Inter Press ServiceProjects – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:55:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 No Health Protection for Migrant-Women Healthcare Givershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers/#respond Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:51:47 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153596 While the media may be attracted by images of migrants drowning or sold as slaves, another flagrant but lesser-known drama is that of care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, often migrants, and who make a very large contribution to global public health, but are exposed to great health risks themselves with little or no protection, […]

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Credit: UN

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 18 2017 (IPS)

While the media may be attracted by images of migrants drowning or sold as slaves, another flagrant but lesser-known drama is that of care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, often migrants, and who make a very large contribution to global public health, but are exposed to great health risks themselves with little or no protection, let alone basic labour rights.

Migrant women care workers buttress health systems in countries where there are shortfalls in health-care provision, while their own rights to health and well-being can be eroded and their health-care needs unfulfilled, the UN leading health agency reminded on the occasion of the World Migrants Day on 18 December.

These migrant women care workers act as “a cushion for states lacking adequate public provision for long-term care, child care and care for the sick,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Ageing in late industrial and middle-income economies, combined with rising demographic dependency ratios and female labour force participation, have led to emerging care deficits in many contexts in developed and developing countries, it explained.

“Around the world, more women are entering the labour force, taking them away from traditional unpaid caring roles in the home. Increasingly, immigrant women are being drawn into receiving country economies to care, often in informal settings, and frequently engaged by private households, without full access to social protection and labour rights.”

A striking fact is that fewer than 15 per cent of home-based long-term care workers are estimated to be formally employed.

For its part, the Organisation for Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) International Migration Outlook 2015 reported on the percentage of foreign-born workers among the total home-based caregivers of long-term care in a number of industrialised countries.

These percentages amounted to nearly 90 per cent in Italy, around 75 per cent in Greece, over 65 per cent in Spain, and 50 per cent in Luxembourg.

WHO’s report deals with paid home-based care workers who attend to the varied needs of children, older people, people with disabilities and the disabled and the sick.

Shocking Facts

Here are some key facts provided by WHO:

— Those who are hired informally often lack the statutory labour rights accorded to them through a contract, including pensions and benefits, and may receive wages that are significantly lower than those paid for equivalent work in the formal health-care system,

— Migrant women care workers face particular challenges because of the vagaries of immigration laws in various destination countries, which often prevent them from entering the country legally or taking paid employment.

— This lack of legal status puts undocumented immigrants working in the care sector in many countries at risk of abuse by unscrupulous employers.

— The care sector itself is rendered unable to fully benefit from the work of immigrant workers who may want to provide in-home care but are unable to find a legal path to enter the country or obtain employment.

— Migrant care workers generally encounter harsher working conditions and have fewer rights and less adequate health coverage than do native workers. Because care work is frequently relegated to the informal sector, employees find that access to health care or insurance is not guaranteed but granted at the whim of employers.

In the United States in 2010, for example, almost one quarter of foreign-born workers employed in health care support jobs, such as nursing, psychiatric, or home health aides lacked health insurance themselves.

— Much has been written about the poor conditions that care workers, especially migrants, regularly face, including low wages, long hours, and inadequate housing and food for those who “live-in.” Many studies report that such work often entails lack of respect and status and even verbal, physical and sexual abuse,

— In the most extreme instances, when recruiters or employers confiscate workers’ passports and deduct travel costs and other expenses from their wages (or fail to pay them altogether), care work jobs become a modern form of indenture

— Many migrant women care workers experience poor reproductive and sexual health. There is also ample evidence that they are subject to physical violence, including sexual harassment/ assault and regular beatings.

For example, 44 per cent of Filipina migrants reported knowing another domestic worker who had experienced physical abuse, 27 per vent knew someone who had experienced sexual harassment, and 22.4 per vent knew someone who had been raped.

IOM marks International Migrants Day on 18 December with a series of worldwide events including a Geneva award ceremony for the Global Migration Film Festival. Credit: IOM

The Day

William Lacy Swing, director general of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), made an urgent call for “Safe Migration for a World on the Move” ahead of the International Migrants Day.

IOM plans to mark the Day with a series of worldwide events including a Geneva awards ceremony for the Global Migration Film Festival, which includes many public and private sector partners participating with IOM missions in over 100 countries.

In addition to film screenings in Geneva and New York, IOM also plans to participate in a UN leadership debate featuring UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres at Manhattan’s UNICEF House, touching on the global compact on migration, expected to be adopted by the end of 2018.

The UN leadership debate will explore the common ground on migration, rather than the divisions, said Swing. Despite often-sharp rhetoric, migration “is less a problem to be solved than a human reality to be managed.”

Planned UNICEF House events include the opening of the critically acclaimed art installation UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage (See: www.Together-in-NY.org), brining to life stories of refugees who have settled in the US by exploring past traumas through three-dimensional models of their homes mounted on suitcases they carried on their journeys.

Safe Migration, Not Leaky Boats

In an Op-Ed column penned for International Migrants Day: Our Right of Passage Should be Safe Migration, Not Leaky Boats), Swing wrote, “While we live at a time when a privileged elite considers global mobility virtually its birth-right, it is denied to countless others trapped in hopelessly bad economic or conflict circumstances.”

He warned that denial leads to “smuggling networks, human traffickers and modern-day enslavers who ply their trade these days with complete impunity.”

Hundreds of millions who are not part of the growing, truly global labour talent market find themselves outside looking in, and looking onto a world they can only dream of, Swing added. “They face enormous income disparities and hardships and no chance of getting a visa or a work permit.”

It comes as no surprise then that vast armies of hopeful young migrants want to climb aboard the “leaky boats” referred to by the UN secretary general, Swing continued, adding that driven by lack of economic opportunity, often exacerbated by climate change, they too are vulnerable to the siren song of social media.

“That’s where smuggling networks, human traffickers and modern day enslavers ply their trade these days with complete impunity. These cruel deceptions go unchecked, as the social media giants chase new markets in the global south.”

Just a quick reminder: a big power like the United States drew millions of migrants when it had an open-door policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Using Data to Combat Prejudice Against Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:31:53 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153583 What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment. In order to discuss these and […]

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Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment.

In order to discuss these and other questions, international experts met in Buenos Aires on on Thursday, Dec. 14, at the first Forum on Migration, Trade and the Global Economy.

Not coincidentally, but to highlight the links between both topics, the event was held a day after the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), also held in the Argentine capital.

“Migration is treated today in the world almost as a police matter. We stress the need to address the issue a different way, analysing the favourable economic outlook, especially in international trade,” said Aníbal Jozami, president of the Foro del Sur Foundation."Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It's very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society." -- Marina Manke

This Argentine non-governmental organisation, which promotes diversity, organised the event together with the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

There are some 244 million migrants in the world today – around three percent of the total population – according to figures provided by Diego Beltrand, the IOM regional director for South America.

The number of migrants grew by an estimated 300 percent over the last 50 years. Different kinds of evidence of their economic contribution, something that is usually ignored, were presented at the forum.

This lack of knowledge about the positive impact of migration is the reason why, Beltrand said, “freedom of trade has been widely recognised around the world, but not freedom of movement for people.”

According to a study presented by the IOM during the forum, migrants contribute nearly 10 percent of the world’s GDP and are especially helpful to their countries of origin at times of economic crisis through remittances, which exceed 15 percent of national GDP in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras.

The IOM also estimates that migrants generate six trillion dollars worldwide. Meanwhile, the remittances they send to their countries of origin reach 15 billion dollars per year, according to Resedijo Onyekachi Wambú, from the African Foundation for Development.

Another prejudice challenged was that most immigrants aspire to very basic jobs. Stefano Breschi, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, revealed that in the last two decades, high-skilled migration grew by 130 percent against an increase of just 40 percent for the low-skilled.

Why then do politicians from all destination countries of the world try to win votes by promising more restrictions against foreigners, against all empirical evidence?

For Marina Manke, head of the IOM’s Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, “Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It’s very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society.”

Manke is a Russian woman married to a German man. She emigrated to Germany, which she visits every weekend as she now works in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“My family in Germany see a large number of migrants in Berlin and it worries them. We need to be patient. Maybe there is a negative impact in the short term but over long periods migration is a broadly positive phenomenon,” she told IPS.

The event was held in the old Buenos Aires Immigrants’ Hotel, a building near the port which has been turned into a museum. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Argentine government gave free accommodation there to families who had just arrived after long sea journeys.

Argentina is a country whose founders set their sights on attracting immigrants. The National Constitution, written in 1853, promises equal opportunities “for all men of the world who want to live on Argentine soil.”

Thus, between 1881 and 1914 more than four million foreigners arrived, who represented more than a quarter of the population in 1895, as can be read in the museum. The majority of these immigrants were from Italy, Spain and other European countries.

Today things have changed, and Europe is the destination sought by millions of immigrants as it tries to close its borders.

“The major problem in Europe is that we find that the data is not reflected in the public discourse. If you look for information, you generally find a neutral or positive picture of migration’s role in the labour market and economy,” said Martin Kahanec, professor of public policy at the Europea University Centre in Budapest.

“In the debates related to Brexit in the UK, for instance, all of the narratives were not founded in data: migrants take our jobs, they abuse our welfare,” the Slovak expert told IPS.

“Although economic arguments are used in the debate, what really drives this debate is fear.”

Europe is the main destination for migrants from Africa, the continent that exports the most people. Every year, between 15 and 20 million young Africans join the labour market and a high proportion cannot find a job and are impelled to leave their country, according to figures provided during the forum, setting out on journeys where death can prevent them from reaching their destination.

South America, on the other hand, received praise for its recent immigration policies.

Since 2009, efforts were made to strengthen the regional integration process with freedom of movement agreements for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

This made it possible for more than two and a half million citizens from other countries in Latin America to obtain residency permits, according to data from the IOM Regional Office for South America, based in Buenos Aires.

In the case of Argentina, the National Director of Migrations, Horacio García, said that since 2012, more than 1,350,000 residence permits have been granted.

García, however, warned that it is necessary for the State to get involved in the integration of immigrants into the labour market, a topic that today is being neglected.

“It is necessary to identify those regions of the country where there are job opportunities, so so they can contribute to development, their skills are used and the pressure is taken off urban areas,” he said.

Like other countries in the region, Argentina recently received large numbers of immigrants from Venezuela who are fleeing the economic, political and social crisis in that country.

Argentine sociologist Lelio Mármora, who specialises in migration questions, estimated that in the last year and a half alone, some 40,000 Venezuelans have settled in Argentina.

However, openness towards immigrants is not common in the world. Mármora was one of those who most emphatically condemned the “difference between the freedom that exists for the movement of goods and for the movement of people.”

“Everyone applauded the fall of the Berlin Wall and today we have about 20,000 kilometers of walls and fences that prevent people from passing from one place to another,” he complained.

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Climate Change Threatens Mexican Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:07:21 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153569 Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City. “I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS. The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, […]

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Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

“I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS.

The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, whose name means “place in the middle of the water” in the Nahuatl language, and which is located on the south side of greater Mexico City, which is home to 22 million people.

For Meléndez, who has a horticultural project with two other farmers, this is one of the manifestations of climate change, “which has devastated the area along with urbanisation.” The group uses the ancestral method of “chinampas” to grow lettuce, broccoli, radish, beets and aromatic herbs.

They grow crops on an area of about 1,800 square metres, harvesting about 500 kilograms of products per week, which they sell to 10 restaurants, in the wholesale market in the capital and tianguis (street markets)."Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production.” -- Eduardo Benítez

Water shortages, an unstable climate, proliferation of pests, infrequent but more intense rainfall, hail and the effects of human activities are affecting an area that is crucial for the supply of food and for climate regulation in the Mexican capital, says a study by the international environmental organisation Earthwatch Institute.

The system of chinampas, a Nahuatl word that means “the place of the fertile land of flowers”, was practiced by the native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century.

The Aztec technique is based on the construction of small, rectangular areas of arable soil to grow crops in the microregion’s wetlands, with fences made of stakes of ahuejote (willow), a water-tolerant tree typical of this ecosystem.

The chinampa method is used on a total of 750 hectares, where about 5,000 farmers work.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) classifies it as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), for preserving agrobiodiversity, helping farmers adapt to climate change, guaranteeing food security and fighting poverty.

But not only this microregion is affected by climate change. Indeed, it is difficult to find a place in Mexico that is not exposed to it.

The May report “Estimates of potential yields with climate change scenarios for different agricultural crops in Mexico”, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, projected a decline in rainfall in the country.

The report, focused especially on crops of corn, beans, wheat, soybeans, sorghum and barley, found that water productivity is decreasing for most crops, which means water requirements will increase in the medium term. It also found yield loss for the seven crops, especially marked in the case of corn, beans and wheat.

In the southern state of Chiapas, farmers are already facing water shortages, sudden and heavy rains, floods and rising temperatures.

“The areas need water, we need water for the land, renewed soil, because that is the baseline. And it’s not exclusive to Chiapas, it is happening throughout Mexico,” Consuelo González, a farmer in Chiapas who grows corn on 40 hectares of land, told IPS.

González, a representative of a producers committee for her state, said there are also problems of deforestation and bad agricultural practices.

Chiapas, the second-poorest state in the country, has a sown area of 1.42 million hectares and 62 crops. Among its main products are corn, pastures, coffee, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, beans and oil palm, which account for nearly 90 percent of the state’s total production.

The 12 most important crops produce 10.11 million tons. In the case of corn, the yield reaches 1.5 tons per hectare, half of the national yield of 3.2 tons, due to the size of the plots and low level of mechanisation.

In 2010, the region passed the Law for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the State of Chiapas, and one year later it implemented the Climate Change Action Plan.

In its nationally determined contribution (NDC), incorporated two years ago in the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mexico included strengthening the diversification of sustainable agriculture among the measures to be adopted by 2030.

Among the instruments to achieve this goal, it establishes the conservation of germplasm and native species of corn and the development of agroecosystems through the incorporation of climatic criteria in agricultural programmes.

In its NDCs, the country pledged to reduce its polluting emissions by 22 percent by 2030, compared with 2013 levels.

That year, Mexican agricultural activity released 80.17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By 2020, emissions of this potent greenhouse gas are expected to reach 111 million.

By 2030, the goal is to curb agricultural and livestock emissions to 86 million tons.

“Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production,” said Eduardo Benítez, assistant representative of Programmes at the FAO Partnership and Liaison Office in Mexico.

Among other consequences of climate change, he mentioned to IPS a higher prevalence of fungi and pests, soil transformation, less availability of land and water for agriculture and alterations in agrobiodiversity.

“They give something, but it’s not enough,” Meléndez said about the government’s support for helping the “chinamperos” – farmers who grow crops using the chinampa method – adapt to climate change.

“It has cost us a lot of work. We carry out prevention work, such as using biological filters, to raise water in the channels to a certain level for irrigation. We try to regulate the temperature with meshes of different sizes that provide shade for the crops,” he explained.

One of the problems lies in the lack of coordination among Mexican institutions, as shown by the assessment of the Government’s 2014-2018 Special Programme on Climate Change (PECC), implemented by the government to address the phenomenon.

This analysis shows that the Information System of the Cross-cutting Agenda that operated between 2009 and 2012 is not working since the programme came into force in 2014, which prevents a “close follow up” of the progress of its 199 lines of action.

In addition, it found that the National Climate Change System has not addressed the question of connecting programmes, actions and investments at the federal, state and municipal levels, with the PECC.

González, based on her experience as a farmer, recommended silvopastoral (combining forestry and grazing) systems to maintain the plots. “There are areas that can be well preserved. We focus on soil conservation. Another solution is agroecology,” to restore soils and preserve resources, she said.

FAO and the government Agency for Marketing Services and Development of Agricultural Markets (ASERCA) are working on a project of early warnings for agriculture based on agrometeorological information to monitor the climate impacts on food production and availability.

The aim is for this data to be available to “policy-makers, financial and risk management institutions and mainly to producers. Thus, public policy can be oriented in actions such as the promotion and use of crop insurance or the activation of contingency funds,” said Benítez.

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Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

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Libya: Up to One Million Enslaved Migrants, Victims of ‘Europe’s Complicity’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity/#comments Wed, 13 Dec 2017 13:37:53 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153523 “European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration authorities in appalling conditions in Libya,” Amnesty International charged in the wake of global outrage over the sale of migrants in Libya. In its new report, ‘Libya’s dark web of collusion’, Amnesty International […]

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In Libya, dozens of migrants sleep alongside one another in a cramped cell in Tripoli's Tariq al-Sikka detention facility. Credit: UNHCR/Iason Foounten

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

“European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration authorities in appalling conditions in Libya,” Amnesty International charged in the wake of global outrage over the sale of migrants in Libya.

In its new report, ‘Libya’s dark web of collusion’, Amnesty International (AI) details how European governments are actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.

The Geneva-based UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that the number of migrants trapped in Libya could amount to up to one million, and it is now rushing to rescue the first 15,000 victims through a massive repatriation emergency plan. A major airlift is underway as IOM starts flying 15,000 more migrants from Libya before year end.“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses... they are complicit in them” -- John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres where they are subjected to systematic abuse,” said John Dalhuisen, AI’s Europe Director, on Dec 12.

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses,” Dalhuisen affirmed.

“By supporting Libyan authorities in trapping people in Libya, without requiring the Libyan authorities to tackle the endemic abuse of refugees and migrants or to even recognise that refugees exist, said Dalhuisen, European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused.

Another EU ‘Shame’ Pact

AI’s revelation of such collusion between the European Union and Libya comes amidst a worldwide wave of denunciations against the measure adopted in 2016 by the EU member states –particularly Italy—aiming at closing off the migratory route through Libya and across the central Mediterranean.

These measures have been implemented with little care for the consequences for those trapped within Libya’s lawless borders, AI said, adding that Europe’s cooperation with Libyan actors has taken the following three-pronged approach:

Firstly, they have committed to providing technical support and assistance to the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration, which runs the detention centres where refugees and migrants are arbitrarily and indefinitely held and routinely exposed to serious human rights violations including torture.

Secondly, they have enabled the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea, by providing them with training, equipment, including boats, and technical and other assistance.

Thirdly, they have struck deals with Libyan local authorities and the leaders of tribes and armed groups – to encourage them to stop the smuggling of people and to increase border controls in the south of the country.

UNHCR teams in Libya have been responding to the urgent humanitarian needs in and around Sabratha, a city located some 80 kilometres west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Credit: UNHCR

“Auctioned as Merchandise”

Meanwhile, after shocking images showing an auction of people were captured on video, UN human rights experts have urged the government of Libya to take immediate action to end the country’s trade in enslaved people.

“We were extremely disturbed to see the images which show migrants being auctioned as merchandise, and the evidence of markets in enslaved Africans which has since been gathered,” the UN human rights experts said in a joint statement.

It is now clear that slavery is an “outrageous reality” in Libya, they affirmed, adding that the auctions are reminiscent of “one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder.”

Slavery, Trafficking, Extortion, Rape, Torture…

The UN human rights experts also warned that migrants in Libya are “at high risk of multiple grave violations of their human rights, such as slavery, forced labour, trafficking, arbitrary and indefinite detention, exploitation and extortion, rape, torture and even being killed.”

“The enslavement of migrants derives from the situation of extreme vulnerability in which they find themselves. It is paramount that the government of Libya acts now to stop the human rights situation deteriorating further, and to bring about urgent improvements in the protection of migrants.”

The UN member states must “stop ignoring the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, must urge countries to suspend any measures,” they urged.

AI, a global movement of more than 7 million people in over 150 countries campaigning to end human rights abuses, has also warned that the criminalisation of irregular entry under Libyan law, coupled with the absence of any legislation or practical infrastructure for the protection of asylum seekers and victims of trafficking, has resulted in “mass, arbitrary and indefinite detention becoming the primary migration management system in the country.”

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) provides lifesaving equipment to Libyan authorities as part of a wider intervention to strengthen the Government’s humanitarian capacity. Credit: UN Migration Agency

“Horrific Treatment”

Refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are sent to detention centres where they endure “horrific treatment,” AI warned.

Up to 20,000 people currently remain contained in these overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres. Migrants and refugees interviewed by Amnesty International described abuse they had been subjected to or they had witnessed, including arbitrary detention, torture, forced labour, extortion, and unlawful killings, at the hands of the authorities, traffickers, armed groups and militias alike.

Dozens of migrants and refugees interviewed described the “soul-destroying cycle of exploitation” to which collusion between guards, smugglers and the Libyan Coast Guard consigns them. Guards at the detention centres torture them to extort money, AI informs.

“If they are able to pay they are released. They can also be passed onto smugglers who can secure their departure from Libya in cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard. Agreements between the Libyan Coast Guard and smugglers are signalled by markings on boats that allow the boats to pass through Libyan waters without interception, and the Coast Guard has also been known to escort boats out to international waters.”

Libyan Coast Guard officials are known to operate in collusion with smuggling networks and have used threats and violence against refugees and migrants on board boats in distress, AI has denounced.

IOM Moves to Relieve Plight of Migrants

Backing an African Union-European Union plan, adopted in the two blocs’ summit (29-30 November 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire), IOM’s director general William Lacy Swing committed his organisation to fully support this initiative to alleviate the plight of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya.

In the wake of “shocking reports about rampant migrant abuse and squalid and overcrowded conditions across multiple detention centers” in Libya, talks at the AU-EU Summit led to a major stepping up of measures to tackle smuggling and mistreatment of migrants on the central Mediterranean migration route, which claimed 2,803 migrant lives to drowning this year alone, IOM on 1 December informed.

IOM is now rapidly scaling up its voluntary humanitarian return programme, which has brought more than 14,007 migrants back to their home countries so far in 2017.

A large-scale airlift is already underway in which IOM expects to take a further 15,000 migrants home from detention in Libya by end of the year. The establishment of a planned joint task force with all concerned parties is aimed at ensuring that the migration crisis in Libya is dealt with in a coordinated way.

“Scaling up our return programme may not serve to fully address the plight of migrants in Libya, but it is our duty to take migrants out of detention centers as a matter of absolute priority,” IOM director general Swing said.

He added that IOM intends to work with all UN partners and ensure proper coordination and prompt referral of any persons for whom return may not be suitable. These initiatives come following the IOM director general’s discussions with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, as well as with EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini and UN Secretary General.


Addressing the UN Security Council, Secretary-General António Guterres highlights the need for global solidarity to tackle the security challenges in the Mediterranean.

Up to One Million Migrants Trapped in Libya

To date IOM has registered more than 400,000 migrants in Libya, and it estimates their number to be more than 700,000 to 1 million. The scaling up of the assistance will also include migrants wishing to go back home but who are not in detention centers.

“Large numbers of migrants are held in overcrowded detention centers, in conditions that fall far short of basic and humane standards. A large number of those migrants have expressed a wish to return to their countries of origin and IOM is now scaling up its air operations out of Libya to assist those men, women and children who may wish to return home.”

IOM’s initial effort will focus on 15,000 migrants, which it aims to help return and reintegrate in countries of origin before the end of the year. “This is a choice people make voluntarily, hoping for a new start at home,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s chief of Mission in Libya.

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Central America Builds Interconnected Clean Energy Corridorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-builds-interconnected-clean-energy-corridor/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 21:30:57 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153505 Countries in Central America are working to strengthen their regional electricity infrastructure to boost their exchange of electricity generated from renewable sources, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. With the Clean Energy Corridor, a project agreed in 2015 by the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, these countries seek […]

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Workers at an electricity distribution company carry out maintenance work on the grid, on the outskirts of San Salvador. Central American countries, including El Salvador, are promoting an interconnected Clean Energy Corridor. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Workers at an electricity distribution company carry out maintenance work on the grid, on the outskirts of San Salvador. Central American countries, including El Salvador, are promoting an interconnected Clean Energy Corridor. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR , Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Countries in Central America are working to strengthen their regional electricity infrastructure to boost their exchange of electricity generated from renewable sources, which are cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

With the Clean Energy Corridor, a project agreed in 2015 by the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, these countries seek to share their surplus electricity from renewable sources, including non-conventional sources, such as wind, geothermal and solar.

To achieve this they will have to gradually modify their energy mixes to depend less and less on thermal power, which is more expensive and has more negative impacts on the planet, since it is based on the burning of fossil fuels."The problem is the stability of the sources. The State can have a 60-MW photovoltaic plant, but if there is variability, it must have a backup in thermal, hydroelectric or other sources allowing it to meet the needs of the market.” -- Werner Vargas

The objective is to inject cleaner energy into the system that interconnects the electricity grids of the countries of the region, with economic and environmental benefits, experts and regional authorities told IPS.

“Each country is doing everything possible to generate energy with clean sources…and if there is surplus energy that is not consumed, it is illogical for it not to be used by other countries that are using thermal power: that’s where the Clean Energy Corridor comes into the picture,” Fernando Díaz, director of electricity at Panama’s Energy Ministry, told IPS.

About 60 percent of electricity in the region is produced from renewable sources, mostly hydroelectric plants.

But Central America is still highly dependent on fossil fuels, says a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

This organisation, based in the United Arab Emirates, promotes the development of renewable energies in the world, and is the main driver of the Corridor project in Central America, following similar efforts in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The Corridor will use a platform already functioning in Central America: a 1,800-km power grid cutting across the isthmus, from Guatemala in the extreme northwest, to Panama in the southeast.

The grid was built to give life to the Regional Electricity Market, created in May 2000, as part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), a mechanism of political and economic complementation established by the presidents of the area in December 1991.

Over 50 percent of the energy traded is supplied by hydroelectric plants, 35 percent by thermal and 15 percent by geothermal, solar and wind, explained René González of Nicaragua, executive director of the Regional Operator Entity (EOR), which administers electricity sales.

It is estimated, he added in a dialogue with IPS in San Salvador, that the proportion of non-conventional renewables could grow to up to 20 percent by 2020.

The Providencia Solar company inaugurated this year the first photovoltaic power plant in El Salvador, in the central department of La Paz. With 320,000 solar panels, it is one of the largest solar installations in Central America, whose countries are making efforts to transition their energy mixes to renewable sources. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

The Providencia Solar company inaugurated this year the first photovoltaic power plant in El Salvador, in the central department of La Paz. With 320,000 solar panels, it is one of the largest solar installations in Central America, whose countries are making efforts to transition their energy mixes to renewable sources. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

The countries of the area as a whole will need an additional seven gigawatts that year, on top of the current level of production, according to a report published in July by IRENA.

The Corridor is in line with the goals set out in the Central American Sustainable Energy Strategy 2020, agreed by the governments of the region in 2007, which aims to overcome the dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable sources, Werner Vargas, the executive director of the SICA General Secretariat, told IPS.

“The idea (of the Corridor) is to inject clean energies into the Central American electricity system, but guaranteeing that there is not too much variability,” explained Vargas, at the Secretariat’s headquarters in San Salvador.

Part of the challenge is to operate a system with higher flows of renewable electricity, which is more unstable, as is the case with solar and wind sources, which depend on climate variability.

“The problem is the stability of the sources. The State can have a 60-MW photovoltaic plant, but if there is variability, it must have a backup in thermal, hydroelectric or other sources allowing it to meet the needs of the market, ” added Vargas, who is also from Nicaragua.

The governments of Central America must also develop the necessary regulatory frameworks to adapt the technical processes and purchase and sale of energy from mainly renewable sources.

If national power grids are fed with clean sources, and surpluses reach the regional network, Central American consumers will be able to have cheaper electricity.

“The cost of electricity production is about 70 percent of its total cost, so if you want to reduce the cost of supply to the final consumer you have to reduce the cost of production,” said the EOR’s González.

He added that the corridor would affect production costs, and the regional market is a way to achieve that goal, since it can inject cheaper energy produced in other regions.

In the same vein, “the vision we have in Central and Latin America is to move towards renewable energies, towards corridors, and that is why interregional connections are important,” said Díaz, from Panama’s Energy Ministry.

He mentioned the case of the project of interconnection between Panama and Colombia, which would link the electricity market of that South American country not only with Panama, but by extension with all of Central America, while linking Central America with different parts of South America.

“This way we will have the capacity to capture solar power from the Atacama Desert, in Chile, hydropower from Brazil, and wind power from Uruguay; these are the things we are seeing as a region,” Díaz said.

Another economic benefit derived from greater energy integration in Central America is that the region is more attractive to international investors, seeing it as a bloc, rather than separate countries.

“It is more attractive to invest in larger projects than individually, that is another fundamental reason for the project: it generates conditions to attract investment,” said the EOR’s González.

But despite the economic and environmental advantages of further development of renewable energy sources, some environmentalists argue that the issue is being viewed too much from a technical and economic perspective, without considering some social costs that these projects may entail.

“There are projects where solar collectors are used on large extensions of land that could be devoted to agriculture or used to build houses…it seems that there is only interest in energy and making money quickly,” said Ricardo Navarro, director of the Salvadoran Centre for Appropriate Technology.

Navarro, who is also head of the Salvadoran branch of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that it is important for the planet to seek to increase the use of renewable energies, but with that same emphasis the governments of the area should engage in energy saving policies.

“How about trying to reduce demand? For example, a tree prevents the sun beating down directly on a building, and thereby reduces the demand for air conditioning; there are also ways to cook food with less electricity,” he said.

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The Journey to Oslohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/the-journey-to-oslo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-journey-to-oslo http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/the-journey-to-oslo/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:14:33 +0000 Christian Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153496 Christian Ciobanu is the senior associate, Global Security Institute.

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ICAN Meeting with the President of the Norwegian Parliament, Mr Olemic Thommessen.
(From left to Right) President of the Norwegian Parliament, Mr Olemic Thommessen, Ms Beatrice Fihn (ICAN), Ms. Grethe Östern (Norwegian People’s Aid), Mr Akira Kawasaki (Peace Boat), and Ms Susi Snyder (PAX). Credit: Christian Ciobanu

By Christian Ciobanu
OSLO, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

On December 10 in Oslo, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. ICAN started as a grassroots campaign in 2007. Its aim was to shift the paradigm of discussion about nuclear weapons from security and deterrence to the environmental and humanitarian effects of nuclear explosions. As the prize demonstrates, ICAN has succeeded brilliantly. But, as ICAN acknowledges, this is still only the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.

A key development was the holding of three governmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Norway, Mexico, and Austria. At every turn, the nuclear weapon states and their allies would claim the humanitarian narrative was reckless and dangerous. IAN remained unwavering in its message: Nuclear weapons must be banned.

By the conference in Mexico, held in early 2014, ICAN was calling for the commencement of negotiations on establishing an international legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons. After all, land mines, chemicals and biological weapons were banned through their respective instruments, and then global norms were established against their use.

The negotiations for the ban treaty concluded in July 2017. 122 states voted to adopt the treaty. It opened for signature on September 20 and more than 50 states have signed it. It will enter into force when ratified by 50 states, probably in the next one to three years.

At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, the Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen praised ICAN and condemned the use and threat of nuclear weapons on humanitarian, moral and legal grounds.

Speaking at the ceremony, ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn stated that it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons. Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones, the idealists with no grounding in reality. That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons.

But we represent the only rational choice. We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code.

She further asserted “It’s an affront to democracy to be ruled by these weapons. But they are just weapons. They are just tools. And just as they were created by geopolitical context, they can just as easily be destroyed by placing them in a humanitarian context.”

Fihn further addressed the nuclear umbrella states, including Norway, in her closing remarks. She stated:

To the nations who believe they are sheltered under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, will you be complicit in your own destruction and the destruction of others in your name?

To all nations: choose the end of nuclear weapons over the end of us!

This is the choice that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons represents. Join this Treaty.

Following Fihn’s speech, Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, recounted her harrowing survival of the atomic blast that annihilated her school. She heard a voice in the distance, which told her to keep pushing towards the light.

She explained that “Our light now is the ban treaty. To all in this hall and all listening around the world, I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: “Don’t give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it.”

Indeed, the new light and hope is the ban treaty. This treaty must enter into force and it is time for all nations to sign it. All responsible leaders will sign this treaty and history will judge harshly those who reject it as highlighted.

Since humanity now has the choice to either accept nuclear annihilation or ban nuclear weapons, it is vital for all states to sign and ratify the treaty. For the time being, it seems unlikely that nuclear-armed states will join the treaty. As to nuclear umbrella states, the situation is fluid. Such states, including Norway, boycotted the negotiations, with the exception of the Netherlands. In fact, in late March, the Secretary of State of Norway, Marit Berger Røsland, mentioned that “Norway and our allies have an aim for a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as others have nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”

However, the Norwegian parliament is set to take a vote on convening an inquiry in which parliamentarians, with the engagement of civil society, will examine the consequences of signing and not signing the ban treaty. Furthermore, both the Prime Minister, President, and Chair of the Committee on Defense and Security met with representatives of the ICAN in Parliament.

At the press event with the President of Norway, Ms. Grethe Östern, Head of the Norwegian People’s Aid’s Nuclear Disarmament Project, said that it is absolutely vital for the Norwegian parliament to engage in discussions about the utility and the risks related to nuclear deterrence.

Building upon Östern’s statement, Ms. Susi Snyder of ICAN and Pax explained that parliaments in Switzerland, Sweden, and Italy have passed resolutions in which they have instructed their respective governments to explore the ratification of the ban treaty. Snyder concluded her remarks by stating that the parliamentarians will have to think about the consequences of not joining the treaty. They must think about the following question: Are you willing to then be complicit in using nuclear weapons?

We now have the choice to live a world free of nuclear weapons. It is time for the people everywhere to discuss this momentous choice.

Thank you ICAN, for changing the status quo in the nuclear disarmament field.

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women (Part Two)http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-two/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:43 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153404 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

A Rohingya woman and her child at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

Under pouring rain, hundreds of young and expectant mothers stand in line. With her bare feet and the bottom of her dress covered in mud, Rashida is one of them, clutching her emaciated infant. She lost her husband on the treacherous trek from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and with nowhere to go and her resources exhausted, rain-drenched and standing in this long, muddy line for food and medicine for her child is her only hope.

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Rohingya women line up for aid. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Following the recent brutal campaign unleashed against the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military, over half a million refugees came to Bangladesh since August 2017, and more are arriving every day. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are nearly 150,000 newly arrived women of reproductive age (15-49 years), and according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group’s September 2017 Situation Report on the crisis, there are over 50,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers among the new arrivals in Bangladesh who require targeted food and medical assistance.

“We collaborate with some groups and help refugees living in the camp areas where there is a shortage of medical supplies,” said Andrew Day, who has been advocating for refugees for the past two years in Bangladesh. “They don’t have the means to see a doctor.”

While small scale interventions are being taken by development organizations to supplement hospitals, such the placement of 35 midwives trained by UNFPA in two camps, hospitals are underfunded, overcrowded and struggling to provide care to the burgeoning pregnant refugee population and thousands of newborns.

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Newborn children in the Rohingya refugee camps. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Early marriage and high birth rates are prevalent among the Rohingya community. According to a flash report on mixed movements in South Asia by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of the refugees were married young (at 16 or 17) and gave birth at an average age of 18.

In a Rapid Gender Analysis assessment conducted by Care in Balukhali Makeshift Camp at Cox’s Bazar, it was found that many female respondents between the ages of 13 and 20 years had children and others are currently pregnant.
The assessment uncovered that knowledge and practice of birth control was nonexistent or very limited among the Rohingya refugees, and religious sentiment was a strong factor contributing to the emphasis placed on pregnancy and the aversion to contraceptives.

“It (pregnancy) is God’s wish” said Jainul whose wife was expecting their sixth child. “God will help me feed the children,” he added. His wife echoed this belief.

According to locals, many Bangladeshis are donating money to the refugee camps as they believe helping fellow Muslims will earn them God’s blessings, and the resources are being used to set up Madrasahs – religious education schools. The imams of these madrasahs advise against contraception, so while the government and relief agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are trying to provide birth control options and information on family planning, Rohingya women refuse to comply.

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Dhaka, who is conducting research in the refugee camps, said at first when she went into the camps, she saw a lot of elderly and middle-aged females, but there were very few young women.

“But when I asked them about their age, I found out they were in their twenties,” she said. Repeated childbirth coupled with the trauma they experienced in Myanmar had taken such a toll on them that they all looked decades older than their true age, she explained.

“Many Rohingyas married their daughters off very young so that the military won’t come and rape them because their bodies become less attractive after childbirth,” she said.

“It is a community decision, not the girl’s decision, but the girls have internalized it that they need to have a lot of children because they need to save their race which is being persecuted,” Dr. Yasmin explained, adding that this philosophy contributed to the Rohingyas having very large families.

With thousands of Rohingya children soon to be born in Bangladesh, the need for ramped up medical care is acute. However, an IRC/RI assessment in October 2017 found that nearly 50 percent of all pregnant women have not received medical care and 41 percent of families with pregnant women do not know where to go for medical care for pregnant women. The report concludes, “These results point to a need for health messaging and services, as well as antenatal care and emergency obstetric care across the makeshift settlements.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Refugees: The Woes of Women – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-woes-women-part-one/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:58:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze Shachi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153380 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

Rohingya women of Balukhali camp embarking on the trek to the toilets. Credit: Umer Aiman Khan/IPS

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Afia* lines up her bucket every morning in the refugee camp for water delivery from humanitarian relief workers. On one particularly sweltering day, she kept four water pitchers in a row with gaps between them, hoping to insert another empty container in the space when the water arrived.

When another refugee saw this, she kicked away Afia’s pitchers, and a raging quarrel broke out. That night, the woman’s local boyfriend attacked Afia in her house, kicking her in the belly and hitting her mercilessly with a chair. Afia kept mum about the incident as her assailant threatened to kidnap and rape her in the jungle if she sought arbitration.

Afia is not one of the half a million Rohingyas who came into Bangladesh since this August from Myanmar. She is one of the thousands who have been living in the camps for years, and the water crisis has been exacerbated by the latest influx of refugees.

In the camps, men usually collect relief and water, with women going only when there are no males available. Since her husband left for Malaysia three years ago in search of work, she has not received any news from him and lives on her own in the camp, where scarcity of water is a heated issue and results in frequent altercations between the resident refugees.

While tubewells exist in the camps, many of them are dysfunctional as they are either too shallow and can no longer pump water, or have broken handles so no one can use them.

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

A dysfunctional tubewell in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Sohara Mehroze Shachi/IPS

Toilets

Women’s tribulations in the refugee camps do not end with water. Access to toilets is also a major problem. And the speed and scale of the recent influx – 624,000 arrivals since August and counting – have put basic services that were available in the camps prior to the influx are under severe strain. Spontaneous settlements have also sprung up to accommodate the new arrivals and these lack many basic amenities.

“There are no separate latrines for the women; the ones that exist do not have any lighting, are not close to their shelters and there’s absolutely no privacy,” said Shouvik Das, External Relations Officer of The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR in Bangladesh. “When we go to distribute food, sometimes the female refugees don’t want to take it because they then will need to go to the toilets and they dread that,” he added.

While many foreign and local NGOs and relief workers had set up tube wells and latrines for the refugees living in the camps, a safe distance was often not maintained between the latrines and the tubewells.

“Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 60 per cent of water sources tested in the settlements were contaminated with E.coli. Much of the contamination is a result of shallow wells located less than 30 feet away from latrines,” said Olivia Headon, Information Officer for Emergencies with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is providing vital WASH services to both the Rohingya and the communities hosting them.

“While IOM supports private WASH and sanitation areas to provide privacy and safety to women in the Bangladeshi community, similar areas are under development in the Rohingya settlements but are hindered by the lack of space,” she explained.

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Cotton used for menstruation dried on roofs of shacks in Kutupalong Camp. Credit: Umer AIman Khan/IPS

Risks of disease outbreak

Labeled as the world’s most persecuted minority by the UN, the Rohingya lacked access to many basic rights in Myanmar, including healthcare. A large number of the new surge of refugees had been suffering from various diseases before their arrival, including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Polio, and are now staying in cramped camps.

Their squalid living conditions, combined with scarcity of safe water and sanitation facilities, have triggered fears among health experts of disease outbreaks. And women, with their limited mobility and resources, are particularly at risk.

“Women will have to bear a disproportionate risk of the public health burden, and will be at the receiving end of all the negative environmental fallouts,” says Sudipto Mukerjee, Country Director of United Nations Development Program, Bangladesh.

The female refugees suffer the worst during their menstrual cycles, with most of them reusing unsanitary rags or cotton for months. This is not only increasing their risks of infection and skin diseases, but also affecting their mobility. As a recently published report by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reads, “Women and girls are limiting their movement because of not only the fear of being harassed, kidnapped or trafficked but also because of their lack of appropriate clothing and sanitary napkins.”

However, while development organizations have been supplying sanitary products to the refugee women, many of them do not know how to use them because they have never had access to them.

“Some of them put the sanitary pads as masks on their faces because they simply didn’t know what to do with them,” said Dr. Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of Gender Studies at BRAC University who has been working with the refugees in the camps.

“If the people who you are working with do not know what to do with the help you are providing, it will not be effective,” she added, “You will only be wasting money.”

*Names have been changed to protect the refugees’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Post-Nuclear Nightmares Still Linger Over Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/post-nuclear-nightmares-still-linger-pacific-islands/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:31:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153377 The Pacific islands have long remained victims of nuclear crimes – but the perpetrators, three of the world’s major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, never paid for their deadly sins. The testing grounds in the Pacific, included the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak), and also Johnston Atoll and Christmas Islands in […]

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An atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 1 November 1952. Credit: US Government

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

The Pacific islands have long remained victims of nuclear crimes – but the perpetrators, three of the world’s major powers with permanent seats in the UN Security Council, never paid for their deadly sins.

The testing grounds in the Pacific, included the Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak), and also Johnston Atoll and Christmas Islands in Kiribati.

The so-called “Pacific Proving Grounds”, which included the Marshall Islands and a few others on the Pacific Ocean, was the site of US nuclear testing between 1946 and 1962.

France tested its weapons on Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia, with French naval vessels clashing with Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigners.

The United Kingdom, along with the US, conducted several nuclear tests in and around Kiribati in the late 1950s. But the islanders were not evacuated exposing them to radiation from the blasts.

All of these tests, which left behind environmental hazards and radioactive waste, came to an inglorious end – or so it seems. But the nuclear nightmares over the Pacific continue to linger on.

According to the London Guardian, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded more than $2.0 billion in personal injury and land damage claims arising from the nuclear tests, but stopped paying after a compensation fund was exhausted.

After 67 tests, US nuclear experiments in the Marshall Islands ended in 1958. But in a 2012 report, UN Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu, said “near-irreversible environmental contamination” had led to the loss of livelihoods and many people continued to experience “indefinite displacement”.

And a projected sea-level rise, triggered by climate change, is threatening to unearth the radioactive waste and spill it into the high seas.

According to two researchers, Barbara Rose Johnston and Brooke Takala Abraham, U.S. medical scientists traveled to the Marshall Islands, for nearly four decades, in order to document degenerating health and conduct related experiments, “all without informed consent.”

All told, 1,156 men, women, and children were enrolled in studies exploring the acute and late effects of radiation.

Among the findings of this research: radiation exposure generated changes in red blood cell production and subsequent anemia; metabolic and related disorders; musculoskeletal degeneration; cataracts; cancers and leukemia; and significant impact on fertility as evidenced by miscarriages, congenital defects, and infertility.

“Their experiences also demonstrate how chronic and acute radiogenic exposure compromises immunity, creating population-wide vulnerability to infectious and non-communicable disease”, Johnston and Abraham wrote.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and ex-chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS: “It is impossible to make sweeping generalisations about the entire Pacific region, which is both vast and diverse”.

But US attention, he pointed out, was focused in particular on Micronesia, which includes most of the islands bitterly fought over in the latter years of World War II.

“The US wields disproportionate influence over this sub-region, where most of its 1,054 nuclear tests were conducted,” he added.

The US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said Rigg, can be defined as the first example of US nuclear testing, given that a principal motive for both attacks was to facilitate large-scale research into the effects of nuclear weapons on living human beings, a subject which was a closed book even to the world’s leading nuclear scientists at the time.

As soon as the war ended, he said, “the US hastened to establish political control over a number of strategically important islands forming an “island chain” in the Pacific – a chain of US military and political influence cementing US control of major trade routes, while also enables it to contain the growing power and influence of Communist China.”

Ironically enough, the US island chain has something in common with China’s South China Sea outposts which today draw the ire of the US, he added.

Robert Alvarez, an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and an Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Strategic International Studies, told IPS that three major international conferences—in Oslo, Mexico City, and Vienna— focused on the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons, and on establishing a new international legal instrument that would outlaw nuclear weapons.

The humanitarian initiative and the Marshall Islands lawsuits—including one in US federal courts and the other with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague — received a chilly, some might say hostile reception from the nuclear weapons states, for an understandable reason, he pointed out.

The nuclear weapons countries are engaged in costly modernization efforts that all but guarantee the continued existence of nuclear weapons for decades, and perhaps beyond. The Marshalls lawsuits and the humanitarian initiative both seek to make the nuclear states seriously negotiate toward nuclear disarmament, he noted.

In an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists back in May 2015, Alvarez said the damage did not end with nuclear testing.

In the 1960s, islands of the Enewetak Atoll were stripped of topsoil and used for explosive crater experiments, to see how US missile silos would hold up to enemy missiles.

And in October 1968, the US Navy conducted a biological warfare experiment in which Staphylococcal enterotoxin B, a virulent bacterium, was released over the Enewetak Atoll from fighter aircraft.

“The pathogen proved to be harmful to experimental animals over a 1,500 square mile area. Since the late 1950s, the Kwajalein Atoll and lagoon have served as an anti-ballistic missile launch site for testing against possible missile attacks,” he noted.

Nearly every US intercontinental ballistic missile was test fired at Kwajalein. Now home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, the $4 billion US Air Force complex on Kwajalein is considered a key strategic asset for anti-ballistic missile testing, military space projects, and intelligence gathering, wrote Alvarez, who was also a Senior Professional Staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, where he conducted an investigation into the conduct of the U.S. nuclear weapons program in the Marshall Islands.

Rigg told IPS Truman had no qualms about bombing Japan and seizing control of several Micronesian Islands where America’s many subsequent nuclear tests could be conducted. Indigenous populations were frequently marginalised, displaced, and impoverished.

Traditional ways of living, cultivating food and eating were frequently replaced within one generation with a barbarised version of US consumer culture. The key operational assumption was that Pacific Islanders represented an inferior culture which, in the patronising words of one US scientist, at least had more in common with civilised westerners than laboratory mice, he said.

“Like the Japanese, Pacific Islanders were viewed through the prism of mainstream US racism. The example of Rongelap Island, which was seriously affected by fallout from the huge Castle Bravo test, is perhaps most instructive.”

When the islanders repeatedly lobbied for permission to return to their home, said Rigg, the US Atomic Energy Commission declared it safe for re-habitation, with US scientists privately noting that “the habitation of these people on the island will afford most valuable ecological radiation data on human beings.”

As a major environmental polluter, he argued, the US contributes to global warming which disproportionately affects many small Pacific Island states whose highest point is in some cases just a couple of metres above sea level.

“Such islands are also acutely vulnerable to the climate change-induced violent storms which increasingly inflict massive destruction on both vegetation and homes. As many of these islands are desperately poor there is all too often no money to rebuild infrastructure and homes, with more than 95% of damaged buildings being uninsured.”

Trump’s America First policy has already produced a 30% cut in State Department funding which will dramatically curtail expenditure on Pacific islands which are not part of the militarised US island chain. Australia abjectly proclaims that it is “joined at the hip” with the US, slavishly following in the wake of Uncle Sam in all things, Rigg said.

“Fortunately, there is one small ray of hope: New Zealand has just elected a new Labour Government which is signalling its willingness to adopt innovative approaches to political problem-solving, including in the region.”

The new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, he pointed out, has already signalled her government’s willingness to view Pacific Islanders fleeing their submerged islands as refugees. At present Australia’s immigration policies exclude such “environmental refugees.”

This New Zealand initiative could eventually necessitate the re-negotiation of the UN Convention on Refugees, to accommodate a new category of environmental refugees, he added.

In the words of a recent report to a congressional committee, even before the election of Trump, the US had pursued a “policy of benign neglect towards the South Pacific nations.

“Too often have we relied on Australia and New Zealand to determine what US policy should be in the region.” If this was true before Trump, it will be doubly true now.”

Possibly with at least some support from New Zealand, Pacific Island states will have to continue to seek political support from outside their region, as recently, when Fiji and Germany jointly hosted the November meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) in Bonn.

The elevation of Fiji to this prominent role reveals that, in the complete absence of support from both Trump’s US and Malcolm Turnbull’s Australia, there is a heartening emerging international awareness of the extent to which the very existence of some Pacific Island states is already under threat from climate change, he noted.

“But words must be backed up by large quantities of hard cash, without which some small Pacific Island states will undoubtedly go under.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Resistance to Antibiotics: The Good, the Bad and the Uglyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/resistance-antibiotics-good-bad-ugly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resistance-antibiotics-good-bad-ugly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/resistance-antibiotics-good-bad-ugly/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 16:08:18 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153352 The growing resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobials due to their overuse and misuse both in humans and animals has become an alarming global threat to public health, food safety and security, causing the deaths of 700,000 people each year. This is a fact. The good news is that now more and more countries have […]

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Antimicrobial drugs play a critical role in the treatment of diseases, their use is essential to protect both human and animal health. However, antimicrobials are often misused for treatment and prevention of diseases in livestock sector, aquaculture as well as crop production. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 6 2017 (IPS)

The growing resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobials due to their overuse and misuse both in humans and animals has become an alarming global threat to public health, food safety and security, causing the deaths of 700,000 people each year. This is a fact.

The good news is that now more and more countries have adopted measures to prevent the excessive and wrong use of antimicrobials. The bad ones are that these drugs continue to be intensively utilised to accelerate the growth of animals, often for the sake of obtaining greater commercial benefits.

According to the first annual survey conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and a global intergovernmental body on animal health—the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), more than 6.5 billion people – over 90 per cent of the world’s population – now live in country that has in place, or is developing, a national action plan on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

“Nearly all of these plans cover both human and animal health in line with the recommended ‘one health‘ multi-sectoral approach,” FAO said on 17 November.

The survey’s release came at the end of the World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which kicked off on 13 November, announcing that more countries have unveiled plans to tackle AMR.

So far so good.

Ferocious Superbugs

The bad news is that careless disposal of antibiotics could produce ‘ferocious superbugs,’ warns the United Nations.

In fact, growing antimicrobial resistance linked to the discharge of drugs and some chemicals into the environment is one of the most worrying health threats today, according to new research from the United Nations that highlights emerging challenges and solutions in environment.

“The warning here is truly frightening: we could be spurring the development of ferocious superbugs through ignorance and carelessness,” on 5 December said Erik Solheim, chief of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Frontiers Report, launched on the second day of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), running through 6 December in Nairobi, looks at the environmental dimension of antimicrobial resistance in nanomaterials; marine protected areas; sand and dust storms; off-grid solar solutions; and environmental displacement – finding the role of the environment in the emergence and spread of resistance to antimicrobials particularly concerning.

The other bad news is that while antimicrobial medicines – antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals or antiparasitics – are widely used in livestock, poultry and aquaculture operations to treat or prevent diseases, the survey alerts that their over-use and misuse –such as for “promoting growth”– is leading to the emergence of microbes resistant to these drugs, making the diseases they cause difficult or in cases, impossible, to treat.

Epic Proportions

“Humans exposed to these antimicrobial resistant pathogens are also affected in the same way.”

And here comes the recurrent alert: despite progress, the global push to address this problem – which is taking on “epic proportions” – is still in its early stages.

There are weak points that still need to be shored up – particularly in the food and agriculture sectors of low- and middle-income countries, key battlegrounds against ‘superbugs’ resistant to conventional medicines, FAO cautions.

“In particular, there are major gaps in data regarding where, how and to what extent antimicrobials are being used in agriculture; also systems and facilities for tracking the occurrence of AMR in food systems and the surrounding environment need to be strengthened.”

“The goal is to help them develop the tools and capacity to implement best practices in animal and crop production, reduce the need for antimicrobials in food systems, develop surveillance capacity to assess the scale of AMR and efforts to control it, and strengthen regulatory frameworks to minimise the misuse of antibiotics while simultaneously ensuring access to drugs for treating sick animals,” said Ren Wang, FAO Assistant Director-General for Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

What Is the Problem?

The UN food and agriculture specialised agency provides the following sound explanation:
Since the introduction of penicillin in the middle of the 20th century, antimicrobial treatments have been used not only in human medicine but in veterinary care as well.

At first, they were utilized to treat sick animals and to introduce new surgical techniques, making it possible, for example, to perform caesarean sections in cattle on farms. With the intensification of farming, however, the use of antimicrobials was expanded to include disease prevention and use as growth promoters.

The use of antimicrobials in healthy animals to prevent diseases has now become common in husbandry systems where large numbers are housed under moderate to poor hygienic conditions without appropriate biosafety measures in place. Similarly, when a few members of a flock have a disease, sometimes all animals are treated to prevent its spread.

Besides such uses for treatment (therapeutic) and prevention (prophylactic uses), antimicrobials have been added — in low dosages– to animal feed to promote faster growth, FAO warns, adding that “although more and more countries prohibit the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters, it remains common in many parts of the world.”

A row of cattle waiting to be fed at the National Livestock Development Board Farm in Mahaberiyathenna, Sri Lanka. Credit: FAO

Although the UN agency does not say explicitly why this happens, it could be easily deduced that it is due to the voracious appetite for greater profits.

FAO goes on to warns that in the coming decades, the use of antimicrobials in animal production and health will likely rise as a result of economic expansion, a growing global population, and higher demand for animal-sourced foods. Indeed, their use in livestock is expected to double within 20 years.

“It is likely that the excessive use of antimicrobials in livestock (and aquaculture) will contaminate the environment and contribute to a rise of resistant microorganisms. This poses a threat not only to human health, but also to animal health, animal welfare, and sustainable livestock production — and this has implications for food security and people’s livelihoods.”

And the more antimicrobials are misused, the less effective they are as medicines in both veterinary and human healthcare, as the misuse drives AMR to evolve and emerge in disease-causing microorganisms, t adds.

Another major specialised UN agency, WHO, explains that antimicrobial resistance describes a natural phenomenon where microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi lose sensitivity to the effects of antimicrobial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections.

“Any use of antimicrobials can result in the development of AMR. The more antimicrobials are used, the more likely microorganisms will develop resistance, and the misuse and excessive use of antimicrobials speeds up this process.”

Examples of misuse include using an incorrect dose or administering an antimicrobial at the wrong frequency or for an insufficient or excessive duration, according to WHO.

The Dangers

AMR causes a reduction in the effectiveness of medicines, making infections and diseases difficult or impossible to treat, the UN health agency warns, adding that “AMR is associated with increased mortality, prolonged illnesses in people and animals, production losses in agriculture, livestock and aquaculture.

“This threatens global health, livelihoods and food security. AMR also increases the cost of treatments and care.”

Should all this not be enough, the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says, “Antibiotic resistance is a global crisis that we cannot ignore… If we don’t tackle this threat with strong, coordinated action, antimicrobial resistance will take us back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

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Rohingya Exodus Is a “Major Global Humanitarian Emergency”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-exodus-major-global-humanitarian-emergency/#comments Tue, 05 Dec 2017 23:33:33 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153339 IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

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IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing (right) visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of IOM

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis.We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time.

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

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Rohingya Refugees Face Fresh Ordeal in Crowded Campshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-face-fresh-ordeal-crowded-camps/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:09:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153322 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of Rohingya children emerge from a nearby religious school in Kutupalong camp. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS)

Mariam Akhtar, 23, is desperately searching for her young daughter two weeks after arriving from Myanmar in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district in Bangladesh.

Already traumatized by the extreme violence she and her family suffered in Buthidaung district in Myanmar, Mariam now faces fresh agony."There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children." --Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman

“With God’s blessings I was able to reach this camp in Kutupalong alive. But where is my safety here when I have a child lost?” asks the mother of three small children.

Faria Islam Jeba*, a mother of four, also expressed fears when this correspondent approached a group of women in Kutupalong camp. It is the biggest of more than 30 refugee camps scattered across a 35 km stretch of land between Teknaf and Ukhia, two of the small towns in southern Cox’s Bazar where Rohingya refugees are still pouring in every day by the thousands from neighbouring Myanmar.

Jeba experienced rapes and beatings in Myanmar. She says her brothers were shot by Burmese security forces. But Bangladesh isn’t the safe haven she’d hoped for.

“I feel so scared, especially at night when it is dark all around. The hilly terrain and the meandering, muddy roads here make it hard to keep watch on my children when they go out.”

Mariam and Jeba are among many young single mothers who say they lost children inside the camps. The disappearances have been documented by the government and the aid agencies working in the crowded camps.

Over 1,000 children, mostly young girls under aged less than 18 years, have gone missing since the influx of refugees reached its height in late August. Many are believed to have been smuggled out to other parts of the country by human traffickers. Others might have been taken abroad.

Ali Hossain, Cox’s Bazar district commissioner who is supervising all activities in the camps under his command, told IPS, “In last three months we have punished 550 such alleged criminals who were caught red-handed while attempting to traffic children from the camps.”

“It is difficult policing [criminal activity] considering the sheer vastness of the camps. Many of the traffickers enter the camps in the guise of volunteer relief workers [and] they get easy access this way.”

To prevent fake relief workers from getting in, the administration recently introduced registration of all humanitarian organizations.

Still, the unaccompanied Rohingya children badly require protection in an organized manner. Only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 children attend religious schools (madrasas) instead of formal schools. Most are very vulnerable to trafficking as they have no guardians.

“What they [children] need is a ‘safe’ shelter, not just a physical bamboo shed shelter to live in. There are agents looking for opportunities around the clock to lure and smuggle out the children. So, basically they need caretakers and a mechanism to monitor their presence,” said Sarwar Chowdhury, Ukhia upazila chairman.

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees are very poor and have had no formal education. “I don’t know who to talk to about the pain in my abdomen,” says a woman named Rina in a soft, broken voice. She came from a village in Buthidaung.

The most common problems women cited were lack of security, privacy and leadership for the refugees. The overwhelming majority are women who have no organized voice in the camps.

Nilima Begum from Maundaw district in Myanmar says, “While in Myanmar we never had any healthcare. We don’t even know what is a hospital or school, as we were highly restricted from moving around even within our own community.”

Amran Mahzan, Executive Director of MERCY Malaysia, an international aid agency working in the camps since a long time, told IPS, “The most common complaint we get from the traumatized women is malnourishment, followed by pregnancy-related complications.”

“The number of pregnant women is very high, and they have poor knowledge of nutrition or pre or post-natal care. Our doctors are continuously providing advice to women on maternity care and safe delivery, but with language and cultural differences being barriers, the level is compliance remains to be seen.”

There are 18,000 pregnant women waiting to deliver and thousands more who may not yet have been identified and registered for healthcare.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is now at the forefront of addressing some of the challenges of emergency reproductive healthcare.

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health at UNFPA, Bangladesh, told IPS, “Our priority response has been to offer access to emergency obstetric and newborn care services, clinical response services for survivors of sexual violence, provide a basic package of prevention for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, safe blood transfusion and practice of universal precautions in health facilities.”

Megan Denise Smith, gender-based violence (GBV) Operations Officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Community outreach teams share essential information with women and girls regarding available services, whether this be medical, psychosocial or recreational activities to facilitate empowerment.”

She adds, “Mapping out specific areas where women and adolescent girls feel unsafe in talking to them directly will allow the community to then target these areas more effectively and establish a protective presence to prevent further risks.”

Mahmuda, Mental Health Programme Associate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told IPS, “The biggest challenge in dealing with the women is the need for stress management which I think should be the priority. It is now a question of survival and psycho-social counseling already given to over 3000 women in the past three months shows the positive impact.”

Mahmuda, a psychiatrist leading a small team in Kutupalong camp, says, “The women are emotionally numb. Atrocities for Rohingy refugees are nothing new, even the recent ones. They have been exposed to such violence for years and so they continue to suffer from such psychological distress.”

The camps are gradually setting up Child-Safe Spaces for children to play and learn, as well as dedicated services for women. Privacy is an issue in the cramped and overcrowded camps.

Separate examining rooms and private consultation spaces where women can relate their health problems to doctors are also in place, though more are needed.

Dignity and safety are key as many of the women are pregnant as a result of rape and cannot speak up for fear of being stigmatized by others. Many international agencies working in the camps are considering recruiting more female health care professionals.

The challenge is colossal, with over million refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, dubbed the ‘fastest growing humanitarian refugee crisis in the world’.

So far, only 34 percent of the 434 million dollars pledged has been disbursed. One in four children is malnourished, and vaccination against communicable diseases and safe water are urgently needed.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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First Use of Nuclear Weapons Would be Counterproductivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/first-use-nuclear-weapons-counterproductive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-use-nuclear-weapons-counterproductive http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/first-use-nuclear-weapons-counterproductive/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 11:11:26 +0000 Daryl G. Kimball http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153278 Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director, Arms Control Association

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U.S. Air Force airmen install a cable raceway on an intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 3, 2014. Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/RELEASED)

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

Over the past year, cavalier and reckless statements from President Donald Trump about nuclear weapons and his threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea have heightened fears about Cold War-era policies and procedures that put the authority to launch nuclear weapons in his hands alone.

Partially in response, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for the first time since 1976, held a hearing on the “executive’s authority to use nuclear weapons.” The Nov. 14 hearing should be just the start of a process that leads to changes that reduce the risk of nuclear miscalculation and establishes that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear arsenals have been slashed through verifiable arms reduction agreements. Yet, each side still deploys 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons as permitted by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is far more than required to deter a nuclear attack.

Each maintains a significant portion of its land- and sea-based forces on a prompt-launch posture to guard against a “disarming” first strike. The resulting launch procedures would, in some scenarios, give the president only minutes to decide whether to avenge such an attack with hundreds of nuclear-armed missiles.

These policies increase the risk of catastrophic miscalculation. In the nuclear age, there have been several incidents in which false signals of an attack have prompted U.S. and Russian officials to consider, in the dead of the night and under the pressure of time, launching nuclear weapons in retaliation.

Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person and requiring launch decisions to be made in minutes, and without congressional authorization, is undemocratic and dangerous. No reliable safeguards are in place to prevent an impulsive and irrational decision by Trump to use nuclear weapons.

Days after the Senate hearing, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, tried to assuage congressional concerns, saying he would push back against a nuclear strike order from the president if it were “illegal.” That is cold comfort given the general acknowledged that, if the president insists, “we’ll work out a legal option.”

Rather than accept such empty assurances, Congress should demand and the Pentagon should provide more information on U.S. nuclear employment strategy, including targeting data, attack options, damage expectancy requirements, and estimated civilian casualties; and it should publicly review the legal rationale for these plans, which are currently not shared with members of Congress.

Despite the dangers, defenders of the status quo argue that altering the current system, including forgoing the first-use option, would undermine the credibility of deterrence and somehow encourage aggressors.

In reality, the current “launch under attack” policy is unnecessary because U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack, particularly the submarine-based weapons, and remaining nuclear forces would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

Eliminating the requirement to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles under attack would increase the time available for the president and other civilian and military advisers to more soberly weigh the possible use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a warning of an attack against the United States or its allies.

Furthermore, given the conventional military superiority of the United States and its allies, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

Nuclear weapons are not necessary to deter or respond to nuclear terrorism or to a potential chemical or biological weapons attack or cyberattack by state or nonstate actors. Even if there were to be a conventional military conflict with Russia or North Korea, the first use of nuclear weapons would be counterproductive because it would likely trigger an uncontrollable and potentially suicidal nuclear exchange.

As Vice President Joseph Biden said in remarks delivered in January 2017, “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats, it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary or make sense.”

Given the indiscriminate, widespread, and long-term consequences of nuclear weapons, it is also hard to envision a nuclear first use scenario that is “legal” despite Pentagon claims that current nuclear weapons employment options meet the principles of “distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations” as required by the Law of War.

The Senate’s recent hearing on nuclear weapons use policy must not be its last. It is past time to move away from outdated and dangerous, prompt-launch nuclear procedures. The fate of millions of people should not depend on the good judgment of one person, no matter who he or she may be.

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“Every Day Is a Nightmare”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=every-day-nightmare http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:07:50 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153235 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS)

Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.

Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” --Nasima Aktar

But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.

“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.

Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.

“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.

“We fled in the darkness as our homes burnt in fierce flames. The entire village of Rajarbil turned into a ghost town,” Parul recounts, tears on her cheeks.

Parul was gang-raped weeks before she and her family arrived in Bangladesh, a south Asian country with a highly dense population even before the crisis.  She is one of about a million Rohingya refugees who fled their ancestral home in north Rakhine state, which is said to be one of the poorest states in Myanmar.

Laila Khatun*, another survivor of mass gang rapes by the junta soldiers and other security forces, describes how she, her husband and four children were beaten and tied up inside her thatched home in south Aung Dawng village in Maundaw district and threatened with being burnt alive.

“I begged the soldiers to show mercy to us,” says Laila, also in her early twenties. “I was dragged outside and stripped and then I don’t remember how many of the soldiers raped me in turns.”

Laila’s family was spared only because she showed no resistance to sexual acts which the Rohingya women call ‘Jhulum’ carried out in front of her family.

A fellow rape victim, Nasima Aktar* from Hassurata village in Mangdaw, says, “When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.”

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

This IPS correspondent visited the local hospital in Cox’s Bazar. Many of those approached to speak were too frightened to talk to a reporter.

“Their sufferings are unbearable,” said one of the doctors who requested anonymity. “We have treated scores of children who were shot and women whose legs were also blown off. I have heard of such conditions in war zones but these are innocent, unarmed people. What crimes they could possibly have committed which exposes them to landmines and indiscriminate gunshots?”

The road to safe shelter across the border in Bangladesh is not easy. Thousands who flee their homes take the risk of following almost the same route through the rough, often muddy and hilly terrain of dense forest, while few others have attempted tried to sail across the rough sea of the Bay of Bengal.

Peyara Begum* narrates how she and her neighbours escaped to reach Kutupalong in Ukhiya, a small town south of the popular tourist city Cox’s Bazar.

“It was dark and we had to carry our children and bags of whatever we could pack to run for our lives,” Peyara says, adding, “We had no men with us, only seven of us [women]. We walked for 12 days across the slopes in complete silence to evade being detected by the security men who hunt for young men and women.”

The brutality towards the Rohingyas, a majority of whom are Muslims, was well-documented long before the world came to know about the Burmese junta regime’s “ethnic cleansing,” which has escalated since late August.

The regime’s top leaders are widely accused of ordering torture, enforced disappearance, beatings, arbitrary detentions, shootings and killings to spread fear among the Rohingyas and force them out.

Hashem Ali*, one of the many survivors, showed his wounded left hand, which was recently operated on in a hospital in Cox’s Bazar.

Ali, who arrived in the camp about a month ago, describes how he and three other young men escaped near death when the Nasaka (Myanmar border guards) opened fire on them.

“We were a group of eight. When we heard the gunshots from behind us deep in the dark forest, we split and ran. I was shot in my left arm in indiscriminate shooting but did not stop. After a chase of about 20 to 25 minutes, we were only four. One of my fellows had seen two of the four men accompanying us get shot and never saw them again,” Ali says.

A fellow survivor, Joshim from Shilkhali village in Maungdaw, says, “For the past four months none of the men, particularly young ones, could stay with their families.

“I have witnessed my own brother and many other men being dragged out of their homes, being beaten until they were loaded on the army trucks,” recalls Ali, who broke down crying on his knees.

“Every day is a nightmare,” says Mosammet Jahanara*, 33, from Rasidong village in Maungdaw. “Men, young women and even tewnaged girls would go into hiding whenever we heard the sound of motor vehicles approaching our village.”

“Machine guns were fired at the thatched homes,” Jahanara says. “We would duck our heads down and run for shelter. Some fell on the ground bleeding to death while others, too weak to escape, were picked up for torture.”

The camps scattered across the 30 km stretch of Nayapara to Kutupalongmay are a temporary safe shelter, but young women and girls are still at risk of being exploited.

Some 52 percent of the population is women, most of whom have had no education. Many are now single mothers.

Sarat Dash, Mission Head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IPS, “Women are some of the worst affected by this crisis. Over half of the Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Cox’s Bazar are women and many of them have experienced physical and sexual assault.”

“For some women, settling in Cox’s Bazar does not equal safety. There have been cases of women and girls becoming the target of traffickers, hoping to prey off their vulnerability. IOM is working to prevent exploitation and trafficking. Connected to this is also the issue of forced and early marriage. Seen as a means of protection and economic empowerment, we are concerned that young girls are being married off to older men.”

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh, told IPS “Addressing the Rohingya issue is challenging. In a very short time, we’ve already set up 13 Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) which offer safe areas where women and girls have been able to access basic services such as counseling, referrals to medical and other services, information about other specialised services and humanitarian aid, and at times temporary shelters.”

He continued, “WFS workers and community watch groups support women and girls who have experienced, or are at risk of gender based violence, including sexual violence. We are working with community groups and partners to prevent gender-based violence, which often spikes within the context of humanitarian emergencies.”

The spokesperson of United Nations High Commission for Refugees or UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammed Abu Asaker told IPS, “UNHCR and partner organizations identified many families headed by children and children who are alone or unaccompanied.”

He says, “We are working with other child protection actors towards having sustainable foster care arrangements within the communities. We believe that it’s very important for these children to stay with their communities and to stay with people from the same village (neighbors), or with their extended family members if they have them.”

The scale of the attention from the international community for the refugees is unprecedented and their activities in Cox’s Bazar is a testimony. Bangladesh now hosts over a million refugees, with more arriving every day through 39 border points, in addition to some 300,000 already registered refugees hosted since 1992.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Executive Director of COAST Trust, a local NGO pioneering in crisis management also working with many international aid agencies, like Mercy Malaysia, told IPS, “The crisis is huge and the interventions like counseling for trauma are also a massive challenge. We noticed from our own assessment that almost every woman and young girl is suffering trauma from sexual exploitation or killing memories. Despite mitigating the basic needs, addressing such a massive traumatized population is certainly a big task.”

Life for the Rohingya population had always been miserable, with limited access to basic services like healthcare and safe water and few livelihood opportunities.

The Rohingya community has one of the lowest literacy rates in Myanmar. Muslims face restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education. Many Rakhine contest the claims of the Rohingya to a distinct ethnic heritage and historic links to Rakhine State, viewing the Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ (the language spoken in Bangladesh) with no cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar.

They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

Since 2012, incidents of religious intolerance and incitement to hatred by extremist and ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups have increased across the country. The Rohingya and other Muslims are often portrayed as a “threat to race and religion”. Against this backdrop, tensions have occasionally erupted into violence.

The so-called “security operations” led to numerous reports of serious abuses by government security forces against Rohingya villagers, including summary killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, and arson.

A recent UN report says these actions amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

The military insists this “clearance operation” was a justified counterinsurgency operation following an October 9, 2016 attack on security forces near the Bangladesh border, which resulted in the deaths of nine policemen.

Global leaders have called on Myanmar to respect the rule of law and end the atrocities on the innocent civilians.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto administrator, is facing mounting criticism for failing to protect the Rohingya.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Migrant Promoters and Musicians Spread Message of “One Africa”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/migrant-promoters-musicians-spread-message-one-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-promoters-musicians-spread-message-one-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/migrant-promoters-musicians-spread-message-one-africa/#respond Tue, 28 Nov 2017 01:15:18 +0000 Mxolisi Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153216 The crowd in the park gave out roars of approval as the next act was announced:  Mothusi Bashimane Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe’s most popular singers and actors, who took to the stage with a small axe in hand. It’s the trademark prop of his most famous role, Madlela Skhobokhobo: a Zimbabwean migrant struggling to make […]

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South African President Jacob Zuma with Maskandi artist Khuzani during the 6th Annual Matomela celebrations, 8 Oct 2016. Credit: GCIS/cc by 2.0

South African President Jacob Zuma with Maskandi artist Khuzani during the 6th Annual Matomela celebrations, 8 Oct 2016. Credit: GCIS/cc by 2.0

By Mxolisi Ncube
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 28 2017 (IPS)

The crowd in the park gave out roars of approval as the next act was announced:  Mothusi Bashimane Ndlovu, one of Zimbabwe’s most popular singers and actors, who took to the stage with a small axe in hand.

It’s the trademark prop of his most famous role, Madlela Skhobokhobo: a Zimbabwean migrant struggling to make it in South Africa. The hearty artist, who now lives in Johannesburg, sent the crowd at Alec Gorschel Park in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, into a frenzy as he belted out one of his comical hits, “Bheyapeya.”"During our shows, attended by both locals and migrants, we preach messages of tolerance. The idea is to build one Africa based on love and unity." --Mcasiseli Gwaza-Gwaza of Bayethe Music

Bashimane was one of many migrant performers spicing up Johannesburg’s Heritage Day celebrations in September, organized each year by Inqama, a wholly Zimbabwean youth cultural group headquartered in Johannesburg.

It was a social cohesion event, of sorts: nine years after South Africa experienced what was arguably its worst xenophobic violence, in which at least 62 people died, thousands were displaced and property worth millions of rands was either looted or destroyed during the attacks in May 2008. Attacks have taken place in several flare-ups since.

But the feel of events like the Heritage Day celebration reflects the attempts by average people on the ground to try and tame the scourge of xenophobia and foster social cohesion between locals and migrants.

While it has largely been seen as the duty of government officials and non-governmental organisations to bring migrants and locals together in peace-building initiatives, these promoters and musicians have seized the initiative. Operating on a low or zero budget, they have held musical shows, built inter-country fan bases for musicians, held inter-country tours, initiated collaborations and brought together some traditional, political and community leaders from the two countries.

There are 2.1 million migrants in South Africa, according to the 2011 census — about 4 percent of the “Rainbow Nation’s” population.

During a regional integration and migration trends briefings in 2015, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said these were a result of push factors that facilitated migration included lax border control, the long and porous borders, internal conflict and dysfunctional governments. Factors that exacerbated regional migration included trafficking in persons, smuggling drugs, arms and money laundering. Poverty was identified as a major push factor.

The largest percentage of migrants in South Africa are said to be Zimbabweans, many of whom are fleeing economic crisis and political repression.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Zimbabwean musicians and music promoters are always at the forefront of organising shows of this nature.

“We have seen it as imperative for locals and migrants to come together in celebratory events, which will build familiarity among different nationals and bring them closer to one another,” said Mcasiseli Gwaza-Gwaza of Bayethe Music, a fledgling music promotions company.

“Usually, xenophobia flares because of problems that affect ordinary South Africans, who then vent their anger on foreigners because they somehow believe migrants are the principal cause of their suffering. During our shows, attended by both locals and migrants, we preach messages of tolerance. The idea is to build one Africa based on love and unity. We therefore, believe it is our duty as promoters to use music to achieve that goal.”

Bayethe Music is just one of the many migrant-owned companies whose activities have brought together Zimbabwean and South African musicians in collaborative work. As a result, more than 20 collaboration songs and a number of festivals have been held by musicians from the two countries.

“Our main aim is to foster grassroots co-operation as a way to achieve social cohesion,” adds Gwaza-Gwaza. “Our events, which pull huge crowds comprising both locals and migrants. We also invite community leaders, politicians and traditional leaders from all over Africa to come and give messages themed around the spirit of Ubuntu (humanity).”

Their efforts are bearing fruit. A number of migrant Zimbabwean musicians are now being recognised by South African promoters, with Zimbabwean maskandi (Zulu traditional music) singers like Zinjaziyamluma, Amabhukudwana, Amachwane Amahle and Insukamini among those that have been a permanent fixture at musical shows previously reserved for South Africans.

As fans continue to warm up to inter-country relations, popular South African maskandi musicians like Igcokama Elisha and Khuzani Mpungose now have Zimbabwean chapters of fans dedicated to them.

“I have enjoyed friendship with many Zimbabwean maskandi singers based in South Africa and received a lot of support from music fans from that country,” said Manqele recently.

“This kind of co-operation has helped us bridge the divide between South Africans and migrants and most music fans are now as united as we wished when we first started this journey,” said Zinjaziyamluma’s manager, Mlungisi Tshabalala. “Both sets of musicians have been able to preach peace to their fans across nationalities.”

Zinjaziyamluma has collaborated with an array of South African acts that include Bonakele Myeza, Mlethwa Majola, Sebedlile Ntshangase, Kaptein, Khandalenja, Zanefa Ngidi, Mshovo and Gearbox Mtshali. Most of the songs preach the need for Africans to unite.

“We have also made great progress as Zinjaziyamluma, having had four branches of our South African fans established in Mnambithi, KwaNongoma, Ethekwini and Mhlathuze, in the KwaZulu-Natal province. We have also taken some of the South African musicians we work with to Zimbabwe every December and this has helped a great deal in fostering co-operation.”

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Foreign Investment Expands in Cuba…Despite Everythinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/foreign-investment-expands-cubadespite-everything/#respond Sat, 25 Nov 2017 00:06:28 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153198 “Maybe many of us thought that this project was a dream six years ago, but not anymore. The geography has completely changed, because of everything that has been built and the investments that have been approved,” said Nathaly Suárez, director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM). The container terminal already has […]

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Docks at the container terminal of the Mariel Special Development Zone, designed to attract investments to Cuba, in spite of the restrictions imposed this month by the United States on businesses dealing with this development and logistics zone. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Docks at the container terminal of the Mariel Special Development Zone, designed to attract investments to Cuba, in spite of the restrictions imposed this month by the United States on businesses dealing with this development and logistics zone. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Nov 25 2017 (IPS)

“Maybe many of us thought that this project was a dream six years ago, but not anymore. The geography has completely changed, because of everything that has been built and the investments that have been approved,” said Nathaly Suárez, director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).

The container terminal already has operations with 14 major international shipping companies and progress has been made in infocommunications, an aqueduct, sewerage, power grids, public lighting, bridges and railway stations, among other works made available to investors.

The ZEDM was born with the support of Brazil, which financed the container terminal with more than 800 million dollars. So far the Zone has 29 km of roads, as well as a double track railway line and overpasses that speed up the transportation of goods.

Activities have not slowed down in this strategic economic centre located about 45 km west of Havana, a few days after it was included by Washington in a list of entities banned for any economic relationship with American companies and travelers.

Suárez, a 31-year-old civil engineer, does not understand why in the 21st century, instead of promoting relations between countries, U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to close the door to trade and investment in Cuba, “a country that is doing everything in favour of its development.”

The young woman belongs to the generations born under the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. “I’ve lived my whole life under these prohibitions, which prevent my country from buying even medicines from the U.S.,” she told IPS shortly before participating in an exchange with Latin American trade unionists on Nov. 13.

Nathaly Suárez, Director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Nathaly Suárez, Director of Construction Management at the Mariel Special Development Zone, in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The meeting was held at the Pelicano business centre, one of the facilities built by the Construction and Assembly Company of Mariel, where Suárez has under her charge over 100 professionals. With more than 4,500 workers, this firm is responsible for satisfying the demand for construction services in the area.

The ZEDM and its container terminal are among some 180 Cuban entities subject to the restrictions announced on Nov. 8 by Washington, imposed on the grounds that they are related to Cuba’s ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior.

A megaproject for the region

With an area of 465.4 square kilometers -subdivided into nine sectors to be developed in stages-, the Mariel Special Development Zone aims to be a regional example of attracting foreign capital for the production of goods and services of high added value.

Its geographical location in the centre of the Caribbean region and the Americas, in the junction of the north-south/ east-west axis, puts it in the centre of a circumference of over 1,600 kilometers, where the main routes of the maritime traffic in goods in the Western Hemisphere are located.

“It is early to say whether or not these regulations have an impact. Here we have not stopped working,” said Suarez.

“We have made progress (in the works of the ZEDM) and we will take the necessary measures to continue moving ahead. What are we going to do? We’re not going to say that publicly,” said engineer José Ignacio Galindo, director of Planning and Development of the ZEDM, referring to the strengthening of the US embargo.

Galindo said that the construction of the ZEDM is currently at a launch stage, focused on completing the basic infrastructure and ancillary facilities. “We are working in sector A, which covers some 42 kilometers, although we are also working on roads and other works outside that area. After this come the stages of consolidation and maturity,” he said.

“We know what we want to do. The conclusion of each phase depends on the possibilities and investments available,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, progress is being made in attracting and accepting businesses, as well as in the investment process for them to begin producing.

During the Havana International Fair, held Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, Teresa Igarza, general director of the ZEDM office, reported that so far 31 businesses have been approved or are already operating in the Zone.

The railway line that transports containers from and to the Mariel Special Development Zone, in the western province of Artemisa, 45 km from the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The railway line that transports containers from and to the Mariel Special Development Zone, in the western province of Artemisa, 45 km from the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The investments have come from 14 countries, including Cuba, from Latin America and North America, Europe and Asia. Of the businesses, five are based on 100 percent Cuban capital, 15 are totally foreign, eight are mixed ventures and two are international economic associations. Among the new companies approved is one from the United States, the first from that country to set up shop in the ZEDM.

Rimco Caribe LLC (Puerto Rico) expects to begin operating in the Zone in 2018 as a distributor in Cuba of the US corporation Caterpillar, a manufacturer of construction machinery and mining equipment, diesel engines and industrial gas turbines.

Economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva told IPS that the new restrictions announced by the U.S. are blocking US companies from presenting investment projects in the ZEDM, but those initiatives already approved by Cuba before Jun. 16 would be exempt from penalties.

The new ban complements the memorandum signed by Trump that establishes a policy change towards Cuba, with exceptions to allow travel on commercial airlines and cruise ships, as well as commercial activity authorised up to that moment.

Since the approval of a new law on foreign investment in 2014, more foreign capital has been flowing into Cuba, both within and outside of the ZEDM, although authorities in the sector admit that the results achieved so far are still insufficient for the country’s development needs.

The Mariel Special Development Zone Pelicano Business Centre in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

The Mariel Special Development Zone Pelicano Business Centre in western Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Authorities and experts agree that attracting investment flows to the country is a gradual process in which “modest” progress has been made. This is not only due to the U.S. embargo, but also because of delays in the process of negotiation and approval of investments.

“Foreign business people are concerned about safe ways for sending their capital to Cuba and then sending the dividends earned by the business to their country of origin, as a result of the embargo,” Deborah Rivas, general director of Foreign Investment of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, told local media.

However, during an investment forum held in early November, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said that this year 30 new projects had been approved for a total of more than two billion dollars in investment.

When Law 118 on Foreign Investment was approved, Malmierca pointed out that the country needed an inflow of some 2.5 billion dollars a year of foreign capital to ensure the growth of the economy.

The new legislation and other official documents propose increasing and diversifying foreign investment as a source of development.

A portfolio of new investment opportunities presented in early November includes up to 50 projects, in sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, logistics, agribusiness, construction, transport and real estate.

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Combating Climate Change? Combat Land Degradation, Says UNCCD Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/combating-climate-change-combat-land-degradation-says-unccd-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-climate-change-combat-land-degradation-says-unccd-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/combating-climate-change-combat-land-degradation-says-unccd-chief/#respond Fri, 24 Nov 2017 19:26:44 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153194 Land restoration is not a “glamorous subject even when you give all the numbers,” admits Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification UNCCD). But she also stresses that by 2050, the world population will reach 10 billion. To feed that extra 2.4 billion, current food production would need to be […]

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Women restore degraded land in southern India under a government-funded program. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women restore degraded land in southern India under a government-funded program. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BONN, Germany, Nov 24 2017 (IPS)

Land restoration is not a “glamorous subject even when you give all the numbers,” admits Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification UNCCD). But she also stresses that by 2050, the world population will reach 10 billion. To feed that extra 2.4 billion, current food production would need to be increased by 75 percent.

By 2045, there will be 130 million people who migrated because of desertification, and out of them, 60 million will come from south of the Sahel and Africa.

“To do that, we will have to add, from now to 2050, 4 million acres of new land every year. So unless urgent action is taken to restore degraded land, the world is looking at an acute food-insecure future,” she told IPS in a special interview on the sidelines of the recently concluded UN Climate Conference – COP23 in Bonn.

Land vs energy: a popularity game?

At the conference where ideas, actions, innovations and resources were brought in the open to design a roadmap to tackle climate change, the discussions were dominated by ending coal, producing renewable energy and making green technologies more accessible. Land was an issue largely ignored, except by some indigenous peoples’ groups who stressed the need to maintain soil fertility.

But Barbut asserts that land is indeed integral to climate actions and policies taken both at the UN and at the national level. “In the INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or what countries will do to cut carbon emissions] they have submitted, more than 140 countries have said that land was part of their solution or their problem in terms of climate change,” she points out.

One of the countries is India, where an estimated 30 percent of total land is already degraded. According to a 2016 report by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) titled “World Day to Combat Desertification”, the degrading area has increased over 0.5 per cent to 29.3 million hectares in the past decade. Desertification also increased by 1.16 million hectares (m ha) and stood at 82.64 m ha during 2011-13, says the report.

As a signatory to the UNCCD, India has committed to combat desertification and land degradation and become land degradation neutral by 2030. In simple terms, this means having a balanced proportion of land loss and land gain.

However, though an ambitious goal, this is seldom talked about by the officials. In sharp contrast, India’s other environmental actions, especially the Solar Mission which aims to produce 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, is widely lauded.

Anand Kumar, the secretary of India’s Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, is quick to point out that the International Solar Alliance – a group of 44 countries committed to produce 1,000 gigawatts of solar energy – has promised investments of 1 trillion dollars by 2030.

No land restoration initiatives are likely to garner that kind of private investment, admits Barbut, as the job is more labor intensive. “Even the most degraded land can be restored with a small investment of 300 dollars per hectare. So, what is needed is not a large sum of money, but lots of manual labour. So perhaps there is not a lot of scope for huge investment and large profits,” she says.

However, at the same time, she shared some good news: the UNCCD, in collaboration with Mirova, the governments of France, Luxembourg, Norway, and the Rockefeller Foundation, has launched a special fund for restoring degraded land and fighting desertification. Named the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Fund, this new finance vehicle was launched on September 12 this year, during the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) of the UNCCD in Ordos, China.

“We have launched the biggest land impact fund. It is managed by Natistix. It is a public-private fund. By the beginning of next year, we hope to have about 300 million dollars of capitalization of the fund,” Barbut says.

Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Land and Women’s Rights

The connection between the environment and women’s rights is an integral one, says Barbut. “Whether it’s drought, land degradation or desertification, women suffer more than others. In fact, they not only suffer from the consequences of drought or desertification, but also from the fact that in most cases women do not have rights to land,” she says, before sharing some experiences from Africa where plots of degraded land were restored, but because women did not have rights to the land, they could not stake their claim.

One such example is in the Mboula region of Senegal, where the regional government allocated tracts of land to women’s groups for collective farming. The initiative has been a big success as the women’s collective managed to grow more food than expected. As a result, the women now have received training to venture into growing crops for market, besides their own consumption.

Similarly, in Eastern Uganda, the government started a new initiative with women who had no ownership over their land. They have been trained in marketing, managing a collective that cultivates arable land that was once degraded, but is now restored. Besides supporting these local initiatives at the country level, UNCCD is also mainstreaming gender equality in its own policies and actions.

“We now have a Gender Policy Framework and it’s the most advanced framework all the UN Conventions and which we will apply in particular to all the transformative projects,” Barbut explains.

Land and Climate Change

According to Barbut, climate change’s effects on land are becoming more and more of a global problem, with major social and political consequences. She mentions the recent droughts witnessed by France, Canada and successive droughts in the US, and also points out the recent exodus of people from drought and desertification in the global south.

“If you see all the migrants coming to Europe, 100 percent of them – not 90 percent but 100 percent – are coming from drylands. There are also migration and radicalism linked to land degradation and desertification. For example, in the drylands of Africa, where desertification is happening, we are seeing food riots and then we are seeing Al Qaeda,” she says, pointing to a study published by UNCCD that explores these links.

Citing another study by the British Government’s Defence Ministry, Barbut says that “by 2045, there will be 130 million people who migrated because of desertification, and out of them, 60 million will come from south of the Sahel and Africa.”

But all is not hopeless. Barbut shared her vision of a food-secure future and a clear way to achieve that goal: “By 2050, we will need millions of hectares of new lands to grow 75 percent extra food. Today we are taking new land from forests and wetlands. At the same time, on this planet, you have 2 billion hectares of degraded land. Among this, 500 million are abandoned agricultural land. If we restored 300 million of these 2 billion hectares of land, we can ensure food security for all by 2050.”

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White Elephants and the Urban Challenges of Brasiliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 02:30:05 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153118 Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil. The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District […]

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Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil.

The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District (DF), and from foundations and public companies, were to be based, was built in Taguatinga, one of the largest cities surrounding the “Pilot Plan”, another name for the planned city of Brasília, which was inaugurated in 1960, after it was carved out of the jungle.

“It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us,” Laura Morais, a young assistant at a hairdressing salon in the centre of Samambaia, a city next to Taguatinga, told IPS.
"It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us." -- Laura Morais

Inaugurated on Dec. 31, 2014 illegally, according to the public prosecutor’s office of the Federal District, the centre was left unused, pending the outcome of a judicial tangle yet to be unraveled.

If the idea were to materialise, “it would turn Taguatinga into a hellhole with even worse traffic jams, but it would boost the growth of Samambaia, which has a lot of free space and few businesses,” explained Paulo Pereira, the owner of an optical shop.

“It would also help to decongest Brasília. That is, it would be better for some, worse for others,” he told IPS before complaining about the corruption that has bogged down the project.

Former DF governor Agnelo Queiroz was accused of receiving in 2014 a bribe of 2.5 million Brazilian reais (over 760,000 dollars at present), shared with his deputy governor Tadeu Fellipelli, to promote the construction of the Administrative Centre.

The accusation came from executives of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which partnered with another construction firm, Via Engineering, to build the complex, in a Public-Private Partnership by which the companies would complete the work and would be subsequently remunerated with monthly fees for 22 years.

Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which is active in dozens of countries, reached a plea deal with the justice system to cooperate in the corruption scandal that since 2014 has led to the imprisonment of dozens of businesspersons and politicians who offered or received bribes for public contracts, especially oil companies.

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Queiroz and his predecessor, José Arruda, are in prison for another corruption case, the overbilling of the works on the Mané Garrincha stadium, which was expanded to host several of the matches for the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil.

With an initial budget of 210 million dollars, its cost more than doubled, requiring an additional 270 million dollars, according to investigations by the Federal Police.

Corruption has been proven in the construction of many of the 12 stadiums used in the FIFA (International Federation of Associated Football) World Cup, but the one in Brasilia was the most expensive.

Its capacity was raised to 72,788 spectators – ridiculous in a city without a strong football tradition or clubs to justify such an investment. The average attendance at local matches does not reach 2,000 fans, the local football association acknowledges.

Maintaining this gigantic stadium costs more money to the public treasury and generates permanent losses for indefinite time.

The solution would be to turn the stadium into a cultural-sports complex, with “a museum, a library, movie theaters and conference rooms, as well as a shopping center, all related to sports,” suggested José Cruz, a veteran local journalist, with decades covering sports.

“It is not something new, but would just copy what has already been done successfully in Europe,” and in Brasilia there are great sports heroes, such as runner Joaquim Cruz and the ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, who would attract public, he told IPS.

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

But to do this it would be necessary to outsource or grant the contract to the private sector, because “the State has no structure to manage this type of initiative,” said the journalist.

For the Administrative Centre, the way out would also be seeking another use for the group of buildings between four and 15 storeys high, in an area of 178,000 square metres, in the middle of the most populous satellite cities, such as Ceilândia, Samambaia, Taguatinga and Aguas Claras, which have a combined population of 1.08 million inhabitants, according to the Federal District Planning Company (Codeplan).

A U.S. university, which intends to open a campus in Brazil, expressed interest in the facilities.

But the judicial situation prevents short-term solutions. Odebrecht claims to have invested more than 300 million dollars in the complex and aims to recover the investment through international arbitration.

For the current government of the DF, headed by socialist Rodrigo Rollemberg, it is not viable to change its headquarters at a cost of millions of dollars per month, at a time of economic crisis and fiscal limitations.

One option is to cancel the 2009 contract, in light of the illegalities that plagued the project. In addition to the allegations of corruption, the previous government of Queiroz inaugurated the Administrative Centre on the last day of its term, based on a permit that the courts threw out as fraudulent.

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital's Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital’s Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Queiroz and the Taguatinga local authorities responsible for the permit and named one day before it was issued, were heavily fined and banned from politics as a result of the fraud.

The scandal overshadows the problems of urban development that the Federal District faces, formed by the Pilot Plan or Brasilia, seat of the national and district government, and its satellite urban municipalities, officially called Administrative Regions.

The population of the Federal District stands at 3.04 million, according to Codeplan’s District Survey of Households, six times the number of inhabitants predicted when Brasilia was built six decades ago.

The Pilot Plan currently is home to just over 220,000 people, but offers the most and best jobs, attracting a massive influx of commuters from surrounding municipalities every morning.

Ceilandia, the largest city in the area, had a population of 459,000 inhabitants in 2015, having grown 13.6 percent in four years. In the city, 28.1 percent of the active population has a job within the Pilot Plan, while 37.3 works in the municipality itself.

Other neighboring cities have somewhat higher rates of inhabitants employed in the heart of the capital, making up the crowds of commuters that move daily to the Pilot Plan and return at night to their dormitory cities.

The thousands of buses that carry the commuters every day are parked from morning to afternoon in open spaces, such as the square in front of the Mané Garrincha Stadium, until the workers finish their shifts and return to the surrounding municipalities.

A subway, with a single 39-km line that branches off into the different municipalities, is the major mass transport project, but only mobilises about 3.5 million passengers a month, with the trains sitting idle outside rush hour.
Bringing jobs to the periphery would not be a bad idea, but transferring and centralising all the local administration to the outskirts may respond more to personal appetites than to the call for better public management, as other examples show, such as Belo Horizonte, capital of the southern state of Minas Gerais.

The post White Elephants and the Urban Challenges of Brasilia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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