetables and root crops, also use practices that make the soils more susceptible to erosion at a time when the nation is witnessing longer, drier periods and shorter spells of more intense rainfall.

Many farmers use the slash and burn method, which purges the land of many of its nutrients and causes the soil to become loose. Farmers will then turn to fertilisers, which increases production costs.

“When they realise that it is costing them more for input, they will abandon those lands. In abandoning these lands, these lands being left bare, you have erosion taking place. You may have gully erosion, landslides,” Poyer tells IPS.

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says that sometime access to these lands is so difficult that reforestation is very costly.

“Sometimes we will have to put in check dams to try to reduce the erosion and allow it to come under vegetation naturally and hope and pray that in two years when it begins to come under vegetation that someone doesn’t do the very same thing that had happened two years prior,” he explains.

As climate change continues to affect the Caribbean, countries of the eastern Caribbean are seeing longer dry spells and more droughts, as is the case currently, which has led to a shortage of drinking water in some countries.

Emergency management officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have warned that the rainy season is expected to begin in July, at least four weeks later than is usually the case. Similar warnings have been issued across the region.

This makes conditions rife for bush fires in a country where the entire coastline is a fire zone because of the type of vegetation.

The nation’s fire chief, Superintendent of Police Isaiah Browne, tells IPS that this year fire-fighters have responded to 32 bush fires, compared to 91 in all of 2014.

In May alone, they have responded to 20 bush fires – many of them caused by persons clearing land for agriculture.

Poyer tells IPS that in addition to the type of vegetation along the coast, a lot of trees in those areas have been removed to make way for housing and other developments.

“And that also has an impact on the aquatic life,” he says. “That is why sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.”

Poyer’s comments echo a warning by Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, who says that as the temperature of the Caribbean Sea rises, species of fish found in the region, important proteins sources, may move further northward.

The effects of bush fires, combined with the severe weather resulting from climate change, have had catastrophic results in St. Vincent.

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Among the 12 persons who died in the Christmas 2013 floods and landslides were five members of a household in Rose Bank, in north-western St. Vincent, who died when a landslide slammed into their home.

“The three specific areas in Rose Bank where landslides occurred in in the 2013 floods were three of the areas where fires were always being lit,” Community activist Kennard King tells IPS, adding that there were no farms on those hillsides.

“It did affect the soil because as the bush was being burnt out, the soil did get loose, so that when the flood came, those areas were the areas that had the landslide,” says King, who is president of the Rose Bank Development Association.

As temperatures soar and rainfall decreases, the actions of Vincentians along the banks of streams and rivers are resulting in less fresh water in the nation’s waterways.

“The drying out of streams in the dry season is also a result of what is taking place in the hills, in the middle basin and along the stream banks,” Poyer tells IPS.

“Once you remove the vegetation, then you open it up to the sun and the elements that will draw out a lot of the water, causing it to vaporise and some of the rivers become seasonal,” he explains.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to spend millions of dollars to protect coastal areas and relocate persons affected by rising sea, as was the case in Layou, a town on the south-western coast, where boardwalk knows stands where house once stood for generations.

Stina Herberg, principal of Richmond Vale Academy in north-western St. Vincent has seen the impact of climate change on the land- and seascape since she arrived in St. Vincent in 2007.

“Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. … The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign,” she tells IPS.

Richmond Vale Academy runs a Climate Compliance Conference, where new students join for up to six months and take part in a 10-year project to help the people in St. Vincent adapt to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

“We had trough system on the 24th December 2013, and that a took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. … We have been observing this, starting to plant tree, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through,” she says.

The academy recently joined with the Police Cooperative Credit Union to plant 100 trees at Richmond Beach, which has been severely impacted by climate change.

“They will prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes we can do something,” Herberg tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pregnancy and Childbirth Still Kill Too Many Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 17:01:16 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140632 A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 14 2015 (IPS)

In spite of strides in social progress, Latin America’s maternal mortality rates remain unacceptable, and many of the deaths are avoidable, occurring partly because of neglect of the prescriptions provided by experts: preventive action and health promotion.

Juan Reichenbach, a regionally renowned Argentine expert on maternal and child health, has hands-on experience of the problem with mothers and their infants, as a paediatrician and the national director of Motherhood and Infancy (2008-2009).

“If I had to formulate a simple maxim, I would say: Tell me where you were born and I’ll tell you whether or not you will survive,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“The main agents of change are prevention and promotion,” said Reichenbach, who is now a professor at Universidad Nacional de La Plata, where he is chief resident and supervises junior resident doctors at a children’s hospital.“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America." -- Juan Reichenbach

“In other words, the health of mothers and their children needs to be treated as a fundamental right,” he said.

“Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013,” a United Nations report published in 2014, revealed that the maternal mortality rate fell by 40 percent in Latin America over the stated period.

In spite of this drop in the maternal mortality rate, 9,300 women lost their lives in the region in 2013 due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the report said.

On average, approximately 16 women die every day in Latin America and the Caribbean from maternity-related complications, according to April 2015 figures from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America,” Reichenbach said.

According to Bremen De Mucio, of PAHO’s Latin American Centre for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health (CLAP), “relevant and valuable” progress has been made, but the maternal mortality ratio remains at an “unacceptable” level.

The fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for improving maternal health calls for reducing the 1990 maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the end of 2015, as well as providing universal access to reproductive health.

“Continuing to promote human development is the key. And this goes beyond the health sector alone. Effective work to improve the social determinants of health has more impact than isolated health interventions,” De Mucio told IPS.

Reichenbach, for his part, said: “We will only make progress towards achieving the MDGs by educating people about human dignity and the right to life, which are not quantifiable aims.”

The main risk factors for maternal fatalities in Latin America could be reduced “almost to zero,” according to De Mucio. These risk factors are hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, haemorrhage and infections.

According to PAHO, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among women aged 20 to 34, and half of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, in a region where voluntary termination of pregnancy is illegal in the majority of countries.

“About 700,000 babies are born every year in Argentina, and there are an estimated 500,000 abortions. The number of abortions goes unrecognised and unexamined by the health system, and is the tip of the iceberg of maternal mortality,” Reichenbach said.

He said that 35 percent of maternal deaths in his country are preventable with, for instance, proper monitoring during pregnancy.

• Between 1990 and 2013, Latin American countries reduced maternal mortality by an average of 40 percent, much less than the MDG target of 75 percent by 2015. However, 11 countries managed to reduce the rate by more than the regional average: Uruguay (-67 percent), Peru (-64 percent), Bolivia (-61 percent), Chile and Honduras (-60), Dominican Republic (-57), Guatemala (-49), Mexico (-45), Ecuador (-44), and Brazil and Haiti (-43 percent).

• The countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region are Uruguay (14 per 100,000 live births) and Chile (22 per 100,000 live births).

• The highest maternal mortality rate occurs in Haiti, with 380 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Source: Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division.

Argentina’s national guidelines stipulate at least five health clinic check-ups for low-risk pregnancies, but in practice expectant mothers attend on average “less than 2.5 times, and the first visit is usually delayed. Some women arrive at a public hospital in a critical state when they are seven months pregnant,” Reichenbach said.

“Buying a computerised tomography scanner is not the solution; the real answer lies in adequate living conditions, education, employment, decent housing and access to health services,” he said. “Large maternity hospitals generally only intervene as a last resort to fix things after they have gone seriously wrong.”

In his view, the key is to take action at the primary level of health care, including providing an adequate sanitary environment and inclusion in a health system “that pays attention to patients’ daily problems,” reaches remote locations and conducts door-to-door visits in high-risk areas.

Serious cases should be detected promptly and referred to maternity facilities with essential obstetric and neonatal equipment, such as an operating theatre, blood bank, cardiopulmonary resuscitation apparatus and ambulances equipped to deliver emergency care.

Inter-disciplinary teams are needed where doctors are “just another member of the team,” alongside obstetricians, nurses, social workers and community health workers whose work is “much more closely linked to the local area and to people’s health,” he said.

Reichenbach said an “equitable” distribution of doctors is essential to serve marginalised populations, like indigenous peoples, who are “in the first ranks of the dispossessed,” and intra-regional migrants.

In Argentina, for example, there is one doctor per 80 inhabitants in Buenos Aires, while there is only one per 3,000 people in El Impenetrable, a vast forested region in the northern province of Chaco.

“If health is viewed as a right, it follows that every child, mother, teenager and elderly person – including the most impoverished – must be healthy, and that is not so difficult to achieve,” he said.

Health policies should address issues such as geographical remoteness, lack of infrastructure and cultural factors that prevent the spread of sexual and reproductive education.

“We are talking about pregnancy, but we also have to look at whether the pregnancy is wanted within the family, or whether it is an accident, caused by lack of information or by cultural factors, so that a 30-year-old mother ends up having seven or eight children,” he said.

Ariel Karolinski, a consultant for PAHO in Argentina, told IPS that for the past 20 years “the maternal mortality ratio has remained constant at about 40 per 100,000 live births,” although there are wide internal disparities.

However, between 2010 and 2012, for the first time Argentina achieved a fall in the maternal mortality rate with a “relative reduction of 22 percent,” he said.

Karolinski attributed this to programmes like Plan Nacer and Sumar, which expanded public health coverage for mothers and children and targeted the provinces with the worst health indicators, and to cash transfer schemes for pregnant women that are conditional on attending for prenatal check-ups and getting their children vaccinated.

Within Latin America, similar policies have allowed countries like Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay to reduce their maternal mortality rates by over 60 percent.

De Mucio stressed that in Bolivia and Peru there were “favourable repercussions from a pluricultural focus applied during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.” In Peru, additionally, large numbers of maternity waiting homes for women living far away from health centres have been set up.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, changes in “the law on abortion (available up to the 12th week of gestation since 2012) have contributed to virtually eradicating deaths from this cause,” he said.

However, “it should not be forgotten that the economic boom” has contributed to improving living conditions, a change which is “directly related to the reduction of maternal mortality,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Indonesia Still a Long Way from Closing the Wealth Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:30:43 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140617 Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Every afternoon, Wahyu sets up his wooden food cart by the side of a busy road in Central Jakarta to sell sweet buns, known as ‘bakpao’, to people passing by. In a good month, the street vendor can make around 800,000 rupiah, which amounts to roughly 62 dollars.

Across the road from where Wahyu hawks his wares stands one of the many malls that dot Indonesia’s capital city, home to 9.6 million people, filled with high-end designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

"We [...] need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected." -- Said Iqbal, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)
Despite Wahyu’s position literally opposite the entrance to the plaza, it’s unlikely he will ever step foot inside it, let alone shop there.

Indonesia’s wealth gap has widened over the years, with the nation’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) revealing that the country’s Gini index – a ratio measuring wealth distribution on a scale of 0-1 – increased from approximately 0.36 in 2012 to 0.41 in 2014.

While some are making their fortunes in this Southeast Asian nation of 250 million people, scores are languishing in destitution.

An estimated 28 million people live below the poverty line, and half of all households are grouped at or below the poverty line, set at 292,951 rupiah (24.4 dollars) per month, according to the World Bank.

When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo came into office last October, he pledged to work towards minimising the country’s income inequality.

At the same time, the president, who is fondly known as Jokowi, emphasised that he was keen to boost the investment appeal of the world’s fourth most populous country, a plan that has some trade unions on edge, fearing the impact of unchecked foreign investment on a vulnerable workforce.

“We agree with the government’s plan to invite investors as we need investment for economic growth in the country. We support him,” explains Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI).

“But we also need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected,” he tells IPS.

The nation’s average minimum wage is around 1.5 million rupiah, the equivalent of 115 dollars, according to data from BPS.

Each province or district sets their own minimum wage in line with the amount needed for workers to achieve a decent standard of living. The current rate for the capital city is 2.7 million rupiah per month, about 206 dollars, a figure that labour unions argue is not in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

“Thailand has a minimum wage equivalent to 3.2 million rupiah (244 dollars), Philippines at an equivalent of 3.6 million rupiah (274 dollars) and in Malaysia it’s more than three million rupiah (228 dollars),” explains Iqbal, who joined thousands of workers in Jakarta this past May Day to demand higher wages.

“We [labour unions] have met with Jokowi and we welcome his vision. But we haven’t seen any action; we need him to implement policies. We need to see wages increased to reflect the increase in oil prices and consumer goods.”

As pointed out in a January 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in three regular employees – or 33.6 percent of the total workforce engaged in full-time work – receives a low wage.

While low wages in some emerging economies can symbolise a workforce about to move into a higher income bracket, “for many Indonesian workers low-wage employment tends to be the norm, rather than a springboard,” the ILO found.

The report also found that 45.9 percent of regular wage employees were “receiving wages below the lowest wage that is permissible by law in August 2014.”

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), tells IPS that Indonesia is not doing enough to tackle the country’s rising inequality or its growing informal economy – two things she says pose economic and social risks.

“The unions here have fought the low-wage culture for many years […]; it is still not a wage on which people can live with dignity against rising costs for basic needs,” Burrow, who was in Jakarta for the May Day celebrations, explains.

“Likewise, social protection is still not deep enough and is not universal.”

According to the World Bank, employment growth has been slower than population growth, while “public services remain inadequate by middle-income standards.”

Health and infrastructure indicators are also poor, and the country is a ways off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nation’s poverty-reduction blueprint that is set to expire at the end of the year.

For instance, the country continues to be plagued by high infant and maternal mortality ratios, with 228 infant deaths and 190 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Meanwhile, only 68 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, far short of the MDG target of 86 percent.

With 153.2 million people – or 62 percent of the total population – living in rural areas without easy access to medical, educational and financial institutions, experts say there is an urgent need for the country to devise schemes that will allow a more equitable sharing of wealth among its people.

While some analysts say Indonesia’s low wages act as a magnet for investment, business insiders disagree.

“The business community is aware that low wages are no longer the attraction they used to be,” says Keith Loveard, a senior risk analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, adding that increased inequity over the past decade has seen the bottom 50 percent of the population make very few gains.

The government could reverse this tide by tackling bureaucratic bottlenecks in various sectors.

According to Loveard, “Indonesia’s logistics costs make up more than a quarter of production costs and the only way companies can deal with that is to squeeze workers. So realistically, until you lower logistics costs with better infrastructure and cut the red tape, it’s very difficult to do business in areas such as manufacturing that create lots of jobs.”

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector is the second largest contributor, after the service sector, to regular wage employment and a strong factor for economic and employment growth in the country, according to the ILO.

Organisations like the World Bank, which estimate that Indonesia has one of the fastest rising rates of income inequality in the Southeast Asian region, say that unless the country adopts social protection programmes for the poorest people, and invests in infrastructure that will enhance their productive capacity, Indonesia will find itself losing social, political and political cohesion in the years to come.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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