Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:05:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Pacific Islanders Take on Australian Coalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 07:27:09 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137289 Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

The recent blockade of ships entering the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, has brought much-needed attention to the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry on global climate patterns. But it will take more than a single action to bring the change required to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

This past Friday, 30 ‘climate warriors’ from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled traditional canoes into the sea, joined by scores of supporters in kayaks and on surfboards, to prevent the passage of eight of some 12 ships scheduled to move through the Newcastle port that day.

The blockade lasted nine hours, with photos and videos of the bold action going viral online.

The warriors hailed from a range of small island states including Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands and Samoa – countries where the results of a hotter climate are painfully evident on a daily basis.

“We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.” -- Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau
Coastline erosion, sea level rise, floods, storms, relocation of coastal communities, contamination of freshwater sources and destruction of crops and agricultural lands are only the tip of the iceberg of the hardships facing some 10 million Pacific Islanders, over 50 percent of whom reside within 1.5 km of the coastline.

For these populations, the fossil fuel industry poses one of the gravest threats to their very existence.

Coal production alone is responsible for 44 percent of global CO2 emissions worldwide, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, none of the small island nations are responsible for this dirty industry. That responsibility lies with Australia, the fifth-largest coal producing country in the world after China, the United States, India and Indonesia.

The World Coal Association estimates that Australia produced 459 million tonnes of coal in 2013, of which it exported some 383 million tonnes that same year.

So when the warriors chose Australia as the site of the protest, it was to urge the Australian people to support Pacific Islanders in their stance against the fossil fuel industry.

Arianne Kassman, a climate warrior from PNG, told IPS, “The expansion of the fossil fuel industry means the destruction of the whole of the Pacific.”

“The impact of climate change is something that we see every day back home. While people read about it and hear about it and watch videos we see how much the sea level has risen,” Kassman added.

Logoitala Monise from Tuvalu, a low-lying Polynesian island state halfway between Australia and Hawaii, told IPS that her home is plagued by such climate-related impacts as King tides, coastal erosion and drought, the latter being an alien concept to most Tuvaluans.

In 2011, a state of emergency was called because the islands had not received rain for six months. Monise said rainwater was their only source of relief: it was used to drink, wash and raise animals.

The increasing frequency of drought has caused the loss of livestock and plants, and major disease outbreaks in Tuvalu.

All these things, she pointed out, were the direct result of climate change.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, changing weather patterns are wreaking havoc on an ancient way of life, splitting families apart as many are forced to migrate overseas. In fact, the world’s first “climate change refugee” claimant was a national of Kiribati, who claimed his home was “sinking”, but was denied asylum in New Zealand.

Monise said her main reason for coming to Australia was to speak out against climate change so that “we Pacific Islanders can live peacefully in our homelands rather than be called climate change refugees.”

But Pacific Islanders are up against a massive industry that will not be easily dismantled.

Coal ‘essential’ for Australian economy

The warriors witnessed this first-hand when they travelled to Maules Creek, near Boggabri in the Gunnedah basin in New South Wales (NSW), where Whitehaven Coal has a 767-million-dollar open cut coal project. There have been ongoing protests against the mine due to concerns ranging from biodiversity issues to concerns that the mine will cause a decrease in water table levels.

The Maules Creek community states that the Leard Forest in which the Maules Creek mine is located is an 8,000-hectare ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and has been identified as Tier 1, meaning that it cannot sustain any further loss and is also critical for the continuation of biodiversity in that area.

But these concerns may fall on deaf ears.

Coal is Australia’s second largest export earner after iron ore and according to Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, it is essential for Australia’s prosperity.

Speaking on Monday at the opening of the Caval Ridge mine in central Queensland, a joint venture between BHP and Mitsubishi, Abbott said the mine, which will produce five-and-a-half million tonnes of coking coal a year, will add 30 million dollars to the Moranbah local economy and tens of millions of dollars to the wider regional, state and national economy.

He said the mine’s opening was a sign of hope and confidence in the coal industry.

He said, “It’s a great industry and we’ve had a great partnership with Japan in the coal industry. Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for decades to come.”

Another project that was approved in July is the Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin. According to Greenpeace Australia it will have six open cut mines and five underground mines and would involve the clearing of 20,000 hectares of native bushland.

In an opinion piece on ABC Online, Ben Pearson, Greenpeace campaigns director, wrote that the burning of coal from the mine will emit 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year for the 90-year life of the mine, which will directly cancel the 131 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that is predicted to be reduced through the government’s Direct Action plan.

According to Julie Macken from Greenpeace Australia, “What will ultimately have an effect is when there’s a chorus of voices from the low-lying Pacific nations, when there is a chorus of voices from the global financial community stating that coal is in structural decline and when the international community [and] the parties at the Paris Conference on Climate Change commit to take strong action against climate change.

“When these three things come together against the prospect of catastrophic climate change, then politicians will see that they need to do something,” Macken told IPS.

This, she said needs to happen in the next decade, otherwise the future for young people like her 20-year-old daughter is “cooked”.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that current levels of carbon in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in three million years, and are projected to keep growing unless drastic changes are made to production and consumption patterns worldwide.

Education will be a crucial part of efforts to bring about massive international action on climate change, and the Pacific climate warriors are doing their part in their home countries.

Kassman said that 90 percent of the people who live in PNG’s rural areas do not have access to education and while they are aware that the sea level is rising, that there’s erosion along the shoreline and that food crops are changing, they don’t yet understand why.

She said 350 PNG, associated with 350.org, the U.S.-based organisation that supported the recent blockade, believes that the best way to raise awareness in a country with over 800 language groups is to train young people and send them out to the communities.

While PNG has one of the world’s lowest carbon footprints, the opening of the Exxon Mobile PNG LNG gas plant has raised the level of that footprint.

But local efforts will not be adequate without major pressure on the big polluters.

“We are taught by our parents to do the right thing,” Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau, said at a press conference on Oct. 11. “We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.”

He said that his fellow warriors did not just represent today’s generation but the generation of the “blood that’s to come” and urged the global community to “stand together with us now and forever” in the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:32 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137258 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.

AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World’s Largest Coal Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137260 A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group 350.org."Fifteen years ago, when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away." -- Mikaele Maiava

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: “We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

“So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone,” Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that “coal is good for humanity.”

Mikaele questioned Abbott’s position, asking, “If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

“We’re aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival.”

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

“We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It’s hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion.”

Tokelau’s coastline is also beginning to erode. “We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away.”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders’ mentality about climate change.

“We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what’s going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what’s going on is over,” he said.

“We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes.”

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

“Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands.”

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

“No one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland, no one’s gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you,” she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

“Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions,” it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia’s climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, “Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region.”

Dr. Bradshaw added, “Australia’s closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia’s recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

“A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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History of Key Document in IAEA Probe Suggests Israeli Forgeryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/history-of-key-document-in-iaea-probe-suggests-israeli-forgery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=history-of-key-document-in-iaea-probe-suggests-israeli-forgery http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/history-of-key-document-in-iaea-probe-suggests-israeli-forgery/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:19:25 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137249 By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating.

But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.“We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing.” -- Robert Kelley, chief of IAEA teams in Iraq

The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel’s attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument.

The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.

In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”

But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, “There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran.”

The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.

The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers.

The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with “large numbers of optical fiber cables” and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country’s nuclear weapons programme.

The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.  

Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko.  Danilenko’s open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.

Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report.

And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.

The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications.

Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.

Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000.

And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for “multipoint initiation” experiments. “We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing,” Kelley told IPS.

The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, dated Mar. 14, 2008, referred to, “[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane’s” by a “source connected to a Western intelligence service”.

It said the documents showed that Iran had “actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years….”

The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. “The picture the papers paints,” he wrote, “starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear programme in 2003.”

That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit.

The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.

David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel.

Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very sceptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, “No one knew if any of this was real.”

ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year programme to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.

Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity—the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.

Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document — as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei’s successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.

Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kyrgyzstan Looks to Alternative Fuels Ahead of Looming Winter Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 12:36:10 +0000 Anna Lelik http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137208 Young people heat themselves by the eternal flame at a WWII monument in Bishkek last February. Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Young people heat themselves by the eternal flame at a WWII monument in Bishkek last February. Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Anna Lelik
BISHKEK, Oct 16 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult.

The winter heating season has not even begun and already lots of people are bracing for months of hardship. A video, posted Oct. 12 on YouTube, depicting Kyrgyz doctors having to perform open-heart surgery amid a sudden blackout, is helping to heighten anxiety about the coming winter.Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung.

In another alarming signal, Bishkek’s local energy-distribution company, Severelectro, sent out advisories with recent utility bills, describing the situation as “critical” and begging customers to conserve electricity and use alternatives to heat their homes.

Southern Kyrgyzstan has been without gas since April, when Russia’s Gazprom took over the country’s gas network, and neighbouring Uzbekistan said it would not work with the Russians. That has forced residents in the south to use precious and expensive electricity to cook, or resort to burning dung and sometimes even furniture.

On top of that, a drought has hampered operations at Kyrgyzstan’s main hydroelectric plant at the aging Toktogul Dam.

After President Almazbek Atambayev criticised the energy minister on Oct. 9, the minister promptly quit. But a personnel reshuffle will not do much to reassure citizens, such as pensioner Valentina Chebotok, who lives in Maevka, a Bishkek suburb.

When she began to contemplate the hassles associated with winter, Chebotok started to cry. Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung. This year, Chebotok managed to secure a gas heater, but on her pension of 87 dollars per month she will have to use it sparingly.

There has been some good news: Kazakhstan agreed on Oct. 14 to supply over a billion kWh of electricity this fall and winter. In September, the Russian energy giant Gazprom announced gas prices for exports to northern Kyrgyzstan – that is, the only areas connected to its network, since Uzbekistan refuses to supply its gas to the southern network – would fall 20 percent.

But in many parts of the country the electrical system is overloaded. Prior to the Gazprom deal, many consumers grew tired of constant gas shortages, and converted their heating systems to run on electricity. That is what Maksim Tsai, a mechanical engineer in Bishkek, did seven years ago.

“I was forced to switch to electric heating. And Kyrgyzstan was [at the time] considered a country with abundant electricity,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Citing a need to conserve electricity, government officials have made often contradictory statements about the type of three-phase electrical adaptors that Tsai and many others now use. Some officials have said they want to ban three-phase adaptors, which can support higher electricity loads; others express an interest in increasing tariffs for three-phase households. Tsai said he now plans to switch back to gas.

“The government took the right decision to transfer Kyrgyzgaz to Gazprom. Now I have got assurance that we won’t have problems with gas, though it is still expensive,” he said.

The current confusion offers crooked officials an opportunity to line their pockets. A hotel owner in Bishkek complained in September that Severelectro officials came to his business and attempted to seize his three-phase adaptor.

“They came over and made us sign a document saying that we understood why the three-phase adaptor was being confiscated. We asked for a copy of the document, but they said we couldn’t get one because ‘we don’t want the press to get hold of this.’ We were allowed to keep our adaptor after we paid a bribe,” the hotel owner said.

The officials warned the hotel owner to expect blackouts this winter at his central Bishkek location, “‘Maybe five hours a day, maybe more, they said.’”

Another heating alternative is coal. In August, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev called on Kyrgyzstanis to use coal this winter for heating, since it is “a relatively inexpensive fuel.”

Though Kyrgyzstan is endowed with plenty of coal, the industry is plagued by scandals and, reportedly, organised criminal activity – factors that drive up prices and force consumers, including government agencies, to buy imports.

Sultanbek Dzholdoshbaev, a wholesaler at the main coal market outside of Bishkek, said that supplies from the famed and fought-over Kara-Keche deposit have decreased in recent years, pushing up prices.

He explained that local gangs took control of Kara-Keche during the chaos following President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s 2010 overthrow. Moreover, the state-run company that manages Kara-Keche is unable to run such a large-scale operation efficiently, Dzholdoshbaev asserted.

Meanwhile, prices keep rising. According to sellers and buyers at the coal market, the price for a tonne of coal has increased 25 to 35 percent this season. That might be in part due to demand. Delivery-truck drivers say demand has been high since August, when the government started warning about the tough winter ahead.

If those living in freestanding homes have options, such as gas and coal, the tens of thousands of Bishkek residents living in multi-story buildings with central heating provided by Severelectro have only electricity as backup.

Larisa Musuralieva, who lives in an apartment block in a southern district of the capital, said that the old radiators in her flat do not provide sufficient warmth: “These radiators heat so badly […] so we use an electric heater. If blackouts happen this winter, it will be very cold at home.”

Editor’s note:  Anna Lelik is a Bishkek-based reporter. Chris Rickleton contributed reporting. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Facing Storms Without the Mangrove Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/facing-storms-without-the-mangrove-wall/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 13:42:41 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137186 The loss of mangroves affects the poorest among India’s coastal population. These traditional fishermen steer their boat and belongings to safer areas after the 2013 Cyclone Phailin brought heavy floods in it wake. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The loss of mangroves affects the poorest among India’s coastal population. These traditional fishermen steer their boat and belongings to safer areas after the 2013 Cyclone Phailin brought heavy floods in it wake. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the cyclonic storm Hudhud ripped through India’s eastern state of Andhra Pradesh, home to two million people, at a land speed of over 190 kilometres per hour on Sunday, it destroyed electricity and telephone infrastructure, damaged the airport, and laid waste to thousands of thatched houses, as well as rice fields, banana plantations and sugarcane crops throughout the state.

It is typhoon season here in Asia.

In Japan, still reeling from the impact of Typhoon Phanfone, Typhoon Vongfong brought another round of torrential rainfall and vicious winds this past weekend, continuing into Monday, and adding to the long list of damages that countries in this part of the world are now calculating.

In India alone, the government has pledged 163 million dollars in disaster relief, but officials say even this tidy sum may not be sufficient to get the state back on its feet. And for the families of the 24 deceased in Andhra Pradesh and and the eastern state of Odissa, no amount of money can compensate for their loss.

"If all the carbon stock held by mangroves were to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, the resulting emissions would be the equivalent of travelling 26 million km by car, 650 times around the world." -- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The ongoing calamity stirs memories of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan that claimed 6,000 lives in the Philippines almost exactly a year ago.

While these tropical storms cannot be stopped in their tracks, there is a natural defense system against their more savage impacts: mangroves. And experts fear their tremendous value is being woefully under-appreciated, to tragic effect, all around the world.

For those currently gathered in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), this very issue has been a topic of discussion, as delegates assess progress on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and its 20 Aichi Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, three years ago.

One of the goals accepted by the international community was to improve and restore resilience of ecosystems important for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. On this front, according to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), efforts have been lacking, with “trends […] moving in the wrong direction”, and the state of marine ecosystems falling “far short of their potential to provide for human needs through a wide variety of services including food provision, recreation, coastal protection and carbon storage.”

Nowhere is this more visible than in the preservation of mangrove forests, with a single hectare storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon on average, the highest per unit of area of any land or marine ecosystem, according to the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Their ability to store vast stocks of CO2 makes mangroves a crucial component of national and global efforts to combat climate change and protect against climate-induced disasters. Yet, experts say, they are not getting the attention and care they deserve.

A complex ecosystem

Mangroves, a generic term for trees and shrubs of varying heights that thrive in saline coastal sediment habitats, are found in 123 countries and cover 152,000 square kilometers the world over.

Over 100 million people live within 10 km of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth 33,000 to 57,000 dollars per hectare per year, says a UNEP study entitled ‘The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action’ launched recently at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1.

The report found that mangroves “are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss”. Emissions resulting from such losses make up approximately a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report added, causing economic losses of between six and 42 billion dollars per year.

Besides human activity, climate change poses a serious threat to these complex ecosystems, with predicted losses of mangrove forests of between 10 and 20 percent by 2100, according to the UNEP.

The situation is particularly grave in South Asia, which by 2050 could lose 35 percent of the mangroves that existed in 2000. In the period running from 2000-2050, ecosystem service losses from the destruction of mangroves will average two billion dollars a year.

With their complex root system acting as a kind of natural wall against storm surges, seawater intrusion, floods and typhoons, mangroves act as a buffer for vulnerable communities, and also guard against excessive damage caused by natural disasters.

This time last year, for instance, Cyclone Phailin – one of the strongest tropical storms ever to make landfall in India – damaged 364,000 houses, affected eight million people and killed 53.

In October 1999, the devastating Odisha Cyclone touched landfall wind speeds of 260 kilometer per hour, and took the lives of no fewer than 8,500 people, while wrecking two million homes and leaving behind damages to the tune of two billion dollars according to official figures.

A mangrove impact study conducted in the aftermath of this storm, the strongest ever recorded in the Indian Ocean, found that the village to incur the lowest loss per household was protected by mangroves.

Scientists have found that mangroves can reduce wave height and energy by 13 to 66 percent, and surges by 50 cm for every kilometre, as they pass through the trees and exposed roots.

Mangroves crucial to regulating global warming

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the recently concluded RSCAP meeting, Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the UNEP’s Division of Environmental Policy Implementation, explained that a recent cost-benefit analysis in the South Pacific Island state of Fiji found a much higher financial success rate for planting mangroves than building a six-foot-high seawall.

Having worked in countries with high mangrove cover – from India and the Philippines, to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – Alder believes that “many policy makers are not aware of mangroves’ multiple benefits. They better understand the commercial value of timber from traditional forests, and hence accord it more importance.”

With high costs and low success rates associated with regeneration, mangrove protection is falling short of the Aichi Targets, experts say.

“Regenerating a hectare of mangroves costs a high 7,500 dollars and is a dicey undertaking,” Jagannath Chatterjee of the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC), currently working closely with coastal communities to regenerate mangroves in Odisha, one of India’s most cyclone-prone states, told IPS.

He blamed the destruction of the remaining mangrove forests on the “timber mafia”, alleging that cash crops are being planted in mangrove land.

With global warming rising at an alarming rate, the importance of mangroves in climate regulation cannot be ignored much longer.

If all the carbon stock held by mangroves were to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, the resulting emissions would be the equivalent of travelling 26 million km by car, 650 times around the world, according to calculations by the UNEP.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ahead of Myanmar Trip, Obama Urged to Demand Extractives Transparencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 00:33:47 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137175 Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Lawmakers here are urging President Barack Obama to put transparency in the extractives sector at the centre of an upcoming trip to Myanmar.

While the government of Myanmar has recently engaged in a series of bilateral and multilateral pledges to make its lucrative but highly opaque mining and oil and gas industries more transparent, advocates increasingly warn that officials are failing to keep these promises."The real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.” -- Jennifer Quigley

The U.S. government has been a key sponsor in facilitating these pledges, and many now see President Obama’s visit, slated for next month, as an important opportunity to prompt legal change in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Myanmar officials are currently revising related legislation, although little is known about these secretive talks.

Supporters say reforms, particularly around public information on extractives deals and revenues, could help to ensure that Myanmar’s significant natural resources wealth is used for development rather than simply enriching businesses close to the regime.

“Despite commitments to transparency and good governance, decision-making over the management of Burma’s national resources remains largely hidden from public scrutiny … the gap between the Burmese government’s promises and its delivery is widening,” 16 members of the U.S. Congress warned President Obama in a letter sent Tuesday.

“We therefore urge you, during your visit to Burma, to call on the Burmese government to ensure provisions on transparency and accountability are incorporated into revised laws, regulations and policies governing the extractives sector, and negotiated into new contracts and licenses.”

The letter, a copy of which was seen by IPS, includes backing from both Republicans and Democrats. Last year, the United States initiated a partnership between the Myanmar extractives industry and the Group of 8 (G8) rich countries, which could offer Obama additional leverage in demanding new transparency measures.

The lawmakers’ call comes not only a month ahead of President Obama’s planned trip to Myanmar (his second), but also as a global summit on extractives transparency begins in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw. The two-day meeting of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes guidelines that are currently followed by 46 countries, comes just three months after Myanmar became one of the EITI’s newest candidate countries.

Under these guidelines, Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues.

Just a month after its EITI candidature was accepted, Myanmar signed several dozen contracts with domestic and international oil and gas companies. Yet according to Tuesday’s letter, the terms of those contracts remain secret, as are ongoing revisions to policies overseeing the extractives sector.

“The laws and regulations governing the extractive industries are currently being revised behind closed doors, with no public consultation,” the lawmakers state.

“Drafts of the first of these new pieces of legislation contain no provisions on public disclosure of data and do not reflect any of the promises of greater transparency made by the government through the EITI process.”

Beneficial owners

The contracts signed in August were for 36 oil and gas blocks, both on land and offshore, auctioned off to 46 local and global companies over the past year. While the details of those contracts remain under wraps, until recently almost nothing was known even of these companies’ owners.

Around the country’s EITI application, an international watchdog group called Global Witness began focusing on what’s known as ultimate beneficial ownership – information on who, ultimately, controls and benefits from a company’s activities. In June, the group had such information on the companies involved in just three of the blocks.

Yet after requesting information directly from the companies, Global Witness last week reported that many more companies had come forward with these details. The companies were also asked whether any of their beneficial owners were politically powerful individuals in Myanmar.

“In total, 28 companies have now participated in Global Witness’ ownership review, and we have been provided with full beneficial ownership details of all partners in 17 oil and gas blocks,” the group says in a new report, published Friday. “This shows that businesses can and will provide such information if they have an incentive, such as protection of their reputation, to do so.”

Global Witness says the information remains unverified and that a “hard core” of 18 companies continue to refuse to provide any information. Still, the group says this corporate response has already set a surprising international example.

“Not only is this significant locally, but it puts Myanmar in the unlikely position of setting a global precedent on transparency, as it’s the first time anywhere in the world that companies have systematically declared their ultimate ownership,” Juman Kubba, an analyst at Global Witness, told IPS.

“Our findings show that companies can reveal their owners if they’re pushed to do so. It’s now up to the Myanmar government with the support of the U.S. and other backers to make that push so that all oil, gas and mining company ownership in the country is public.”

Outside the framework

Still, some worry that the recent corporate disclosure wasn’t actually carried out through the EITI framework, thus suggesting that the government’s transparency pledges remain weak. They also dispute whether beneficial ownership is of foremost importance in the Myanmar context.

“This disclosure is incredibly important on the global scale, but when it comes to Burma the real concern has never been about ownership but rather about conflict related to resources,” Jennifer Quigley, the president of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“This wasn’t done through the EITI in this instance, and the real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.”

Quigley says that Myanmar’s government has long been comfortable making pledges it has no intention of keeping, and she see little prospect of that changing in the near term. Still, she says the United States has linked itself so closely to extractives transparency in Myanmar that President Obama will need to broach the subject during his trip next month.

“This is really an area in which the U.S. has married itself to the Burmese government,” she says. “So they need to be paying more attention to the fact that the Burmese government isn’t living up to its EITI promises.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Curbing the Illegal Wildlife Trade Crucial to Preserving Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137138 South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

For over five years, 33-year-old Maheshwar Basumatary, a member of the indigenous Bodo community, made a living by killing wild animals in the protected forests of the Manas National Park, a tiger reserve, elephant sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies on the India-Bhutan border.

Then one morning in 2005, Basumatary walked into a police check-post and surrendered his gun. Since then, the young man has been spending his time taking care of abandoned and orphaned rhino and leopard cubs.

Employed by a local conservation organisation called the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), part of the Wildlife Trust of India, Basumatary is today a symbol of wildlife conservation.

Engaging locals like Basumatary into wildlife protection and conservation is an effective way to curb wildlife crimes such as poaching, smuggling and the illegal sale of animal parts, according to Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation.

“[Law enforcement personnel] must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence." -- Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation
On the sidelines of the ongoing 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dhakal told IPS that poverty and the prospect of higher earnings often drive locals to commit or abet wildlife crime.

Thus efforts should be made to combine conservation with income generation, so locals can be gainfully employed in efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

“Conservation efforts must also create livelihood opportunities within the local community,” he added.

“Everyone wants to earn more and live well. If you just tell people, ‘Go save the animals’, it’s not going to work. But if you find a way to incentivize protecting [of] wildlife, they will certainly join the force,” said Dhakal, adding that his own country is moving rapidly towards a ‘zero poaching’ status.

Poaching – a global problem

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are a universal menace that has been causing severe threats including possible extinction of species, economic losses, as well as loss of livelihood across the world.

According to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), the latest progress report of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the current annual illegal wildlife trade stands at some 200 billion dollars annually.

The illicit enterprise is also thriving in Asia, touching some 19 billion dollars per year according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Law enforcements agencies regularly confiscate smuggled products and consignments of skins and other body parts of animals including crocodiles, snakes, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The killing of tigers and rhinos is a specific concern in the region, with both creatures facing the impending risk of extinction.

One of the biggest killing fields for poachers is the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in India’s northeastern Assam state, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to two-thirds of the world’s remaining Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. In addition, the park boasts the highest density of tigers globally, and was officially designated as a tiger reserve in 2006.

The 185-square-mile park had 2,553 rhinos in 2013. However, 126 rhinos have been killed here in the past 13 years, with 21 slaughtered in 2013 alone, according to the state’s Environment and Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain.

Illegal trade spawns conflict, disease

There is also a direct link between the illegal wildlife trade and political conflicts across the world, says a joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, which puts the exact volume of the illegal trade at 213 billion dollars annually.

Much of this money “is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations,” the report states.

According to the report, several militia groups in central and western Africa are involved in the illegal trade of animals and timber. These groups profit hugely from the trade, including through the sale of ivory, making between four and 12.2 million dollars each year.

Another report published this past February by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in UK, also pointed to the example of the extremist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has been reported to harvest tusks from elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and barter with Sudanese soldiers or poachers for guns and ammunition.

But the trouble does not end there.

Maadjou Bah is part of a COP-12 delegation from the West African country of Guinea, where an Ebola outbreak in December 2013 has since spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing at least 4,300 people to date.

Bah told IPS that illegal hunting and trade in wildlife species increases the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to other countries. Though the government of Guinea has designated 30 percent of its forests as ‘protected’, the borders are porous, with trafficking and trade posing a continuous threat.

Besides primates, fruit bats are known to be natural carriers of the Ebola virus, and since trade in bats forms part of the illegal global chain of wildlife trade, it is possible that Ebola could travel outside the borders where it is current wreaking havoc, according to Anne-Helene Prieur Richard, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research institute ‘Diversitas’.

“We don’t know this for sure since there is a knowledge gap. But certainly the risk is there,” she told IPS.

Using the law

Continued poaching is largely the result of slow law enforcement, according to Braullio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Enforcement has to be a priority for government[s],” he told IPS.

This can be accomplished by, among other methods, providing law enforcement personnel with the skills and equipment they need to crack down on illegal activity. Forest guards, for instance, should be properly equipped – technically and financially – to prevent crime.”

“There is a need for capacity building in the law enforcement units,” Dhakal explained. “But that doesn’t just mean attending workshops and trainings. It means weapons, tools and technologies.

“They must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence,” he said.

This is especially crucial in trans-boundary forests, where a lack of proper fencing allows poachers to move freely between countries.

Sometimes, the solutions are simpler.

“For example,” Dias stated, “Nepal has forged partnerships between the government and local communities. But what motivated the [people] to go out [of their way] to find time to prevent poaching? It’s that 50 percent of all earnings in Nepal’s national parks are directed towards local communities. [Officials] convinced them that if the poaching doesn’t stop then it would mean fewer visitors and lesser earnings,” he asserted.

A look at the country’s recent increase in the number of tigers and rhinos are proof of its successful conservation efforts: in the 1970s, Nepal had only a hundred tigers left in the wild. Today there are 200 and the country is aiming to double the number by 2020.

Similarly, the number of rhinos, which was a paltry 100 in the 1960s, is now 535. “We have recruited local youths as intelligence units who collect information on the movement of poachers. It works,” reveals Dhakal.

Experts say that ending demand globally is crucial to halting poaching and illegal trade. For this, collective action at the international level must be given top priority.

Dhakal, who is also the main spokesperson for the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), told IPS that the network has roped in several governments in the region, along with organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and INTERPOL.

Gaurav Gogoi, a member of the Indian parliament, says that governments can also cooperate at a bilateral level. “In the markets of Vietnam a single gram of rhino horn powder fetches up to [approximately 3,000 dollars],” he explained, adding that he is involved in lobbying events to push Vietnam to ban all products made of rhino horns in order to curb poaching elsewhere, including the Indian state of Assam.

“If you have poaching, it’s because there is someone out there who wants to buy those products. We have to address that,” Dias said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can China Pacify Its Restive Minorities Peacefully?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/can-china-pacify-its-restive-minorities-peacefully/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:28:55 +0000 Piero Sarmiento http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137136 Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

Uyghur elders and child. Credit: Todenhoff/cc by 2.0

By Piero Sarmiento
HONG KONG, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

The Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was recently sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of separatism.

The former economics professor, who resided in Beijing for most of his career, is internationally known for his countless articles promoting stronger interethnic dialogue between Uighurs and China’s majority Han population. Through writing and peaceful advocacy, Tohti tried to lessen the friction between Uighurs and the Han community while advocating for Uighur rights.Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades.

Cynically, Chinese authorities treated his dedication to broader understanding among Chinese ethnic groups as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Tohti’s supporters consider him a peaceful yet passionate advocate for human rights. Instead he has been treated as just another Islamic extremist from Xinjiang.

In recent years, minority groups all over China have grown progressively more restive, with peaceful demonstrations increasing alongside violent terrorism. Separatists in the western regions have launched attacks against government buildings and innocent bystanders, while others have engaged in civil disobedience — included hundreds of self-immolations.

These are not arbitrary actions. Uighurs and Tibetans, among other underrepresented ethnic groups in China, have long felt oppressed by Communist Party policies. The government’s initial response has been to crack down on these “separatist forces” with an iron fist as a means to maintain social order and a semblance of unity.

Yet this response has only led to deeper resentment, prompting the government to explore alternative measures.

Although the government has not completely abandoned the “iron fist” policy, as the story of Ilham Tohti reveals, the Communist Party has devised a number of other strategies to address ethnic unrest. Many of these fall into the category of “soft power.” Nowadays the Chinese leadership is vigorously pursuing both approaches, deploying a carrot or a stick depending on the circumstances.

Rising unrest

Tibet is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tibetans, while Uighurs constitute a plurality in Xinjiang. Han Chinese have increasingly settled in both regions—especially in Xinjiang, where their numbers nearly match those of the Uighurs, which has led to clashes.

Even though China’s official language is Standard Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur are the preferred tongues, and sometimes the only spoken ones, among many natives of the western regions. Unlike the generally nonreligious Han, Uighurs and Tibetans are highly religious—the Uighurs overwhelmingly Muslim and Tibetans overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Many Uighurs and Tibetans do not consider themselves actual Chinese citizens, or their homelands part of mainland China. For example, Uighurs in Xinjiang often refer to their region as East Turkestan and refuse to use any other name.

Even though minorities are exempted from certain national laws, such as the one-child policy, the Chinese government’s rigorous political oversight of their territories has created friction among the various ethnic groups. Many Muslims in Xinjiang believe that government policies pose a threat to their cultural identity and dignity.

In 2014, for example, Chinese authorities restricted the observance of Ramadan. Drastic measures were taken to prohibit the use of the Quran in educational settings, discourage attendance at madrasas, and curtail customary fasting habits.

Younger generations have been the most vulnerable to these sanctions, since they find themselves obliged by their teachers and superiors to ignore their Islamic traditions. The government in Beijing is not only targeting children and average Uighur citizens, but also the local authorities. Xinjiang officials themselves have been reprimanded for openly expressing their religious beliefs.

The people holding the highest positions of power in China tend to come from the dominant Han ethnic group. Smaller communities have been perennially marginalised and overshadowed. Lately, this underlying animosity has escalated, resulting in outbursts of violence—not only in Tibet and Xinjiang, but all over the nation.

One of the most recent tragic events took place in the province neighbouring Tibet known as Yunnan. Last March, knife-wielding assailants assaulted crowds in the Kunming train station, resulting in 29 deaths and over 140 injuries in a bloodbath the Chinese government blamed on Uighur separatists. Another dramatic attack followed two months later in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, when attackers crashed cars and threw explosives at a crowded marketplace, killing 31.

An earlier incident occurred in October 2013, when a car crashed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and burst into flames in a suspected suicide attack. Five people were killed, including three in the car, and dozens were injured. Last August, the Chinese government executed eight Uighurs it accused of fomenting terrorism, including one allegedly linked to the Tiananmen attack.

The situation in Tibet—where there have been few reports of violent resistance since the uprising of 2008—has been somewhat different.

There, protestors have relied on “passive aggressive” tactics, including more than 120 cases of self-immolations. The Communist Party has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting these activities and incarcerated many Buddhists who have attempted the same or urged others to do so. Most of these “separatist revolutionaries” have been labeled as traitors, given death sentences, or put behind bars.

Soft power

But without forsaking its “iron fist,” the government in Beijing is now experimenting with different approaches to balancing majority-minority relations without the use of force.

One such unorthodox tool has been encouraging interracial marriages. In order to promote these matches, economic and social incentives have been offered, including paid vacations, social security, and employment prospects. Even though there are still few of these interracial marriages, the numbers have more than quadrupled since 2008, going over the 4,000 mark.

Not everyone is thrilled at the strategy, however. Many minorities view inter-marriage, like the earlier efforts to relocate Han to the Western regions, as just another strategy to absorb and integrate non-Han Chinese into the dominant Han culture. The ultimate goal, they warn, is the destruction of minority cultures.

Other parties are experimenting with media outreach. A Chinese film company known as Shenzhen Qianheng, for example, is developing a 3D cartoon called “Princess Fragrant,” a love story about an 18th-century Han Chinese emperor and his Uighur consort. The cartoon’s Han creators hope it will encourage curiosity and communication between Uighurs and Hans.

Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades. The Chinese government needs to address the structural issues that have generated the mistrust and resentment.

But Beijing is not going to allow the vast, geopolitically significant territories of Xinjiang and Tibet to secede from the country. A common ground has to be found and more freedoms have to be granted if China is indeed going to maintain its internal cohesion in a peaceful and productive way.

Tohti’s imprisonment and the higher degree of surveillance imposed in Xinjiang and Tibet shows that the Chinese government will not hesitate to keep the country unified by any means. The long-term effects of such actions, however, might potentially escalate the existing conflict.

Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, believes that the Tohti verdict is only going to aggravate the overall domestic situation: “Rather than encouraging sensible, moderate voices like Tohti’s,” she said, “this will exacerbate the tensions in the region.”

After Tohti was incarcerated, many lost hope for the peaceful road to ethnic equality that he actively supported. It’s not too late, however, for the Chinese government to realize that a policy of carrots will be more successful in the long term than the sticks that it has recently deployed.

Piero Sarmiento is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, a Nobel Prize Is a ‘Ray of Hope’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 14:03:19 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137125 The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 12 2014 (IPS)

For girls living in northern Pakistan’s sprawling tribal regions, the struggle for education began long before that fateful day when members of the Taliban shot a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.

Still, the news that Malala Yousafzai – a former resident of the Swat Valley in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province – had received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 10, brought renewed vigor to those battling the Taliban’s hard-line attitude towards girls’ education.

Residents here told IPS that when she survived an attempt on her life on Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai became an icon, a representative of the state of terror that has become a part of everyday existence here.

“We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA." -- Yasmeen Bibi, a 13-year-old refugee who is not attending school.
By awarding her the world’s most prestigious peace prize, experts say, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to all who remain trapped in zones where the sanctity of education has been subordinated to the perils of conflict.

Muhammad Shafique, a professor at the University of Peshawar, the KP province’s capital, told IPS that Yousafzai’s prize has turned a “spotlight onto the importance of education.”

“It will be a motivational force for parents to send their daughters back to school,” he added.

Since militants began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2001, following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, residents of these mountainous areas have endured the full force of extremist campaigns to impose strict Islamic rule over the population.

At the height of the Taliban’s rule over the Swat Valley, between 2007 and 2009, approximately 224 schools were destroyed, stripping over 100,000 children of a decent education.

It was during this period that Yousafzai, just 12 years old at the time, began recording the hardships she faced as a young girl in search of an education, writing regular reports for the Urdu service of the BBC from her hometown of Swat.

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Her struggle found echo all around northern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of young people like herself were living in constant fear of reprisals for daring to pursue their studies.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), for instance, Taliban edicts banning secular schools as a “ploy” by the West to undermine Islam have kept 50 percent of school aged children out of the classroom.

Since the decade beginning in 2004, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, according to a source within the FATA directorate for education.

FATA has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children receiving an education. In total, about 518,000 children in FATA are sitting idle, as per government records.

The dropout rate touched 73 percent between 2007 and 2013, as families fled from one district to another to escape the Taliban. The latest wave of displacement has seen close to one million people from North Waziristan Agency evacuating their homes since Jun. 15 and taking refuge in Bannu, an ancient city in KP.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A rapid assessment report released by the United Nations in August found that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys were not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

Already nursing a miserable primary school enrollment rate of 37 percent, Bannu is on the verge of a full-blown educational crisis, with 80 percent of its school buildings now occupied by refugees.

Thus the honour bestowed upon Yousafzai has touched many thousands of people, and breathed new life into the campaign for the right to education. Since October 2012, enrollment in the Swat Valley has increased by two percent, according to Swat Education Officer Maskeen Khan.

“Now, we are expecting a huge boost after the award,” the official told IPS.

Naila Ahmed, a 10th-grader originally hailing from North Waziristan Agency who now lives in a refugee camp in Bannu, feels her generation has been “unlucky”, forced to grow up without an education.

The situation is so dire that she views her displacement as a “blessing in disguise”, since the move to Bannu has enabled her to enroll in a private school for the first time in many years.

She is one of the fortunate ones; few parents in this militancy-infested region can afford the cost of private schooling, she says.

Thirteen-year-old Yasmeen Bibi is one of those whose parents cannot shoulder the bill for an education. “We hope that the government will make arrangements for our education,” she told IPS from her makeshift home in a refugee camp in Bannu, adding, “We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA.”

Her words hearken back to the time immediately following Yousafzai’s decision to flee the country, when many from the Swat Valley and its surrounding provinces felt let down by the rising star, left behind to face the Taliban’s wrath stemming from the teenager’s newfound fame.

Some agreed with the Taliban’s claim that she had “abandoned Islam for secularism” by accepting an offer to live and study in the UK.

In the last few days, however, any ill feeling towards Yousafzai, now the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, appears to have dissipated, replaced by a kind of collective euphoria at the global acknowledgement of her courage.

All throughout Swat, girls’ schools distributed free sweets on Oct. 10 and celebrated in the streets.

Yousafzai’s former classmate, Mushatari Bibi, explained that the news has been like “a ray of hope” to other girls, who take a big risk each time they leave their homes to head to school.

Some even say that the Nobel Prize, and the hope it has instilled in the population, represents a challenge to the very foundations of the Taliban’s power, since more people now feel compelled to stand up to the militants that have plagued the lives of millions for well over a decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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New Trains, New Hopes, Old Anguishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/new-trains-new-hopes-old-anguish/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 13:18:26 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137115 Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Youth ride on a southbound train on the newly laid northern rail track near Mankulam in the northern Kilinochchi District. Built in 1914 with the final aim of linking Sri Lanka with southern India, operations on the line ceased in 1990 before recommencing in late 2013. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Oct 11 2014 (IPS)

The kids of Kodikaman, a dusty village straddling the newly laid railway line in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna District, enjoy a special treat these days.

For hours on end, they wait expectantly at the edge of the rails for a track construction engine to pass by; when it nears, they rush to place metal coins on the track and when the trundling vehicle has passed, they run back gleefully to pick up the disfigured money.

This little ritual is just one of many signs that the new line, re-laid here after 24 years, is a big deal all over the Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka that bore the brunt of the country’s three-decade-old conflict that ended in May 2009.

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Playful children run to the train track in the village of Kodikaman to collect their coins, which they had placed on the rails to be flattened by passing construction engines. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The last train that plied the line through Kodikaman, some 380 km north of the capital, Colombo, ran on the night of Jun. 13, 1990, when the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the popular Yal Devi (Jaffna Princess) express.

The Yal Devi had previously been attacked in 1985, also by the Tigers, resulting in reduced train service throughout Sri Lanka’s northern province for almost an entire generation.

So when the first trains to enter the Vanni in over two decades did so in September 2013, school children came out in hordes just to catch a glimpse of the carriages passing through Kilinochichi, the town that was, for over a decade, the Tigers’ de-facto economic and administrative nerve centre.

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Workers put the final touches on the main railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna, days before its scheduled opening on Oct. 13. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“The entire public here is waiting for this dream to come true,” said S L Gupta, project director for IRCON, the government-owned Indian company – a subsidiary of Indian Railways – that is reconstructing 252 km of train links in the Vanni at a cost of 800 million dollars.

The project got off the ground in February 2011 and large sections have already been completed. Trains now ply up to Madhu Road on the northwestern line and up to Pallai, about 17 km south of Jaffna, on the northern line.

On Oct. 13, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will officially declare open the track all the way to Jaffna.

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Mine warning signs keep visitors off the cleared jungle path where the northern railway once ran, near the village of Murukandhi, in the Kilinochchi District of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

“It will be momentous,” Gupta asserted.

Vadevil Jayakumar, a native of Kilinochchi, agrees with this assessment. He takes the train weekly with his wife, his sister and his young niece.

“It’s cheap, it’s convenient and faster than the bus,” Jayakumar told IPS, riding on the footrest of one of the carriages, his sister and niece occupying the open door at the other end of the train car.

Indeed, a ticket from Colombo all the way up to the Vanni – covering a distance of some 264 km – costs just 180 rupees (about 1.25 dollars). But the novelty of the trains, many say, ends there.

“Very few take the train, they prefer the bus still,” said Nesarathnam Praveen, the 23-year-old stationmaster of the Madhu Road terminus. He says the bulk of his commuters pass through here only when there are festivals at the famous Madhu Church, which attracts thousands from in and outside the province.

On ordinary days, he confesses, this little station lies mostly empty.

Even on the Yal Devi, returning from Colombo on a stifling October afternoon, the bulk of the passengers are government military personnel returning to their posts up north.

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man sleeps in a virtually empty train car as it travels between Kilinochchi and Pallai. The bulk of the passengers on this train, hailing from the capital Colombo, were returning military personnel. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Part of the problem, passengers say, is that trains here don’t run as regularly as they do elsewhere in the country. In fact, the most frequent carriers on the northwestern line are former road buses that have been converted into rail-friendly vehicles that move in pairs along the track.

Trains can’t outstrip poverty

Despite their multi-million-dollar price tag, the new rail links are yet to provide the spark needed to jumpstart the Vanni economy, still in the doldrums despite five years of peace and a massive reconstruction effort in the Northern Province exceeding three billion dollars.

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man on a bicycle watches the Yal Devi pass by near the northern town of Kilinochchi. Despite mega development projects, poverty is still rampant in the region and the bicycle remains one of the main modes of transport. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Poverty is rampant in the region. The poverty headcount in the Mullaitivu District is a national high of 28.8 percent, almost six times the national average of 6.7 percent and 20 times that of the 1.4 percent recorded in the Colombo District.

Other districts in the north are not faring much better: Kilinochchi has a poverty rate of 12.7 percent, Mannar 20.1 percent and Jaffna 8.3 percent.

Only Vavuniya, the southern-most of the five northern districts and the gateway to the rest of the country, is performing well, with a poverty ratio of 3.4 percent.

Unemployment rates follow a similar trend, with Kilinochchi recording a rate of 7.9 percent, nearly double the national average of 4.4 percent, while all districts other than Vavuniya recorded rates higher than the national benchmark.

The primary reason for this, experts say, has been slow job creation. Fishing and agriculture constitute the bulk of the Vanni’s economic activity, but policies aimed at creating markets and bringing in buyers are rare.

Private sector involvement, while on the rise, has not been able to breathe life into an economy repeatedly amputated by the conflict.

Economists blame  a lopsided policy framework, that has poured millions into large infrastructure development without paying adequate attention to revitalising local income generation, for the chronic poverty in the north on

Anushka Wijesinha, economist and policy advisor at the Colombo-based think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, told IPS that if transporting bulk cargo by rail is made cheaper, goods from the Vanni could achieve a more attractive price.

But for the northern railway to become a real purveyor of economic success, more attention, more incentives and more funds need to be directed to the medium- and small-scale Vanni entrepreneur.

“The new transport [line] can certainly boost economic connectivity of businesses in Jaffna and Mannar,” Wijesinha said. “But enterprise policies must focus on helping to grow indigenous businesses in these regions. Otherwise the enhanced connectivity might benefit businesses coming from outside into these regions more than it helps businesses that are already struggling to grow.”

 

“Policies that improve the business climate, access to finance, technology and business skills will be key,” Wijesinha concluded.

Economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who specialises in the northern economy, told IPS that before the conflict erupted, the northern region brought in the highest per-region revenue to the Railways Department. This was likely due to the fact that the Northern Line was the longest in the country, with 83 station stops.

Sarvananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Jaffna, emphasised that the government needs to come up with an integrated plan to capitalise on cheaper costs made possible by the railway.

“The Government should incentivise private businesses to set up warehouses adjoining the main railway stations in order to spur cargo trade via railroads,” he stated.

“The re-opening of the rail line to the Northern Province provides healthy competition to road transport services, both cargo and passenger, thereby reducing the transport costs to passengers and businesses alike.

“The resulting reduction in the transaction costs of businesses is likely to benefit consumers by the reduction in prices of consumer goods and services,” he concluded.

If no such integrated plans are made, a familiar refrain will echo in the Vanni, with a large infrastructure project leaving a poverty-stricken community in awe, but in reality no better off than they were before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Karabakh Question Clouds Armenia’s Eurasian Union Accessionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 10:55:18 +0000 Marianna Grigoryan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137114 By Marianna Grigoryan
YEREVAN, Oct 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Armenia has finalised its accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, an intended regional counterweight to the European Union. But while Armenian and Russian officials focus on future prosperity, some Armenian observers believe membership in the bloc could exacerbate Armenia’s security challenges.

During an Oct. 10 meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, held in Minsk, Belarus, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan confirmed that Armenia would be formally admitted to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) when it launches on Jan. 1, 2015.“Currently, we have no expectations with regard to security. We see only threats.” -- Aghasi Yenokian, director of a Yerevan-based think-tank

The Armenian government approved the draft text of the accession agreement in early October, Armenian media reported. The EEU will be an outgrowth of the existing customs union among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Armenian political analysts greeted the accession announcement with mixed feelings, in part because the final text of the pact has not been subjected to public scrutiny. There is particular concern about the pact’s ramifications for Armenia’s relationship with the Nagorno Karabakh territory, an enclave inhabited by ethnic Armenians who aspire to gain international recognition of their de-facto independence from Azerbaijan.

A draft released earlier this year implied that a customs post would be established between Armenia and Karabakh. Local economists say that such an economic barrier would paralyse Karabakh’s economy since the territory depends on Armenia as its primary market for its limited selection of exports.

Beyond the potential economic ramifications, many Armenians would see the establishment of a customs regime as tantamount to the cutting of cultural ties with Karabakh, an act that could leave the territory – and, consequently, Armenia itself – vulnerable to possible Azerbaijani aggression.

“Currently, we have no expectations with regard to security. We see only threats,” commented Aghasi Yenokian, director of the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, a Yerevan-based think-tank.

Over the past year, Armenian officials have said repeatedly that Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union takes into account security guarantees for both Armenia and Karabakh, but no proof of this has been offered.

As a result, uncertainty continues to swirl around the future of the Armenia-Karabakh trade relationship. Two of the EEU’s three members, Belarus and Kazakhstan, are on record as categorically opposed to allowing Armenia to share the bloc’s trade advantages with Karabakh, which none of the members recognise as a country independent from Azerbaijan.

In Minsk, however, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated that a “compromise” had been reached “on a delicate question within the borders by which Armenia will be joined to our union,” the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Details were not immediately available.

Members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia contacted by EurasiaNet.org declined to comment on the challenges that EEU membership could pose for Armenia’s ties with Karabakh.

“There is a very complicated period awaiting us, taking into account the somewhat unfriendly attitude of the EEU to Armenia, particularly on the part of Nazarbayev and [Belarusian President Alexander ] Lukashenko,” commented Styopa Safarian, director of the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs.

President Sargsyan, a native of Karabakh, does not, however, appear to share such worries. Congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his Oct. 7 birthday, Sargsyan stated that Putin’s “consistent efforts” for a peaceful resolution of the 26-year Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, and his support for Armenia’s EEU membership “deserve the deepest appreciation.”

Opposition parties have also adopted conciliatory stances toward Russia, observers note. This fact leaves some analysts glum; to them, it means the political class is unlikely to push hard to promote Armenia’s interests within the EEU.

“The opposition and the authorities do their best not to make the Kremlin angry,” said Styopa Safarian, the analyst and former member of the opposition Heritage Party. “This situation is not encouraging at all.”

Editor’s note:  Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Youth Employment Critical to Sustainable Development in Pacific Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/youth-employment-critical-to-sustainable-development-in-pacific-islands/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 05:54:01 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137077 In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Samoa two in three young people make a living in the informal economy, including selling food items in market areas and bus stops in the capital, Apia. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

The size of the youth population in the Pacific Islands is double the global average with 54 percent aged below 24 years, creating enormous challenges for slow-growing small island economies unable to create jobs fast enough.

Generating employment opportunities for tens of thousands of school leavers is now an urgent issue on the Pacific’s post-2015 development agenda. Otherwise a poor landscape of opportunity could jeopardise the potential of a generation whose public and economic participation is vital to progressing sustainable development in the region.

Youth unemployment is estimated at 23 percent in the Pacific Islands region, rising to 46 percent in the Solomon Islands and 62 percent in the Marshall Islands, compared to the global average of 12.6 percent.

"[Institutions] are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled." -- Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa
“Youth unemployment in this country is critical and one of our highest priorities,” Jennifer Fruean, chair of the National Youth Council in Samoa, a South Pacific Island developing state located northeast of Fiji, told IPS.

Approximately one quarter of Samoa’s population of 190,372 is employed and economically active and youth account for about half of the remaining unemployed, according to government statistics.

“In the villages, I think that is where most of the youth are static, but there is also a very noticeable shift with urbanisation that is causing a number of youth to come to Apia and they are becoming idle,” she continued.

Lack of sufficient job creation is affecting both young people who lack adequate education, as well as those who possess qualifications and experience. The only route for many of the latter is emigration to larger economies, such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

With 76 percent of those with a tertiary education leaving, the country is experiencing a ‘brain drain’ and 44.7 percent of private sector employers are experiencing skills shortages, reports the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, fisheries, tourism and remittances, has been severely impacted in the last 20 years by natural disasters. In 2012 Cyclone Evan devastated infrastructure and crops resulting in economic losses equal to 30 percent of GDP.

The global financial crisis also led to widespread formal sector job cuts in Samoa with waged employment declining from 28,179 in 2006 to 23,365 in 2011 and private sector jobs falling from 16,921 in 2007 to 12,711 in 2010.

Only one-quarter to one-third of Pacific Islanders finishing school are likely to secure formal sector employment, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This leaves a high proportion of an estimated more than 5,000 school leavers each year vulnerable to exclusion in Samoa, where formal sector employment is around 30 percent.

The social impacts of high teenage pregnancies and a low secondary school completion rate, with an estimated 35 percent of this age group in Samoa not in education, are also aggravating factors.

Fruean believes the main reason is the inability of families to pay school fees and suggests the government’s introduction last year of fee-free secondary education will help improve the final year retention rate of 48 percent.

But there are also questions about the quality and relevance of education for employment demand.

Institutions “are still bringing out lawyers when there is a desperate need here for electricians and plumbers, and at the university they are producing hundreds of students with commerce degrees, but that is a market adequately filled,” Fruean explained.

Somaya Moll, business, investment and technology expert with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), advocates private sector development, which “basically enables people to take charge of their own lives [by giving] them the tools to do so.”

“Self-sufficiency, ownership and accountability are important and it is proven to work,” she told IPS during the United Nations Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) recently held in Samoa’s capital, Apia.

The small size of Pacific islands and their populations is a drawback for ‘economies of scale’, keeping costs of production high. But Moll said introducing entrepreneurship awareness into school curriculums and encouraging financial institutions to consider the creditworthiness of young people could improve the business environment.

The informal economy, which accounts for up to 70 percent of economic activity in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean regions, is a potential growth area, say regional experts.

“It has always been an important source of sustainability [in the Caribbean],” Dessima Williams from Grenada and UNIDO Senior Policy Advisor said during an interview at the U.N. SIDS conference.

“And what has happened recently is that as the formal sector has crashed, more and more other people are entering the informal sector” as are “young people coming out of college who are finding no jobs in the formal sector,” Williams added.

Fruean sees the same potential in Samoa where two-thirds of young people are making a living through informal activities.

“There is so much potential in the informal and agricultural sectors and we encourage the unemployed youth to become economically active in these sectors”, for example, through organic farming or creative production. The cultural and creative industries in the Pacific are reportedly growing at about seven percent per year.

Also “the solution of co-operatives is coming back because the cost of production is so high. A lot of young people [in the Caribbean] are producing music all together, or somebody is writing it and somebody is mixing it, so it is sustainable,” Williams said.

But if the informal sector is to play a role in sustainable and decent job creation, training, skills, working conditions, value addition and production standards need to be improved, she continued. Low productive subsistence activities also need to be up-scaled and developed with greater market orientation and potential for export explored, where feasible. In the agricultural sector alone, which accounts for two thirds of the workforce, only one quarter of production is for the market with the remainder for domestic consumption.

Many young people in the informal sector don’t have experience of budgeting and managing their money, and this is an important area of awareness that needs to be addressed, too, according to the Samoan National Youth Council.

Efforts to galvanise the potential of Pacific Islander youth must be expanded to prevent increased poverty and inequality in the next generation and the social fallout of disaffection when aspirations for productive lives are not fulfilled.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Displacement Spells Danger for Pregnant Women in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 12:41:56 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137065 A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.

In northern Pakistan, a military campaign aimed at ridding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Taliban militants has led to a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

When the army began conducting air raids on the 11,585-square-km North Waziristan Agency on Jun. 15, residents were forced to flee – most of them on foot – to the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where they have now taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps.

“In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.” -- Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Officials estimate the number of displaced at just over 580,000, of which half are women.

In the ancient city of Bannu, which now houses the largest number of refugees, some 40,000 pregnant women are facing up to their ultimate fear: a lack of hospitals, doctors and basic medical supplies.

For 30-year-old Tajdara Bibi, a mother of three, these fears became a reality in June, when she had to flee her home in North Waziristan and trudge the 55 km to KP along with her fellow villagers.

The journey wore her down, and by the time she was admitted to the maternity hospital in Bannu, the doctors were too late: she delivered a stillborn baby a few hours later.

Muhammad Sarwar, who attended to Bibi, told IPS that an extreme shortage of female doctors has put pregnant women on a knife’s edge.

“At least four women died of pregnancy-related complications on the way to Bannu, while 20 others had miscarriages at the hospital,” he said.

“We have only four female doctors in the whole district, who are required to provide treatment to all the women,” he added.

With thousands of women now clamouring for care, the province’s limited healthcare services are falling short, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Gul Rehman, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, is still reeling from a recent tragedy. He told IPS his wife went into labour prematurely during the arduous journey to Bannu.

“We could not find transport so we had to walk. When we finally reached the hospital, we were kept waiting… there were no doctors readily available.

“After 10 hours, they finally operated on my wife – but the baby was already dead,” he explained. Aside from the trauma of losing their child, the couple is also struggling to cope with the wife’s health condition, which has deteriorated rapidly after the stillbirth.

According to Fawad Khan, Health Cluster and Emergency Coordinator for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, existing health facilities are not equipped to deal with the wave of arrivals from North Waziristan.

The WHO is currently assisting the KP health department to “prevent unnecessary deaths”, the official told IPS, adding that 73 percent of displaced women and children in Bannu are in “desperate need of care.”

Some 30 percent of pregnant women among IDPs are at risk of delivery-related complications, a situation that could easily be addressed by upgrading existing facilities. There is also an urgent need for gynaecologists to provide antenatal and postnatal care, he stated.

Twelve health centres have already been established to tackle malnutrition among women and children in the camps. Without proper nourishment, officials fear pregnant women will face additional complications during birth, and low birth-weight among newborns could create additional challenges for health workers.

“Four percent of the total displaced women are pregnant and need immediate attention,” Abdul Waheed, KP’s director-general of health, told IPS, adding that some 20 basic health units have already been strengthened to take on those most in need.

Still, the crisis has reached proportions that even seasoned officials are scarcely able to comprehend. Waheed explained that Bannu has never before had to host such a large population of homeless people, and is struggling to cope.

Prior to the recent wave of refugees from North Waziristan, the KP province had already welcomed over 1.5 million people from FATA. This latest influx brings the number of displaced since 2001 to over 2.5 million.

“We are sending doctors from teaching hospitals in Peshawar [capital of KP] on a rotational basis to meet the situation,” he asserted.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined the WHO in supporting the Pakistan government’s push for improved health services. Some 65 doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad have joined NGO workers in Bannu to provide urgent care.

Part of the problem, according to Ali Ahmed, KP’s focal person for IDPs, is that few medical professionals are keen to take up posts in the militancy-infested region. For years the Taliban have operated with impunity in these federal areas, hiding out along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that stretches for some 2,400 km.

The military’s counter-insurgency programme was launched in a bid to finally wipe out extremist elements that fled Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took root along the porous border.

But until the region regains a sense of normalcy, it will be hard to lure professionals here, officials say. Despite being offered lucrative packages, doctors have refused to take up posts, even temporarily, in Bannu.

The government is looking to fill this gap by appointing 10 doctors, including five female doctors, to the newly renovated Women and Children Hospital, which remains understaffed and ill equipped.

The city’s other two category ‘B’ hospitals, the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital (KGTH) and the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital, suffer similar setbacks, while the arrival of the IDPs has more than tripled the number of patients demanding services, Ahmed said.

Three rural health centres in close proximity to the refugee camps, as well as 34 basic health units, have received an injection of funds and resources, and 20 assistant nutritional officers have been deployed to cater to the needs of 41 percent of affected children, he told IPS.

But far greater efforts will be needed to tackle the crisis, which is compounding an already bleak picture of maternal health in Pakistan.

Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert here in KP, told IPS, “In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Financing for Biodiversity: A Simple Matter of Keeping Promiseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 12:02:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137037 The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

With governments, activists and scientists tearing their hair out over the world’s impending crisis in biodiversity, the outgoing president of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) delivered a simple message to participants at the 12th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP12) currently underway in the Republic of Korea’s northern Pyeongchang county: honour the promises you made last year.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the meeting, running from Oct. 6-12, Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India, which has held the presidency of the Conference of the Parties for a year, said finance continues to be a weak link in global efforts to safeguard the earth’s fragile ecosystems, with parties failing to deliver on their pledges.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk." -- Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India
Pande recalled that at the 11th meeting of the parties (COP11), held in the South Indian city of Hyderabad in October 2012, states had promised to double funding for conservation by 2015.

However, after two years, this promise remains largely undelivered. Unless countries keep their word, it will be difficult to make significant progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in 2011, the official added.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk,” Pande told IPS.

Countless issues are calling out for an injection of monetary resources: from coastal clean-up projects and scientific research to public awareness campaigns and livelihood alternatives, conservation is a costly undertaking.

According to an estimate by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an annual expenditure of 200 billion dollars would be required to meet all 20 of the CBD goals for 2020, including eliminating harmful subsidies, halving the rate of ecosystem destruction, sustainably managing fisheries, increasing protected areas, restoring 15 percent of the world’s degraded ecosystems, and conserving known endangered species.

Thus the agreement to boost funding was one of the most celebrated outcomes of COP11. Using a baseline figure of the average annual national spending on biodiversity between 2006 and 2010, developed countries had said they would double their giving by 2015.

Although no numbers were put on the table, observers expected that a doubling of the resources then would mean around 10-12 billion dollars a year.

Now, as the convention does its mid-term review, it appears that figure is far from becoming a reality.

Paul Leadly, lead author of ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4), a progress report on global efforts towards the Aichi Targets released here Monday, acknowledges that finance is “definitely insufficient.”

“The good news is there is a slight increase in the funding. The bad news is, it’s not anywhere near doubling the amount,” he told IPS.

According to him, given the current slowdown in the global economy, it is difficult to say how nations will fulfill their promises in another two years.

“It doesn’t help that a lot of countries are not [doing] very well financially. For example, in Brazil, there is economic stagnation,” Leadly added.

Others believe the global financial climate should not act as a deterrent to swift action on conservation and environmental protection.

Countries like India have allocated substantial amounts of state funding to the conservation effort, in the hopes of leading by example.

“Since 2012, we have been spending two billion rupees [about 32.5 million dollars] each year just on managing and maintaining our biodiversity hubs such as our national parks and sanctuaries […]. We have reported this to the CBD as well,” Pande claimed, adding that all 191 parties to the convention are bound to do the same.

Although the budget allocation to India’s ministry of environment and forests has seen a decline from 24 billion rupees (391 million dollars) in 2012-13 to 20.4 billion rupees (325 million dollars) this year, Pande says the combined total budgets of all ministries involved in the conservation effort – including departments that oversee land restoration, soil conservation, water, fishers and ecological development – represent a sum that is higher than previous years.

Still, India is just one country out of nearly 200. Given that international agreements on biodiversity are not legally binding, no country can be “forced to pay”, so holding parties accountable to their financial commitments is no easy task.

Pande also said that a large number of governments had not submitted their national reports to the CBD in time, resulting in inadequate data in the GBO-4 regarding finances and financial commitments.

Mobilising resources will be a major topic at the meeting currently underway in Korea. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS that an expected outcome of COP12 was a clear resource mobilisation strategy to tackle the dearth of funds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that state parties can increase allocations for biodiversity conservation efforts without necessarily making huge investments.

One of these “non-economic” ways of generating the necessary resources, according to Leadly, is to end subsidies.

“Governments are spending so much money on providing subsidies: in agriculture, fuels, fisheries, fertiliser. Ending those subsidies doesn’t cost money. In fact, [governments] could use that money for other things, like channeling it into conservation of biodiversity,” he asserted.

Leadly pointed to India’s on-going efforts to phase out subsidies of synthetic fertilisers as an example others could follow, adding, “If you look at China, their fertiliser is massively subsidised, which is not matching the needs of their crop plants. But political will is needed.”

Some states do appear to be prioritising the issue: Thailand this year added 150,000 dollars to its annual budget in order to jumpstart forest conservation; Guatemala has earmarked some 291 million dollars for biodiversity efforts, Namibia spends about 100 million dollars a year on similar endeavours, while Bangladesh and Nepal have allocated 360 and 86 million dollars respectively.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanity Failing the Earth’s Ecosystemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/humanity-failing-the-earths-ecosystems/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 11:31:42 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137008 A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

A cow stands in the middle of a dried-out agricultural plot in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna District. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

In pure numbers, the past few decades have been marked by destruction: over the last 40 years, Earth has lost 52 percent of its wild animals; nearly 17 percent of the world’s forests have been felled in the last half-century; freshwater ecosystems have witnessed a 75-percent decline in animal populations since 1970; and nearly 95 percent of coral reefs are today threatened by pollution, coastal development and overfishing.

A slew of international conferences and agreements over the years have attempted to pull the brakes on what appears to be a runaway train, setting targets and passing legislation aimed at protecting and conserving the remaining slivers of land and sea as yet untainted by humanity’s massive carbon footprint.

In 2010, building on the foundation laid by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), scores of experts and activists gathered in Nagoya, Japan, drafted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which included 20 points known as the Aichi Targets, encompassing everything from land preservation to sustainable fishing practices.

Though the goals were subsequently re-affirmed by the U.N. general assembly, and reiterated yet again at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, scientists say losses continue to outpace gains, as forests are chopped down, garbage emptied into oceans and animal habitats razed to the ground to make way for human development and industry.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 12), a United Nations progress report on the state of global biodiversity released Monday in Pyeongchang, Korea, called urgent attention to unmet targets and challenges ahead.

Coming exactly a year before the halfway point of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan and the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4) called for a “dismantling of the drivers of biodiversity loss, which are often embedded deep within our systems of policy-making, financial accounting, and patterns of production and consumption.”

For instance, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report, humans are “using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal.”

The organisation’s Living Planet Index (LPI), based on studies of over 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, found that exploitation of natural resources by humans accounted for the vast majority of wildlife losses in the last four decades (37 percent), followed by habitat degradation (31 percent), climate change (seven percent) and habitat loss (13 percent).

The same report found that human impacts such as increased pollution and construction projects were largely responsible for the steep decline of wildlife in freshwater systems, with 45,000 large dams (over 15 metres) preventing the free flow of some of the world’s major rivers, at a huge cost to biodiversity.

Marine animal populations have also plummeted by 40 percent, making a strong case for the rapid designation of adequate marine protected areas. However, according to the GBO-4 released today, “more than half of marine regions have less than five percent of their area protected.”

Of the five Strategic Goals (A-E) of the 10-year biodiversity plan, GBO-4 highlighted numerous challenges, including threats to natural resources provoked by greatly increased total global consumption levels (Target 4), rising nutrient pollution impacting aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, compounded by increased pollution from chemicals, fertilisers and plastics (Target 8), a rising extinction risk for birds, mammals and amphibians (Target 12), and a lack of capacity to mobilise concerned citizens worldwide (Target 19).

According to David Ainsworth, information officer for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, “The question of agriculture and food security is probably one of the biggest challenges we are facing.”

“Given that we know we’re looking at a substantial population increase by the end of the decade, which is likely going to be matched with a change in dietary patterns such as the consumption of more meat, we are probably going to experience tremendous pressures on biodiversity just in trying to deal with the agricultural situation alone,” he told IPS.

A lot of this could be solved, he added, by dealing with food production systems, by promoting a different model to the typical, rich, North American diet and by tackling food waste at all stages of the production cycle, from wastage in fields and transportation chains to food distribution centers and even in the home.

Asia-Pacific: under tremendous pressure

With a population of just over 4.2 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region faces a unique set of challenges to preserving its biodiversity.

According to Scott Perkin, head of the Natural Resources Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-Asia, the region “has taken some important steps towards the achievement of the Aichi Targets.

“A majority of countries in the region have revised and strengthened their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (Target 17), and a significant number have ratified the Nagoya Protocol (Target 16),” Perkin told IPS in an email.

But the region as a whole remains under tremendous pressure, he said, adding, “Population growth and rapid economic development continue to fuel the loss and degradation of natural habitats, and much greater efforts will be required if Target 5 on halving the rate of loss of forests and other habitats by 2020 is to be achieved.”

Indonesia alone experienced a deforestation rate of one million hectares a year between 2000 and 2003. A recent study indicates that in 2012 the country likely hacked away 840,000 hectares of primary forest, outstripping even Brazil, which cut down 460,000 hectares that same year.

Perkin said the illegal wildlife trade in Asia is yet another critical issue, one that will make achievement of Target 12 – preventing the extinction of known species – especially challenging.

The region also provides a stark example of the links between biodiversity and economic gains, a point also highlighted in the report released today. According to GBO-4, reducing deforestation rates have been estimated to result in an annual benefit of 183 million dollars in the form of ecosystem services.

The same pattern is evident throughout the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in places where governments have replaced marine resource exploitation with conservation efforts.

In the western Pacific Ocean nation of Palau, for instance, the banning of commercial fisheries has boosted the tiny island’s ecotourism potential, with visitors rushing to explore the country’s bustling coastal waters.

A single shark, which had hitherto brought the country a few hundred dollars for its fin, considered a delicacy in East Asia, now fetches 1.9 million dollars over its entire lifetime.

In Indonesia too, the creation of the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays has raised the sea-creature’s economic potential from some 500 dollars (when used for meat or medicine), to over one million dollars as a tourist attraction, according to Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP)’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Still, it will take more than piecemeal measures to bring about the scale of protection and conservation required to keep biodiversity levels at a safe threshold.

As Ainsworth pointed out, “The core of this issue goes beyond the questions of where we put our roads and highways – it goes to fundamental ways of how we organise ourselves socially and economically in relation to nature and biodiversity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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