Inter Press Service » Regional Categories News and Views from the Global South Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cities Address a Key Challenge: Infrastructure Needs Thu, 27 Oct 2016 21:37:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Are Public Enterprises Necessarily Inefficient? Thu, 27 Oct 2016 14:22:57 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

From the 1980s, various studies purported to portray the public sector as a cesspool of abuse, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Books and articles with pejorative titles such as ‘vampire state’, ‘bureaucrats in business’ and so on thus provided the justification for privatization policies. Despite the caricature and exaggeration, there were always undoubted horror stories which could be cited as supposedly representative examples. But similarly, by way of contrast, other experiences show that SOEs can be run quite efficiently, even on commercial bases, confounding the dire predictions of the prophets of public sector doom.

SOE inefficiency

To be sure, unclear and contradictory objectives – e.g. to simultaneously maximize sales revenue, address disparities, generate employment, etc. – often meant ambiguous performance criteria, many open to abuse. Often, SOE failure on one criterion (e.g., cost efficiency) was justified on the grounds of fulfilling other objectives (e.g., employment generation). However, the ambiguity of objectives is not necessarily due to public or state ownership per se.

Problems of co-ordination among various government agencies and inter-departmental rivalries also played a role. Some consequences included ineffective monitoring, inadequate accountability, or alternatively, over-regulation. ‘Moral hazard’ has also been a problem as SOE management’s expected sustained financial support from the government, come what may attributed to weak fiscal discipline or ‘soft budget constraints’.

Often, SOE managements lacked adequate or relevant skills but were constrained from addressing them expeditiously. But privatization does not automatically solve the problem of lack of managerial skills. Similarly, privatization of SOEs which are natural monopolies (e.g. public utilities) will not solve problems of inefficiency due to the monopolistic or monopsonistic nature of the industry or market.

Can SOE inefficiency be improved?

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Such changes do not require privatization as a prerequisite, but can be achieved by greater decentralization or devolution of administrative authority.

Many SOEs enjoyed monopoly or monopsony powers de jure or de facto, often providing cover for inefficiencies and other abuses. Hence, competition and enterprise reorganization – rather than mere changes in ownership status – are more likely to induce greater enterprise efficiency. Instead of presuming that privatization is the only solution, reformers should consider the variety of modes of enterprise reform, privatization, marketization and other measures as options for improving the public sector.

With such an approach, privatization becomes one among several options available to the government for dealing with the undoubted malaise of many public sectors. After all, there may well be instances where privatization offers the superior option (e.g., the Hungarian privatization of retail shops), but this should be the policy conclusion after serious consideration of all options available rather than the default option it has become in recent decades.

Options need consideration

Remember that many SOEs were set up precisely because the private sector was believed to be unable or unwilling to provide certain services or goods. Such arguments may still be relevant in some cases, but no longer relevant in other cases, and perhaps, never even true or relevant in yet other cases.

Many SOEs have undoubtedly proven to be problematic, often inefficient. However, privatization has not proved to be the universal panacea for the myriad problems of the public sector it was touted to be.

In many instances, the problem with an SOE is not due to ownership per se, but rather to the absence of explicit, feasible or achievable objectives, or even to the existence of too many, often contradictory goals. In other cases, the absence of managerial and organizational systems (e.g., flexibility, autonomy) and cultures supportive of such goals and objectives may be the key problem.

Privatization may facilitate the achievement of such organizational goals or objectives with the changes it may bring about in train, but this does not necessarily mean that privatization per se is responsible for the improvements. In such cases, managerial and organizational reforms may well achieve the same objectives and goals, or even do better, at a reduced cost, and thus prove to be the superior option.

However, the superior option cannot be presumed a priori, but should instead be the outcome of careful consideration of the roots of an organization’s malaise.

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Climate Doomsday – Another Step Closer Thu, 27 Oct 2016 10:46:23 +0000 Baher Kamal Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

Almost inadvertently, humankind is getting closer everyday to the point of no-return towards what could be called the ‘climate doomsday’.

Now, globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has surged again to new records in 2016… and will not dip below pre-2015 levels for many generations.

The warning comes from the United Nations weather agency–the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and further confirms the alarm of climate experts and world specialised organisations.

On the one hand, the WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas said that 2015 ushered in a new era of optimism and climate action with the Paris climate change agreement. “But it will also make history as marking a new era of climate change reality with record high greenhouse gas concentrations.”

“Without tackling carbon dioxide emissions, we cannot tackle climate change and keep temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celcius above the pre-industrial era… It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Paris Agreement does indeed enter into force well ahead of schedule on 4 November and that we fast-track its implementation,” Taalas on 24 October 2016 stressed.

The weather agency had warned earlier this year that the Earth is already one degree Celsius hotter than at the start of the 20th century, halfway to the critical two-degree threshold, and that national climate change plans adopted so far may not be enough to avoid a three-degree temperature rise.

CO2 levels had previously reached the 400 parts per million barrier for certain months of the year and in certain locations “but never before on a global average basis for the entire year.” According to WMO, the growth spurt in carbon dioxide was fuelled by the El Niño event, which started in 2015 and had a strong impact well into 2016.

The ozone layer: protecting our atmosphere for generations to come. Credit: UNEP

The ozone layer: protecting our atmosphere for generations to come. Credit: UNEP

“The 400 parts per million threshold is of great symbolic importance,” said the previous WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud in 2014. “It should serve as yet another wakeup call about the constantly rising levels of greenhouse gases which are driving climate change and acidifying our oceans.”

This triggered droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of “sinks” like forests, vegetation and the oceans to absorb CO2.

These sinks currently absorb about half of CO2 emissions but there is a risk that they may become saturated, which would increase the fraction of emitted carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere, according to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Carbon Dioxide Remains For Thousands of Years

The danger is clear: for thousands of year’s carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, trapping heat and causing the earth to warm further. The lifespan of carbon dioxide in the oceans is even longer. It is also the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. “For thousands of year’s carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, trapping heat and causing the earth to warm further. The lifespan of carbon dioxide in the oceans is even longer. It is also the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities.” – WMO

According to the WMO it is responsible for 85 per cent of the warming effect on our climate over the past decade.

On the other hand, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says that the droughts and floods beating down on communities in many parts of the world are linked to the current El Niño, which was expected to affect up 60 million people already by last July.

“In some areas, including in North Eastern Brazil, Somali, Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, the El Niño effects are coming on the back of years of severe and recurrent droughts. It is impossible for households that rely on the land for food and farm labour to recover, especially when the land is degraded,” says in this regards the UNCCD executive secretary, Monique Barbut.

What’s more, Barbut adds, these conditions do not just devastate families and destabilise communities. When they are not attended to urgently, they can become a push factor for migration, and end with gross human rights abuses and long-term security threats.

“We have seen this before – in Darfur following four decades of droughts and desertification and, more recently, in Syria, following the long drought of 2007-2010.”

Rabi Island, Fiji. Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events pose an imminent threat to low-lying atoll islands across the Pacific. Credit: OCHA/Danielle Parry

Rabi Island, Fiji. Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events pose an imminent threat to low-lying atoll islands across the Pacific. Credit: OCHA/Danielle Parry

It is “tragic to see a society breaking down when we can reduce the vulnerability of communities through simple and affordable acts such as restoring the degraded lands they live on, and helping countries to set up better systems for drought early warning and to prepare for and manage drought and floods,” according to Barbut.

Agriculture Accounts for One-Fifth of Total Emissions

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) alerted that the rapid change in the world’s climate is translating into more extreme and frequent weather events, heat waves, droughts and sea-level rise.

The impacts of climate change on agriculture and the implications for food security are already alarming – they are the subjects of this report, according to FAO director general José Graziano da Silva.

A major finding is that there is an urgent need to support smallholders in adapting to climate change. Farmers, pastoralists, fisher-folk and community foresters depend on activities that are intimately and inextricably linked to climate – and these groups are also the most vulnerable to climate change.

“They will require far greater access to technologies, markets, information and credit for investment to adjust their production systems and practices to climate change.”

Unless action is taken now to make agriculture more sustainable, productive and resilient, climate change impacts will seriously compromise food production in countries and regions that are already highly food-insecure, Graziano da Silva alerts.

“Through its impacts on agriculture, livelihoods and infrastructure, climate change threatens all dimensions of food security. It will expose both urban and rural poor to higher and more volatile food prices.”

According to FAO’s director general, it will also affect food availability by reducing the productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, and hinder access to food by disrupting the livelihoods of millions of rural people who depend on agriculture for their incomes.

The FAO report–The State of Food and Agriculture 2016, describes ways of adapting smallholder production to climate change and making the livelihoods of rural populations more resilient.

“Diversify or Die”?

Diversification and better integration of food production systems into complex ecological processes create synergies with the natural habitat instead of depleting natural resources, says the report.

Agro-ecology and sustainable intensification are examples of approaches that improve yields and build resilience through practices such as green manuring, nitrogen-fixing cover crops and sustainable soil management, and integration with agro-forestry and animal production.

“In order to keep the increase in global temperature below the crucial ceiling of 2 °C, emissions will have to be reduced by as much as 70 per cent by 2050.

“Keeping climate change within manageable levels can only be achieved with the contribution of the agriculture sectors,” which account for at least one-fifth of total emissions, mainly from the conversion of forests to farmland as well as from livestock and crop production.

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UN Cuba Embargo Vote: United States Abstains for First Time Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:49:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

After 25 years of voting against a United Nations resolution condemning the United States (U.S.) embargo on Cuba, the U.S. Wednesday chose for the first time to abstain from voting. An overwhelming 191 UN member states voted for the resolution, with only Israel joining the United States in abstention.

The UN General Assembly met for its annual vote on a resolution to end sanctions against Cuba imposed in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. The United States has consistently voted against the resolution, but on Wednesday United States Ambassador Samantha Power announced its historic change in voting.

“After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement,” said Power whose statement was met with applause.

Power highlighted the significant progress made by the Cuban government in the protection of its people including the reduction of its child mortality rate and children’s access to education. Power also described Cuba’s essential role during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when the Caribbean nation was one of the first countries to step forward and send over 200 health professionals to the hardest hit areas in West Africa.

Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla welcomed the vote but noted that the embargo against Cuba is still in place and continues to harm Cubans and the nation’s economic development.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” -- Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” he told the General Assembly, estimating that the U.S. embargo has cost the island over $125 billion.

Though the U.S. has eased travel and business restrictions, most laws and regulations that implemented the blockade are still in force.

For instance, the existing Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA) prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. This has limited the country’s access to essential medicine and medical equipment which has “wreaked havoc” on Cuba’s health care system. Parrilla pointed to the case of U.S. company Medtronic which was unable to sell deep brain stimulators to Cuban companies to treat patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

He also noted that Cuban medical efforts deployed during the Ebola epidemic were hampered when the British Standard Chartered Bank refused to make financial transfers between the World Health Organisation and Cuban doctors.

Though U.S. banks can now legally process Cuban transactions, many banks fear reprisal from the U.S. having had received enormous fines for violating sanctions in the past.

In 2012, ING Bank was fined $619 million, HSBC $1.9 billion and BNP Paribas $8.83 billion.

Even after December 2014 when President Obama first announced his aim to restore full relations with Cuba, France’s Credit Agricole was fined $787 million for violating U.S. sanctions.

“Lifting the blockade is key to be able to advance towards the normalisation of relations with the United States,” said Parrilla.

Power echoed similar sentiments, urging for the two nations to continue to engage despite differences.

“Today, we will take another small step to be able to do that. May there be many, many more—including, we hope, finally ending the U.S. embargo once and for all,” she concluded.

However, abstaining from the resolution does not mean that the U.S. agrees with all of the Cuban government’s policies and practices, Power said.

“We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people,” she told delegates.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), more than 8,600 government opponents and activists were detained in 2015. Freedom of expression and access to information also continues to be limited.

Power also rejected certain elements in the resolution, including that the embargo violated the UN charter and international law.

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Funding Lags to Combat Land Degradation Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:44:42 +0000 Justus Wanzala Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of UNCCD held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20, 2016. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Land degradation already affects millions of people, bringing biodiversity loss, reduced availability of clean water, food insecurity and greater vulnerability to the harsh impacts of climate change.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two billion hectares of productive land are currently degraded worldwide. An additional 12 million hectares are degraded every year.

Delegates meeting at the Fifteenth Session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) held in Nairobi Oct. 18-20 all agreed that urgent action is needed to address the problem.

But for efforts to combat land degradation to succeed, huge financial resources must be mobilised.

UNCCD has proposed creation of the Impact Investment Fund for Land Degradation Neutrality (Land Degradation Neutrality Fund). Although not yet operationalsed, the fund is intended to bring together institutions committed to addressing the global challenge of land degradation.

It will support large-scale rehabilitation of degraded land, for sustainable and productive use, with long-term private sector financing. The fund also aims to contribute to the achievement of global and local food and water security, and to mitigate climate change by sequestering up to 20 percent of CO2 emissions by 2050.

The fund hopes to mobilise 50 billion dollars to rehabilitate 300 million hectares of land worldwide in the next 20 years, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 20 billion tonnes.

The Global Mechanism is spearheading the establishment of the Fund. The Fund plans to provide a structured framework in which private and public actors will be able to engage with the aim of achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). The private-public partnership will include provision of funds and technical assistance.

The LDN concept was introduced at the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. According to UNCCD, attaining LDN means ensuring that the amount of land resources that every household, region or country depends on for ecosystems services such as water, remains healthy, productive and stable.

The resolve resonates with target 15.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in September 2015 in New York. The target is to achieve LDN by 2030.

The Global Mechanism, UNCCD’s operational arm, was identified as the body to administer the fund to support initiatives that aim to reach LDN.

The vision of the LDN Fund is to combat land degradation and finance rehabilitation of 12 million hectares of degraded land a year. When in place, it will also complement and leverage existing initiatives by creating a link between the bottom up approach (projects developed on the ground) and the top down initiatives (government targets, institutional initiatives).

Markus Repnik, managing director of the Global Mechanism, said that 450 billion dollars is required annually to combat land degradation and desertification. He noted that climate funding is growing but more resources are needed. Repnik added that states have spent 200 billion dollars but total financing is less than 400 billion dollars.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a financial mechanism under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is aiming to provide half of its funds for climate change adaptation measures. He noted that the African Development Bank (ADB) wants to triple climate financing by 2020.

Repnik said that there is abundance of funding initiatives and systems but there is no single measure to show how finances are being mobilised.

“In-depth data on global financing is required. It should be known how much has been spent, where it came and who provided it in addition to ensuring data compatibility and reliability,” said Markus.

He called upon parties to consider how they will mobilise resources to implement the convention. The EU delegation to the UNCCD’s CRIC 15 urged parties to explore more funding mechanisms instead of relying on multilateral partnerships. They said innovative measures to source funds from the private sector should be explored.

During the conference it was revealed that developing countries and their partners have contributed five billion dollars towards efforts to curb desertification and land degradation. However, delegates insisted that more money is urgently needed and the developed countries should provide more funds.

Representatives of community-based organisations (CSOs) noted that the cost per unit (hectare) in combating land degradation also varies from country to country.

“More precise and comprehensive information is required,” they noted in a statement.

They emphasized that financing of programmes to combat land degradation should incorporate human resources development. They also noted that the financing mechanism should involve the 500 million smallholder farmers across the world whose rights require protection.

“Vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and pastoralists should be targeted for support,” read the CSOs statement.

At the same time, parties recognised the need to mobilise additional financial resources for voluntary LDN target setting and implementation from multiple sources such the GEF, Green Climate Fund, LDN Fund (once operational), national budget allocations and the private sector.

They called upon the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial entity that works with countries and international institutions, CSOs and the private sector to address global environmental issues, and the Global Mechanism to provide the required support.

Richard Mwendandu, director of Multilateral Environment Agreements at Kenya’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said that although money can be mobilised to finance efforts towards meeting SDG 15.3, there is no specific global fund in place to support efforts to fight land degradation.

“Just a paltry 30,000 dollars has been issued by the Global Mechanism to assist countries on a pilot basis in the area of target setting as envisaged in the LDN concept,” he told IPS.

Mwendandu added that individual countries are trying to mobilise resources to combat land degradation. Citing the case of Kenya, he noted the government is mobilising funds in collaboration with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to fund projects aimed at fighting land degradation.

CRIC 15 was aimed enabling parties to UNCCD to agree to a post-2018 strategy.

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Stronger Collaboration for Greater Energy Access in Asia Pacific Wed, 26 Oct 2016 13:47:17 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She will be speaking about Asia’s new energy realities and the implications for regional energy security at the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2016.]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She will be speaking about Asia’s new energy realities and the implications for regional energy security at the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2016.

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
Bangkok, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

The emergence of new ideas, technological advancements and innovative market-driven financing solutions has lent confidence to the idea that universal access to energy services is attainable. This is particularly good news in the Asia and the Pacific region, where, despite making significant contributions to global growth and poverty reduction since 2000, nearly half a billion citizens still have no access to modern energy, principally in rural and far-flung areas. Three-quarters of these people live in South Asia alone. Some 70% of the Pacific island households are un-electrified, a level similar to sub-Saharan Africa. The lack of electricity and clean cooking options marginalizes predominantly remote and slum communities who are trapped in energy poverty, preventing them from stepping on the first rung of the ladder to prosperity.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

There are a range of approaches, options and sources which, if effectively exploited, can help Asia-Pacific broaden energy access. One of the game-changing elements for energy access is Asia’s emergence as producer and provider of renewable energy technology, with investment in renewables reaching $160 billion in 2015, or over half the global total. Renewable energy options are poised to reshape the energy access challenge. In particular, solar power with its low cost advantages and widespread applicability will pay a major role, as it offers both grid-based centralized solutions as well as decentralized applications such as solar lanterns, solar home systems and solar-powered mini-grids. This year, three large scale solar proposals(1) in the Middle East and South America have contracted their solar generated power for US three cents per kilowatt hour, which is cheaper than any other source of energy. The marketability of solar energy further benefits from technological advancements in energy storage, driven by utility power and electric vehicle markets. These developments will have positive spillover on the energy access sector.

In many countries of Asia and the Pacific, the decentralized power option offers lower costs than extending the grid into remote locations, which influences long-term energy planning scenarios of countries. These options include mini grids, hybrid systems, biogas and micro-hydro power, depending on costs, local geography and resource availability.

Reliability and scalability require an enhanced role of the private sector to find the most suitable local energy access solutions and to mobilize innovative finance and business models. Energy access solution providers already promote creative solutions, however the private sector’s role in the provision of energy access has been limited, accounting for only 18% of total investment. To bring private capital, technology and expertise to energy access, partnerships between public sector and multilateral financing agencies need to offer the right enabling policy environment and a combination of incentives including risk mitigation frameworks, loan guarantees and other supportive credit enhancements.

The potential of private investment in the promoting energy access should not be underestimated. The so-called “bottom of the pyramid” energy users currently spend $37 billion on energy services(2) such as kerosene, batteries or candles, which are often inefficient and more costly than clean alternatives. Many pioneering private sector firms have developed low-cost energy systems at household or village scale such as solar lanterns, biogas or micro-hydro systems and are rolling out business models with product, process and distribution innovations. Across the Asia-Pacific, rural micro-credit is funding energy access including Bangladesh’s Grameen Shakti which has funded half a million solar home systems.(3) Development of indigenous technology capacity in Nepal has lowered equipment costs for biogas and micro-hydro systems. India has leveraged public-private partnerships in its rural electrification efforts, bringing electricity to 32 million households over the last decade.(4) Local provision of energy can have a catalytic effect, leading to economic growth and increased demand for other products and services that can be met by these companies, leading to growing business opportunities.(5)

Realizing the goals of poverty eradication is critically linked to enhancing energy access to the poor. The recent adoption by G20 Ministers of the Action Plan for Enhancing Energy Access in Asia and the Pacific, supported by ESCAP, will assist the region in adopting the appropriate policy framework to scale-up the private sector’s role in enhancement of energy access. As a follow-up to the G20 Action Plan on Energy Access, ESCAP, with the Energy Market Authority of Singapore, is co-organizing an Energy Access Forum at the Singapore International Energy Week in October 2016. The Forum will provide insights on the challenges and opportunities for countries to enhance energy access.

1. In April 2016, in Dubai a consortium led by Masdar won a renewable energy auction with a bid of 2.99 cents/kWh over 20 years. In September 2016 Marubeni and Jinko Solar won a solar auction in Abu Dhabi at 2.42 cents per kWh. This broke the previous record set in Chile in August 2016 of 2.91 cents per kWh.

2. International Finance Corporation, From Gap to Opportunity: Business Models for Scaling Up Energy Access,

3. Sovocool, A qualitative factor analysis of renewable energy and Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in the Asia-Pacific 2013,

4. Chaurey et al, New partnerships and business models for facilitating energy access 2012

5. World Economic Forum / PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Scaling Up Energy Access through Cross-sector Partnerships,

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Cuba’s Fish Farming Industry Seeks to Double Output by 2030 Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:26:03 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez Tilapia jump as they are caught on the La Juventud fish farm in the Los Palacios municipality in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tilapia jump as they are caught on the La Juventud fish farm in the Los Palacios municipality in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
LOS PALACIOS, Cuba, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

Protected from the sun by broad-brimmed hats and long- sleeved shirts, workers at the La Juventud fish farm throw fish feed into the tanks for the tilapias, a fish that is scarce and in high demand in the Cuban markets.

“Production grew significantly due to a combination of factors: sex reversal (use of hormones to produce a 98 per cent male population), better quality fish feed, and introduction of genetically improved species,” Guillermo Rodríguez, the director of the fish farm, told IPS.

La Juventud, located in the municipality of Los Palacios and known as the best producer of tilapia – highly valued for its flavour – in Cuba, belongs to the state-owned Pinar del Río Fish Farming Company (Pescario), which groups all the activity in the sector in this western province.

Thanks to a restructuring of the fish farming industry, focusing on technological upgrading, this Caribbean island nation produced last year 27,549 tons of freshwater fish in tanks, pools and reservoirs, the largest volume since aquaculture was introduced in the 1980s.

The Food Ministry’s goal is to nearly double fish production by 2030, to 49,376 tons.

The fish and seafood catch, which in 2015 totalled 57,657 tons, only covers a small proportion of the demand from the population of 11.2 people, and does not fully meet the demand from the thriving tourism industry, which this year is expected to break the record of three million visitors from abroad.

Including fish and seafood products, the country spends some two billion dollars a year on food imports, despite a slight increase in domestic food production, achieved as a result of the economic reforms implemented since 2008.

The rise in aquaculture production was due to a reorganisation of the industry, stability in the fish feed supply, wage hikes, intensive fish farming and the genetic improvement of species, with state funds, international development aid and foreign investment.

“In 2015, our company produced 465 tons of fish, including 200 tons of tilapia. And so far this year we have harvested 391 tons, including 248 of tilapia,” Rodríguez said, referring to the output of the La Juventud fish farm, which employs 132 workers, 17 of whom are women.

A GIFT tilapia, one of the varieties farmed in La Juventud, Los Palacios municipality, in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A GIFT tilapia, one of the varieties farmed in La Juventud, Los Palacios municipality, in the western province of Pinar de Rio, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In their installations, using 46.2 hectares of water that flows by gravity from a nearby dam, La Juventud raises fry that it receives every two years from the state Aquaculture Technology Development Company (EDTA), releases the fish in reservoirs, and harvests them later to send them to plants to be processed.

Yields took off in 2011 when the sex reversal technique and the first genetically improved species were introduced, as part of a project of technology transfer from Vietnam. As of 2015 they receive support from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“With the FAO project, we have achieved far better results: tilapia production has increased from four tons per hectare to 13.3 tons per hectare,” said Rodríguez.

He said the average monthly wage climbed from 13 dollars to more than 58 dollars, which is more than twice the average wage of 23 dollars earned by state employees.

The two-year programme called “Adoption and implementation of a freshwater fish genetic improvement programme”, signed last year between the government and FAO, has a budget of 297,000 dollars for strengthening the skills of producers and technical and scientific personnel across the country in genetics and breeding.

“The project’s activities mainly involve the Aquaculture Technology Development Company, with training and inputs to raise the fry,” said Loliette Fernández, a FAO officer in Cuba.

“The goal is to create a national programme of genetic improvement of freshwater fish, which today does not exist,” she told IPS.

The initiative, which has drawn international consultants to the country, focuses on tilapia farming, particularly with the introduction of the GIFT (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia) variety, which is also used in fish farming in other developing countries.

“Tilapia has always been part of the Cuban diet, but with GIFT we’re selling a high-quality attractive fish. Our industry produces a variety of products, but tilapia is the most popular,” veterinarian Mercedes Domínguez, who works on the farm, told IPS.

From the edge of the tank, workers feed tilapia on the La Juventud fish farm, the best-known in Cuba for its production of this fish, which is highly valued by both the local population and tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

From the edge of the tank, workers feed tilapia on the La Juventud fish farm, the best-known in Cuba for its production of this fish, which is highly valued by both the local population and tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Snowy egrets fly over the La Juventud facilities and walk along the rims of the big tanks, pools and channels. The buildings are nicely painted and have handmade posters explaining the processes carried out in each area.

“We maintain the fish farming installations with the smallest possible repairs that we can afford to make, but they all need large and specialised engineering works to make better use of the water,” said the head of Pescario, Jorge Triana, pointing to the walls of the tanks on the farm, which have been in use for over two decades.

Besides the lack of repairs and necessary upgrading, Triana also mentioned other difficulties faced by the company, which supplies fish to the province of 140,252 people.

La Juventud’s fleet of vehicles is aging, there are problems of refrigeration, and the technology is obsolete.

He estimates that what Pescario produces covers about 30 per cent of the province’s demand. “Although it depends on whether the stores offer other meat products, our fish arrive in the morning, and by the afternoon there is nothing left,” he told IPS.

“The company has achieved a steady capture of over 1,700 tons, which is more than before,” he said. Of that total, just 32 tons come from private fishers who fish in Cuban waters and sell their catch to the state company.

He said that now they are working on making adjustments to the whole system to achieve their growth goals by 2030.

“The future of Cuba and the entire world lies in aquaculture,” said Margarita Cepero, who since 2006 has headed a fish fattening unit with floating cages in the Sidra reservoir, in the western province of Matanzas.

“Every year there are more restrictions on sea fishing, in order to protect species,” she told IPS.

Cuba over-fished its 50,000 square kilometers of waters in the Caribbean, which are not highly productive, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The island is facing the consequences of international depletion of fish resources and the overexploitation of its own coasts.

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Kenya Greens Drylands to Combat Land Degradation Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:19:22 +0000 Justus Wanzala A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

A Kenya Forestry Research Institute technician pruning an acacia tree at a drylands research site in Tiva, Kitui County. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

Faced with growing degradation that is swallowing large swathes of land in arid and semiarid areas, Kenya is heavily investing in rehabilitation efforts to stave off the threat of desertification.

Charles Sunkuli, secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, says a programme targeting 5.1 million hectares of degraded and deforested land for restoration by 2030 was launched in September 2016. He added that Kenya is increasing its forest cover from the current seven percent to a minimum of 10 percent.High levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities in East Africa.

“We have introduced an equalisation fund to help communities living in dry and degraded lands eke out at a living and participate in rehabilitation initiatives,” said Sunkuli.

He was speaking in Nairobi during the Fifteenth Session of the Committee of Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which concluded last week.

Afforestration, he noted, will mainly be done in the country’s arid and semiarid areas which make up 80 percent of Kenya’s land cover, although other areas of the country to are being targeted too.

To succeed in its ambitious endeavour, Sunkuli said Kenya is implementing a programme to promote drought-tolerant tree species such Melia volkensii (locally known as Mukau) in the country’s vast drylands to increase forest cover.

Indeed, Kenya is heavily investing in research into drought resistant trees to enhance afforestration of dry lands and improve livelihoods. At Tiva in the dry Kitui County, eastern Kenya, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) has established a research centre to breed tree species ideal for planting in arid and semiarid areas. The centre is supported by the government in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

James Ndufa, director of the Drylands Eco-region Research Programme (DERP) at KEFRI, says growing population and conversion of forest into farms has led to unsustainable land use, thus contributing to land degradation and desertification.

Ndufa says the Tiva centre focuses on developing drought-tolerant trees for adaptation to climate change in dry lands. “Breeding is done to adapt tree species to much warmer and drier weather conditions linked to climate change,” he says.

Breeding is undertaken by the conventional method of selecting better performing trees. Ndufa says they intend to provide farmers with genetically improved seeds that are drought-tolerant, fast growing and produce quality timber in addition to fodder for livestock. This, he says, will eventually aid in rehabilitation of degraded land and conserve biodiversity.

DNA analysis is undertaken during selection and grafting is done to achieve desired results. They thus have established a seed orchard and progeny test site for Melia (Mukau) and acacia species.

The project, which started in 2012, gives genetically improved seeds of the two species to farmers. Apart from JICA, Kenya Forest Research Institute’s partners in the project are Kenya Forest Services, local universities, the Japan-based Forest and Forest Products Research Institute as well as the country’s Kyushu University.

The centre is located in a semiarid area that receives just 700 ml of rain per year. Farmers have meagre harvests and as a result they put pressure on natural resources by overexploiting them. Ndufa says the communities depend on cutting trees for charcoal sold in places such as Kenya’s capital Nairobi, leading to deforestation and land degradation.

Others wantonly harvest sand thus affecting the vegetation and causing land degradation. He adds that Mukau timber fetches 100 Kenyan shillings (one US dollar) per foot. “Approximately 400 trees can be grown on one hectare and when mature can yield between two million to two and half million Kenya Shillings (USD 200 -250,000),” he says .

According to Ndufa, the two tree species they are targeting have been overharvested. Mukau, whose wood is red in colour, is equivalent in value to mahogany and preferred by furniture makers, while acacia species are treasured for charcoal.

The aim is to develop fast-growing trees that can be ready for harvest in 15 to 20 years. Some 3,000 Mukau trees and 1,000 acacias have been planted on 100 hectares at the Tiva research site. About 2,500 kilogrammes of seeds have so far been collected.

They are also exploring breeding varieties from the two species which can retain leaves for a long period to serve as fodder for livestock such as goats. The project is also undertaking extension work to distribute seeds and create awareness about the trees using field trips, agriculture shows and field days.

The trees are easy to manage so women famers are increasingly adopting them. Veronica Kioko, a resident of Kitui county, says low adoption rates in some areas could be linked to food insecurity and poverty.

She said that although farmers have been educated about the benefits of the trees, they find waiting for 15 to 20 years for trees to mature before harvesting difficult. She says trees are mainly cut for making charcoal before they fully mature.

The situation is exacerbated by drought and hunger and fuelled by the overall state of poverty in the region. “People usually go without food when seasons fail, and without money they cut trees for charcoal and sell it cheaply,” said Kioko.

In terms of acacia breeds, Ndufa says the aim is to develop a variety that produces a lot of pods, branches and leaves to feed goats and camels apart from timber.

Frank Msafiri, chair of the Kenya chapter of the East African Sustainability (SusWatch) network made up of nongovernmental organisations from East Africa, says large-scale national and cross border interventions are necessary to combat desertification and land degradation.

He says high levels of poverty, low water availability, deforestation and land degradation are fuelling conflicts among communities.

“Players from sectors such as water, forest, agriculture and research bodies in Africa should not pursue conflicting strategies. They should harmonise their strategies under the umbrella of sustainable land management,” stresses Msafiri.

Speaking during the CRIC 15 in Nairobi, Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said many countries engaged in land restoration have recorded positive results. Giving the example of Ethiopia, she said the land restored under that plan withstood the El Nino-related drought that affected eastern and southern Africa for the last year.

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Social Media Becomes Mugabe’s Nightmare Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:18:40 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

President Robert Mugabe. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English/cc by 2.0

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Oct 25 2016 (IPS)

In a WhatsApp video that went viral in September, a middle-aged Zimbabwean man addresses President Robert Mugabe, telling him that 90 percent of the people in the country are unemployed and do not contribute to the economy because Mugabe cannot provide jobs.

You are assaulting children for expressing their heartfelt disappointment because of your misrule. We are tired of that,“ the man continues, speaking about high-level corruption, injustice and police brutality, and deteriorating social service delivery.

He asks Mugabe: “You wear spectacles, but you can’t see. How many spectacles do you need to see that you are destroying the country?

In a country that reportedly suppresses the traditional media, Zimbabweans have found another way to communicate their frustrations towards the government.

Social media platforms as well as texting services such as WhatsApp have become steadily more popular as means to criticise, but also address Mugabe, who appears to not be easily accessible to ordinary citizens.

The use of social media has especially increased after evangelical pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video earlier this year in April in which he appeared with the national flag around his neck, criticizing the government’s economic strategy.

The video led to the larger social media campaign #ThisFlag in which thousands of Zimbabweans participated, bringing the situation the country into the international spotlight and reaching millions of people on a global level, much to the displeasure of Mugabe.

By using the internet to communicate, Zimbabweans become empowered to relatively safely speak out against the government, and at the same time, state propaganda starts to lose its effectiveness.

The worsening economic situation in Zimbabwe has led to multiple protests against the president and his government. Depending on the source, estimates of Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate range from 4 per cent to 95 per cent, many of the figures not being backed up by reliable data.

Given the precarious state of the economy, unemployment levels however are certainly high.

Economic growth decreased from 3.8 per cent in 2014 to an estimated 1.5 per cent in 2015. Large public expenditures, underperformance of domestic revenues and low export figures have increased the state dept and have had a negative effect on urban development such as housing and transport, as well as social services.

In July, countless Zimbabweans gathered to protest against these issues. Since then, unrest has spread across the whole country.

The Zimbabwean government in return has been accused of blocking social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp to prevent people from gathering to protest.

Zimbabwe, constitutionally a republic, has been under the control of President Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) since the country’s independence in 1980. While the latest presidential and parliamentary elections were held without violence, the process remained neither fair nor credible.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mugabe’s government has been accused of routinely violating human rights. Abduction, arrest, torture and harassment, as well as restrictions on civil liberties such as freedom of expression are daily practices, Human Rights Watch says.

Under Mugabe’s regime, hundreds of civil society activists and members of opposition parties have been arrested for holding meetings or participating in peaceful protests. Newspapers viewed as critical of the government are repressed, journalists silenced, and the ‘Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act’ established, making the practice of journalism without accreditation a criminal offence which can be punished by up to two years in prison.

The Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper with a critical view of Mugabe’s government, had to shut down in 2001 after a bomb exploded in its printing plant, and it failed to receive a government licence needed to publish content legally.

Acknowledging the threat social media poses to his government, Mugabe has activated laws that limit the free flow of information and subject private communication to state surveillance.

At the same time, he warns his citizens against abusing social media, threatening that all SIM cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user, and perpetrators could easily be identified. Any person caught in possession of, generating or passing on what Mugabe calls abusive, threatening or offensive content aimed at creating unrest or inciting violence will be arrested.

Wanting to use social media to his own advantage, Mugabe has called on the youth of his ZANU-PF to promote the ruling party using social media platforms: “Brand Zimbabwe, the image of Zimbabwe, a Zimbabwe that is democratic, hardworking and peaceful.”

The dissemination of regime-critical content through social media, however, appears to be a Pandora’s Box that may prove impossible to close.

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How to Save Thousands of Children’s Lives Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:41:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable, and humanitarian aid agencies need to be able to respond immediately to save their lives.

In order to help save thousands of children’s lives during catastrophic disasters, the IKEA Foundation has signed agreements with two of the world’s foremost humanitarian aid organisations.

For this purpose, the Foundation on 17 October signed framework agreements with Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) that will enable the organisations to access the funding they need right after a disaster strikes.

Protecting children in the deadliest disasters

As climate change wreaks bigger and more frequent disasters, Save the Children’s teams are working around the world to help children access their rights to protection, healthcare, education, and child-friendly spaces in which to play.

The IKEA Foundation’s new agreement will give Save the Children access to up to 2 million euro within 72 hours of a category-one disaster—an extraordinary emergency affecting more than one million children and causing widespread destruction.

Save the Children will use the funding to quickly and efficiently help children and their families survive the unthinkable and begin to recover in the months that follow.

“Save the Children is tremendously excited to deepen our relationship with the IKEA Foundation, and even more so, to further our mutual commitment to do whatever it takes to save children’s lives in emergencies around the world. Quite simply, rapid response save children’s lives,” said Daniele Timarco, Humanitarian Director Save the Children.

“This partnership, allowing for substantial and immediate funding of emergency response, allows us the flexibility to immediately begin our work on the ground, Timarco added.

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

“I hear repeatedly from seasoned response workers around the world that this is the kind of partnership we need to take humanitarian response to the next level. On behalf of Save the Children, I want to thank the IKEA Foundation for partnering with us and driving innovation in the sector.”

Providing medical care during “unseen” disasters

Around the world, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gives medical care to thousands of families suffering from disasters that receive little or no international media attention and for which it is difficult to raise support.

Thanks to this new agreement with the IKEA Foundation, MSF will be able to access emergency grants of up to 3 million euro to help children and their families survive these disasters.

“Emergency humanitarian action often happens in places the world seems to have forgotten, in places that are hard to reach for journalists,” explains Bruno Jochum, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The IKEA Foundation grants will help our teams provide lifesaving medical care and, in so doing, show the families caught in these crises that we’re trying to support them in their time of greatest need.”

Save the Children is one of the IKEA Foundation’s longest-running partnerships, and the two organisations have teamed up to help children enjoy their rights in dozens of countries, including during disasters such as typhoons and flooding in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The IKEA Foundation and MSF have partnered since 2013 to bring lifesaving medical care to people suffering in conflicts and disasters, including those wounded in Syria. The IKEA Foundation gave its largest single emergency donation ever—5 million euro—to Médecins Sans Frontières to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing funding in crisis areas and tackling climate change are critical to achieving this goal. That’s why it’s crucial that we give organisations such as Save the Children the resources they need to save children’s lives and help families rebuild in the wake of catastrophes.

“Our agreement with MSF is a unique way of ensuring families trying to survive unseen emergencies can get the medical care they desperately need. We know there are huge gaps in humanitarian funding, and those gaps are more than simply academic; they cost people their lives,” he added.

“With our funding, we hope not only to help MSF save lives but also to create visibility for disasters that receive little or no international media attention and to mobilise other donors to support children who need it the most.”

Read more about the IKEA Foundation’s support for children in emergencies.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papua Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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Limitless Cigars and Rum for U.S. Tourists in Cuba Sun, 23 Oct 2016 12:47:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

After more than a half-century of a commercial, financial and economic embargo, U.S.-Cuban trade relations took a significant step forward this month.

On Oct. 14, the Barack Obama administration announced a round of executive actions designed to increase trade and travel with Cuba. One of these included lifting restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars for U.S. travelers in Cuba.

The executive actions were taken following a series of changes made since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were committed to normalise relations after decades of enmity.

The lifting of trade restrictions signifies the willingness of both policymakers and the public to form a positive relationship between the U.S and Cuba. Many hope the breakdown of trade barriers will lead to a new era of economic vitality for Cuban citizens.

The Obama administration has called for a rescinding of the 50-year-old economic embargo on the island. The U.S. administration’s ultimate goal would be to make Obama’s trade policy with Cuba irreversible through the establishment of a wide network of trade relationships strong enough to defeat any future opposition from the public or Republican lawmakers alike.

Although lifting restrictions on cigars and rum may seem like a small step, these reforms could pave the road to open trade between the nations. There is just as much demand in Cuba for U.S commodities such as rice, wheat, and corn as there is in the U.S. for organic fruit, seafood and sugar produced in Cuba. With over 11 million citizens just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Cuba presents itself as a prosperous market for U.S food and agricultural exports.

Advocates of normalising trade relations say it would not only enhance Cuban citizens access to affordable food, it will also provide the U.S agri-business sector with a host of new trade opportunities with the island nation. Lifted restrictions will also make it easier for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals and for Cuban citizens to purchase affordable, high-quality products from the U.S online.

“The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew explained in a statement.

“Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contract, and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.”

Many believe this lift could rebuild the booming rum and cigar trade relations the U.S. shared with Cuba in the past. In fact, cigars are widely considered to be Cuba’s most prized export. The island is renowned for being one of the world’s best tobacco producers.

In the 18th century, tobacco was the second most exported product in the nation, after sugar. Before the embargo, the U.S and Cuba shared a close trade relationship with the U.S having consumed some 300 million Cuban cigars by the mid-19th century, and many Cuban cigar-makers migrating to nearby Florida, where Tampa became known as “Cigar City” by the early 20th century.

Now, U.S citizens can also enjoy the limitless consumption of what has made Cuba’s known as the ‘Isle of Rum’. Through an age-old tradition of rum-making using a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban “Maestro Roneros” (master rum-makers) this distinctly Cuban beverage is sought after the world over.

Lawrence Ward, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, an international law firm focused on U.S. national security law, international trade compliance law and licensing, said that, “Today’s announcement is a massive development in further opening trade between the United States and Cuba. The Obama Administration has been committed to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations and these new changes come at an interesting time when U.S.-Russian relations are quite tense.”

Ward added that Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought after commodities for U.S. tourists to bring home for personal use.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Governments and Social Movements Disagree on Future of Cities Fri, 21 Oct 2016 22:12:36 +0000 Emilio Godoy Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development and the alternative forums held by social organisations ended in the Ecuadorean capital with opposing visions regarding the future of cities and the fulfillment of rights in urban areas.

On Thursday Oct. 20, the representatives of 195 countries taking part in the Habitat III conference adopted the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, after four days of deliberations.

The basis of the declaration, also known as the New Urban Agenda, is the promotion of sustainable urban development, inclusive prosperity, and spatial development planning.“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes.” -- Fernando Carrión

In the 23-page declaration, the states commit themselves to fighting poverty, inequality and discrimination; improving urban planning; and building cities with resilience to climate change.

At the same time, academics and social movements laid out their visions of social development of cities in two alternative social forums held parallel to the Oct. 17-20 summit, criticising Habitat III’s approach to urbanisation and questioning how effectively it can be applied.

“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes,” Fernando Carrión, the Ecuadorean activist who headed the Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 social forum, told IPS.

During this parallel forum, held at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), some 140 speakers from 32 nations and 40 organisations from around the region discussed urban rights; the dialogue with local governments and social movements; housing and spatial justice, a term similar to the right to the city.

Habitat III, the cities summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, drew around 35,000 delegates of governments, non-governmental organisations, international bodies, universities, and companies, and gave rise to the New Urban Agenda, which is to chart the course of political action aimed at sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

After the United States and Europe, Latin America is the most urbanised part of the planet, as 80 percent of the region’s total population of 641 million people live in urban areas.

At least 104 million Latin Americans live in slums; worldwide the number of slum dwellers amounts to 2.5 billion, according to U.N.-Habitat.

This phenomenon poses the challenges of land title regularisation and the provision of basic services, while aggravating problems facing cities like pollution, increasing traffic, urban sprawl and inequality.

“We need to rethink how to organise cities. We have to organise and mobilise ourselves. We’re going to assess compliance by national and local governments, which are key, because many things will depend on their compliance,” Alison Brown, a professor at the University of Cardiff in the UK, told IPS.

 Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

The Quito Declaration drew criticism on some points. One of the main concerns that arose in the debates was about the “post-Quito” implementation of the commitments assumed by the states and social organisations.

The Habitat III accords “cannot generate the urban reforms that we need, such as integral access to land with services. That can only be achieved through struggle. It is local political participation that makes it possible to press for urban reform,” Isabella Goncalves, an activist with the Brazilian NGO Brigadas Populares, told IPS.

She attended the Oct. 14-20 Resistance to Habitat III social forum, which brought together delegates from about 100 social organisations from 35 nations to address issues such as opposition to evictions, the promotion of social housing, and defending the right to the city.

In its final declaration, the social forum called for strengthening the movements defending the right to land and territory and respect for the universal right to housing, and questioned Habitat III for pushing for urbanisation to the detriment of rural areas and their inhabitants.

The Habitat International Coalition criticised the New Urban Agenda’s “narrow vision”, and lamented that Habitat III had forgotten about protecting people from forced eviction and about the need to fight the shortage of housing and to achieve the right to universal housing.

It also urged countries to “regulate global financial transactions; end or limit opaque speculative financial instruments; steeply tax real-estate speculation; regulate rents; enhance the social tenure, production and financing of housing and habitat; and prevent privatisation of the commons, which is subject to attack under the neoliberal development model.”

Academics and social movements want to avoid a repeat of what happened post-Habitat II, which was held in 1996 in Istanbul, and whose implementation lacked follow-up and evaluation.

For that reason, the organisers of Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 agreed on the creation of an observatory for monitoring the decisions reached, biannual meetings, wide publication of the results of research and follow-up on the progress made by cities.

The Quito Declaration mentions periodic reviews, and urges the U.N. secretary general to assess the progress made and challenges faced in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, in his quadrennial report in 2026.

The decade between the summit in Istanbul and the one held this week in Quito serves as a demonstration of what could happen with the New Urban Agenda.

The Global Urban Futures Project’s Habitat Commitment Index, presented during Habitat III, shows how little has been achieved since 1996.

Between Habitat I, held in 1976 in Vancouver, and Habitat II, the global average score in terms of fulfillment of the commitments assumed was 68.68, according to the Project, a network of academics and activists based at the New School University in New York City, which created the Index based on infrastructure, poverty, employment, sustainability, institutional capacity, and gender indicators.

But since the 1996 conference, the global average only increased by 1.49 points. Latin America and Southeast Asia increased their scores, while North and sub-Saharan Africa showed extremes in both directions, with large increases and decreases in HCI scores.” India made no progress, and China saw a “significant decline” in its score.

With respect to the different dimensions taken into account by the Index, the greatest progress was seen in gender, modest progress was seen in poverty and sustainability, and minimal progress was seen in infrastructure.

“We didn’t manage to get a citizen monitoring mechanism or advisory committee included in the New Urban Agenda,” Luis Bonilla of El Salvador, who is the chief operating officer for TECHO International, told IPS.

“For that reason, we will create a follow-up mechanism. Concrete commitments are needed” within the agenda, he added.

Carrión, a professor at FLACSO and a coordinator of working groups in the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLASCO), said “the attention of many organisations was drawn, and now we will see what can be done from here on out.” For social movements, then, Quito marked the start of a long road ahead.

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Student Struggle in South Africa Gains Momentum Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:45 +0000 Desmond Latham Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

By Desmond Latham

When #FeesMustFall began to trend on social media platforms in South Africa in October 2015, government shrugged it off as an example of isolated hotheads, while political pundits predicted the student campaign wouldn’t last.

But a year later and the protest movement has gained traction across the country, with all major tertiary institutions partly shut down or barely functioning, and civil society warning that the effect on various sectors of the economy will carry over to 2017.Black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

In the latest action, hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday, Oct. 20, and called on government to take their complaints about the high cost of education seriously.

The University of the Witwatersrand student movement began in 2015 when students shut down the campus on the eve of exams after it was announced that fees would increase by 10.5 percent in 2016, citing the weak rand which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015 as one of the main reasons.

Since then protestors have taken aim at government as well as their local institutions and have called for action against the ruling African National Congress after its leaders told the country’s parliament this week that education could not be “a free for all”.

Posters emerged of students calling for the ruling party to “Fxxx Off” and the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be fired. Speaking to media on Oct. 14, Nzimande said government could not afford free education demands.

“In South Africa it is the taxpayers who give you money up-front and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others,” he said. “Somebody is paying… So we must understand these slogans properly.”

Students have rejected this view and mediation between the students and state by church and other NGO’s has failed so far. South Africa spends 5.4 percent of its 100-billion-dollar budget on education, and earlier in 2016 allocated an additional 1.1 billion for higher education over the next three years, with 400 million specifically aimed at keeping fees for tertiary institutions as low as possible. However, this has failed to address the students’ demands.

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

The call for education to be free comes as South Africa’s economy flounders and its currency, the rand, lost a third of its value against the U.S. dollar. The country’s high youth unemployment rate of over 45 percent has exacerbated the problem, while South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world in terms of the rich/poor divide.

The Wits Student Representative Council warned that its members can no longer afford the tuition fees and early memoranda included the demand for free education, the scrapping of registration fees and for all security forces to vacate the university campus.

But arson has been reported at the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, Cape Town University and a host of other small campus around South Africa. End of year exams have been affected and the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences has suspended its academic year.

An impasse has now developed, with government saying it can’t allow unruly elements to destroy property and stepping up the number of police patrolling these venues.

Students have long led the struggle for change in the country. The most famous example is the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid linked to Afrikaans being used in education. Twenty-two years after democracy, students once again are making themselves heard and are focusing on higher education.

While making up around 80 percent of the population, black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

But the protest movement has gained impetus in recent months and government has been largely unable to cope with the increased violence associated with the uprising. South African police officers have also claimed that criminals have infiltrated the protest movement, with a few to cashing in on the chaos.

‘‘It is evident that criminality has taken advantage of young people in the universities under the disguise of the #FeesMustFall initiative,” said police chief Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Oct. 6, although he provided no substantive proof to back up this view.

The state has also hardened its attitude toward the students, and succeeded in having former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamimi denied bail during a court hearing on Oct. 19 in Johannesburg. He’s charged with malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after footage emerged of Dlamini allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He’s also accused of ignoring a previous court order obtained by Wits University to restrain students from disrupting normal activity.

The protest has turned more violent with a security guard battling for his life after being beaten by youths in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg the head of the local Fees Must Fall organisation, Shaeera Kalla, was rushed to hospital on Oct. 20 after being shot numerous times with rubber bullets.

Soon after, Kalla thanked supporters on her Facebook page and vowed: “Even as we sit in hospital beds and others languish in prisons, I take strength from students across the country who are continuing the fight. Onwards and Upwards. Towards the immediate realisation of free, quality and decolonized education now.”

In a statement earlier in the week, the Wits SRC warned that “as the days go on, the brutality against students and repression at our universities continues to increase. Since Friday night, the levels of violence at Wits University have increased. Students, regardless of their involvement in the protest action, are being violated in ways we thought were unimaginable in a post-apartheid South Africa.”

The students have called on members of the public to denounce “the apartheid tactics that are being used, to speak out against the violations and brutality” while reiterating that their call for “free, quality, equal and decolonized education” was a legitimate one.

Civil society leaders, including the Council of Churches, have been mediating between the two sides and continue to try to solve what is now being called an impasse.

An inter-ministerial committee on university fees was set up by government but it initially only included the Higher Education Minister and leaders of the security cluster managed by President Jacob Zuma.

Finally, on Thursday, following the upsurge in violence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was added to the list, which is regarded as a crucial step in order for the state to approach international donors of the bond market in order to find cash to cover student demands.

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Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazil Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Privatization the Problem, Rarely the Solution Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:02:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

Privatization has been one of the pillars of the counter-revolution against development economics and government activism from the 1980s. Many developing countries were forced to accept privatization as a condition for support from the World Bank while many other countries have embraced privatization, often on the pretext of fiscal and debt constraints.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Privatization generally refers to changing the status of a business, service or industry from state, government or public ownership to private control. It sometimes also refers to the use of private contractors to provide services previously delivered by the public sector.

Privatization can be strictly defined to include only cases of the sale of 100%, or at least a majority share of a public or state-owned enterprise (SOE), or its assets, to private shareholders. The definition of privatization in some contexts is so broad that it includes cases where private enterprises are awarded licences to participate in activities previously the exclusive preserve of the public sector.

Why the turn to privatization?
The balance of payments problems arising from oil shocks in the 1970s and the US Fed’s increase of the interest rate to well over 20% precipitated sovereign debt crises in Latin America and elsewhere from the early 1980s, forcing many developing countries to seek credit support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The World Bank and IMF’s ‘neo-liberal’ policy prescriptions involved liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Collectively, they later came to be known as the Washington Consensus to refer to the common position of three Washington DC based institutions – the US Treasury, the IMF and the World Bank.

Main arguments for privatization
Privatization was advocated as an easy means to:
1) reduce the ‘financial and administrative burden of the government’, particularly in undertaking and maintaining services and infrastructure;
2) ‘promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity’ in the delivery of public services;
3) ‘stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment’, and thus accelerate economic growth;
4) help reduce ‘the presence and size of the public sector, with its monopolistic tendencies and bureaucratic support’.

Public or consumer welfare
Since a significant portion of state-run activities are public monopolies, privatization will hand over such monopoly powers to private interests likely to use them to maximize profits. The privatization of public services tends to burden the public, especially if charges are raised for privatized services which may not improve with privatization.

Private interests are only interested in profitable or potentially profitable activities and enterprises. Thus, the government will be saddled with unprofitable and less profitable activities, reinforcing the impression of SOE inefficiencies. Consequently, privatization may worsen overall enterprise performance. ‘Value for money’ may go down, despite improvements used to justify higher user charges.

Privatization in many developing and transition economies has primarily enriched a few with strong political connections who ‘captured’ lucrative opportunities associated with privatization, while the public interest has been increasingly sacrificed to such powerful private business interests. This has, in turn, exacerbated problems of corruption, patronage and other related problems.

Adverse consequences
Some other adverse consequences of privatization include:
– The social and political implications of two types of services, i.e. one for those who can afford more costly, private – including privatized – services, and the other for those who cannot, and hence have to continue to rely on subsidized public services, e.g. medical services and education.
– The effects of minimal long-term investments by private owners narrowly focused on maximizing short-term profits.
– Increased living costs as well as poorer services and utilities – especially in remote and rural areas – due to ‘economic costing’ of services, e.g. telecommunications, water supply and electricity.
– Reduced jobs, overtime work and real wages for employees of privatized concerns.

Flawed arguments
Arguments for privatization can be refuted on the following grounds:
• The public sector can be more efficiently run, as demonstrated in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
• Greater public accountability and a more transparent public sector can ensure greater efficiency in achieving the public and national interest while limiting public-sector waste and borrowing.
• Privatization may postpone a fiscal crisis by temporarily reducing fiscal deficits, but the public sector would lose income from profitable public sector activities, and be stuck with financing and subsidizing unprofitable ones. As experience shows, the fiscal crisis may even deepen if the new owners of profitable SOEs avoid paying taxes with creative accounting or due to the typically generous terms of privatization.
• Privatization gives priority to profit maximization, typically at the expense of social welfare, equity and the public interest. It tends to adversely affect the interests of public-sector employees and the public, especially poorer consumers.
• Public pressure to ensure the equitable distribution of share ownership (e.g., ‘voucher privatization’) may inadvertently undermine pressures to improve corporate performance since each shareholder would then only have small equity stakes, and would therefore be unlikely to incur the high costs of monitoring management and corporate performance.
• By diverting private capital from productive new investments to buying over public sector assets, economic growth would be retarded rather than enhanced.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticism Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Big Powers Set to Grab High Level UN Posts Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:27:32 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, takes office as the new UN Secretary General on January 1, his top management team is likely to be dominated by nominees from the five big powers, namely the US, Britain, France, China and Russia (P5).

As befits tradition, the current management team of mostly Under-Secretaries-Generals (USGs) will submit their resignations – providing Guterres with a clean state before he takes over.

Asked about the longstanding custom, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “I believe there is a tradition for the most senior officials, like USGs, to turn in resignations.”

But heads of UN agencies, he pointed out, “are approved by the boards of those respective agencies for fixed terms, which do not necessarily end now, so they would continue on for the duration of their terms.”

According to an equally longstanding tradition, the P5 stake their claims to some of the most powerful jobs in the Organization, heading UN Departments overseeing Political Affairs, Peacekeeping, Economic and Social Affairs, Management and Humanitarian Affairs.

“For big powers, these high level posts are considered their political and intellectual birthrights,” said an Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

James Paul, who served for nearly 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum tracking the politics of the United Nations, told IPS that from the earliest days of the UN, the P5 have greatly influenced the selection of high-level posts in the Secretariat.

In theory, he said, the Secretary General fills these posts independently, drawing on the best candidates worldwide. The Charter mandates independence of UN staff from government interference.

Ban once told the press, he makes high-level appointments “in a transparent and competitive manner, based on merit, while taking geographical and gender balance into account.” In practice, key appointments are made quite differently.

Paul said the P5 carefully vet these appointments and in certain posts they literally name their own appointees. “Under this system, departments have been virtual fiefdoms, controlled over long periods,” he noted.

For the UN’s first 46 years, through a total of 14 appointees, the Under Secretary General heading the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) was always a citizen of the former Soviet Union (now Russian Federation).

Even former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld “named” a Russian to the post – or to be more accurate, accepted the Russian nominee. The US had its own fief over an equally long period, he added.

Paul said that after the end of the Cold War, Russian clout diminished. The Brits took over the DPA post for 13 years, through two appointees. Now, he pointed out, the United States has taken over the appointment, controlling it for the past eight years, through two appointees. “A US fiefdom is clearly in the making”.

Meanwhile, the Brits have been in charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since 2005, through eleven years and three appointees. “A UK fiefdom is definitely in place.”

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS that an incoming Secretary-General (SG) might want to appoint his/her own team of managers because he/she would prefer to have people who can be trusted in senior positions.

“SGs tend to appoint their closest confidants to senior positions in the inner cabinet. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that a new SG would want to continue with the same team of managers who served under Ban Ki-moon.”

Importantly, said Kohona, promises may have been made to influential countries in exchange for their support in the lead up to the appointment of the SG. These need to be honoured.

“Despite every effort made to ensure a more equitable representation of the Member States of the UN in senior positions, certain posts tend to be given to specific nationalities or to certain regional groups,” said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

For example, he singled out peacekeeping, political affairs, legal and humanitarian affairs. “While past appointees could be described as competent, there is no logical reason for perpetuating such a monopoly in a body that aspires to be truly representative.”

The current practice also enables the countries or groups concerned to influence UN activities to reflect their own interests, despite the requirement to maintain neutrality. While merit alone cannot be the only criterion, the need to be representative, must be, Kohona argued.

“Having emerged from within the Secretariat, Kofi Annan could be said to have been more sensitive to the wishes of the staff than Ban Ki-moon. Both attempted to reform the administration to be more reflective of contemporary needs. Both achieved limited success. Much remains to be done. “

A new SG must consider Secretariat reform to be a priority. There is no doubt that the Secretariat must reflect the needs of the contemporary world, and its attitudes and practices must be upgraded to ensure the more efficient delivery of services. Inevitably, the Secretariat will be asked to deliver more with less, he noted.

The selection of appropriate top managers will be a critical element in implementing the necessary changes, Kohona declared.

Paul told IPS France is seigneur of one of the most visible and long-lasting recent fiefdoms in the Secretariat. A French diplomat has now been chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations for nearly twenty years, through four successive appointees and two successive Secretaries General.

He said the Department’s culture has come to be visibly French and many of the appointees at a senior level have been French citizens or those of francophone countries.

“DPKO is a highly-prized position, since peacekeeping is a bigger-ticket operation that all the UN departments put together. France is happy to have such a top post under its control.”

Such fiefdoms, he said, do not mean that the incumbents are always less than competent or that they are automatically highly biased. Some appointees, however, would fit that description. The overall record is mixed, he noted.

“The system as a whole increases unfairness and dishonesty in the appointment system, greatly reinforces the control of the P-5 and tends towards mediocrity in the UN’s highest offices.”

Among the UN diplomatic community, such P5 leverage over top appointments is an open secret and cause for occasional fury, said Paul.

“Even the most effective incumbents serving in these P5-controlled posts symbolize a system of disregard for the Charter, disrespect for the opinions of other nations, and contempt for the very idea of neutrality of the international civil service,” declared Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) who once headed the Department of Public Information told IPS for at least the first five SGs, it was indeed a traditional step for all USG’s to submit their resignations to allow for a new team.

They were mostly USGs who were Heads of Departments; others with similar rank were designated for special assignments, leaving after a specific accomplishment or lack of feasible outcome; an honorable example was Gunnar Jarring who made seven attempts to implement resolution 242 on the Middle East.

“Now there are dozens of envoys hanging around for years– -some for decades— on the pretext of pursuing a vague resolution or perplexed action,” said Sanbar, who served under five different Secretaries-Generals.

“It erodes the credibility of both the UN, its member states openly seeking posts, however symbolic.”.

“In the interest of a credible dynamic UN, it will be crucial for the new SG to announce new guidelines on senior appointments, limit their framework and-most important-maintain the position designated by the Charter as Chief Administrative Officer leading a dedicated competent International Civil Service, a unique UN asset,” declared Sanbar.

The writer can be contacted at

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