Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 Aug 2016 14:36:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 UN Negotiations Focus on What Lies Beneath the High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:12:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146719 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/feed/ 0 Migrant Labour Fuels Tensions in Mauritiushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/migrant-labour-fuels-tensions-in-mauritius/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:44:35 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146714 Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Workers from Bangladesh in Mauritius. Many fall into debt to pay for their travel, yet find it almost impossible to save any money despite working long hours. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

They come from Bangladesh, China, India and Madagascar, mainly to run the machines in the textile industry here. But they do all kinds of other jobs too, from masons to bakers, house cleaners and gardeners.

For the eight consecutive year in 2016, the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report ranked Mauritius first among African economies, and its GDP per capita was over 16,820 dollars, one of the highest in Africa. But there is a darker side to the success of this upper middle income island nation in the Indian Ocean, situated about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent.“The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector." -- Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo

“Living like animals”

Local enterprises rely on foreign workers because Mauritians are increasingly reluctant to work long hours under difficult conditions. But these foreigners live in very poor conditions and in many cases, in human indignity.

Thirty-six-year-old Bangladeshi Maqbool* left his wife and two children back home in Dhaka two years ago and came to work in the manufacturing sector in Mauritius, hoping to earn enough money to offer a decent life to his family.

“I paid 150,000 takkas (about 2,000 dollars) to an agent who got me this job. I was supposed to get 675 dollars a month, which represents a huge amount in my country, and I was ready for any sacrifice to earn it,” he said. To his bitter disappointment, he earns only about half of that.

Foreign workers all have such stories to tell. They take loans or sell the family’s lands or jewelry to pay for their travel to Mauritius. “The island is very beautiful but there is no money here. I run short of money every month after paying for my own expenses. I send some to the family every three months and I save nothing,” adds Massood*.

Both men are frustrated as they have to leave the island in a couple of months and they have yet to save any money to take back home.

Running away from poverty

Poverty, unemployment and the rising costs of living in their home countries force thousands of Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians and also Malagasy people to look for jobs abroad. About 40,000 of them already work in the manufacturing sector, the construction industry, hotels, transport and also in the seafood hub. They start work very early in the morning and finish up very late at night. They are forced to do overtime and do not earn more than a 150 dollars a month.

A local welfare officer from a well-known textile enterprise confirms under condition of anonymity that the foreigners work night and day with little time for rest and live and sleep in unhygienic dormitories with just a cupboard and a thin mattress full of fleas and bugs.

“I feel sorry for them. They live like animals and are helpless. They accept things as they are,” he told IPS.

Those who resist or cause trouble on their worksites are sent back home. Hundreds of them faced this fate last year after they took to the streets demanding better wages and protesting against their working conditions. Even though, says trade unionist Feisal Ally Beegun, these migrants are exemplary workers.

Still, some of them claim they are happy. “Please sir, tell them to give me more work and more money, no fuss about it,” one Bangladeshi worker pleaded with IPS, while others working at the Compagnie Mauricienne du Textile (CMT), which employs a few thousand expatriates, ran away upon seeing journalists.

A security guard posted at the gate of this factory in Phoenix, in the centre of the island, revealed that the foreigners have had so many problems with their employer and the police last year that they now refuse to talk to the media.

Source of irritation

The antipathy of the locals for the textile and manufacturing sector and for low-paid jobs has resulted in the import of labour to keep the wheels of the island’s industry turning. They were first brought in 1992 as a temporary measure as the industry moved from labour-intensive to capital-intensive manufacture.

Twenty-five years later, they are still here and the government believes they add value to the island’s economy by helping the factories deliver on time and also help in keeping the locals’ jobs.

Trade unionist Reeaz Chuttoo begs to disagree. “The government argues that foreigners are hired because the locals refuse the jobs. The truth is the government itself discourages the locals by introducing a four-month short-term contract, for example, in the construction sector, which the Mauritians refuse. In the seafood hub, foreigners are hired only for the night shift because no local does it.

“So the locals prefer to hawk cheap imported goods on the street rather than working long and late hours, even if they have to run from the police,” he says.

Chuttoo warns that a social explosion is in the making, with high unemployment, too many foreign workers and not enough jobs for the locals. “Mauritius is already invaded by a feeling of xenophobia and racism towards foreign workers,” he adds.

Jaynarain Mathurah, director at the Special Expatriate Unit of the Labour and Industrial Relations Ministry, brushes aside these allegations, arguing that foreign workers enjoy the same working conditions as the locals.

“We do not discriminate between them. The free zone manufacturing sector is governed by a remuneration order that is applied to all. Above this, there is a Special Migrant Workers Unit that take care of these migrants and it intervenes very fast with the employers when a problem arises,” he told IPS.

He believes the foreigners are well treated but agrees that “seeing their number, it happens that we are unable to visit them as often as we would have liked.”

“We believe they are well-off regarding their wages and their working and living conditions. Apart from their wages, they also get accommodation, food and transport,” he added.

According to him, low-paid jobs are common in developing countries where the free zone manufacturing sector has been introduced in a bid to create jobs. Investors are always looking for cheap and skilled labour and right now many enterprises in Mauritius plan to expand their activities and they need skilled labour.

“Where do I get them?” shouts a manager at Firemount Textiles in northern Mauritius.

Foreign workers will not stop coming to this island anytime soon, as they are needed to support its economic development in the absence of locals. They are now expected to increase in the agriculture and the ICT sectors.

*Names changed to protect their identities.

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UN Chief Laments Nuclear Dead Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-chief-laments-nuclear-dead-end/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:13:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146710 The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

The U.S. "Small Boy" nuclear test on July 14, 1962 at the Nevada Test Site. Credit: United States Department of Energy.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2016 (IPS)

As Ban Ki-moon readies to step down after completing his two term, 10-year tenure as UN Secretary-General on December 31, he regrets that one of his biggest single disappointments is the “lack of progress on eliminating nuclear weapons.”

A strong advocate of a “world without nuclear weapons,” Ban told a Security Council meeting on August 23 “the disarmament agenda has stalled in several areas,” including continued nuclear testing by North Korea and a proposed multi-billion dollar nuclear modernization programme in the United States.

It was disappointing that progress in eliminating nuclear weapons “had descended into a fractious deadlock, with the return of some of the discredited arguments used to justify nuclear weapons during the Cold War,” he complained.

Historically, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was a founding principle of the United Nations, and the subject of the first General Assembly resolution over 70 years ago.

Still, the UN continues its relentless campaign against nuclear weapons, including proliferation and testing, spearheaded by the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

On August 29, the world body commemorated its annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the result of a resolutioninitiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan to mark the voluntary closure of its Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

The global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests.

“When the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted by the UN and opened for signature in September 1996, it put a lid on over 2,000 nuclear tests.” said Dr Rebecca Johnson, author of “Unfinished Business”, the definitive analysis on the CTBT’s negotiations, published by the UN in 2009.

In many ways, she told IPS, the CTBT has been extremely successful, as only a handful of tests have occurred since, with India and Pakistan testing in May 1998 and North Korea conducting four tests since 2006.

Moreover the global verification system coordinated by the CTBT office (CTBTO) in Vienna has revolutionised warning systems for earthquakes and tsunami as well as detecting and identifying the very small underground tests by North Korea, said Dr. Johnson, who is also Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

John Hallam, a UN Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner with the Human Survival Project and also People for Nuclear Disarmament, told IPS the provisions for the Entry into Force of the CTBT specify that the Treaty can only enter into force if 44 (named) governments including those of the US, India, Pakistan, and China ratify it. But even 20 years after its initial signing in 1996, it has yet to officially enter into force.

This is in spite of the fact that the powerful network of monitoring stations that the CTBT sets up for the verification of the norm against nuclear testing is in full or almost full operation, he said. It has proved its worth by picking up even the smallest of the tests of the DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,(North Korea).

The US, though one of its original signers, has failed to ratify the CTBT because of Congressional opposition, largely from the Republican party, Hallam said.

China, as well as a number of other important countries, say they will ratify the CTBT as soon as the US does so, he added.

Hallam said a proposed UN Security Council resolution, to be initiated by the US, on banning nuclear tests has already provoked a furious reaction from Senate Republican  hardliners such as Senator Bob Corker (of Tennessee), who accuses the Obama administration of exceeding its powers and “going around the back” of the US Senate.

Corker also seems to believe that the 1999 US failure to ratify constitutes some kind of ‘unsigning’ of the CTBT, though it is nothing of the sort, he argued.

“As a signatory, the US continues to be bound by the CTBT’s provisions, and to benefit from the CTBT monitoring network,” Hallam noted.

Tariq Rauf, Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS the first nuclear explosive device was detonated on 16 July 1945 at the Alamogordo Test Range in the desert of New Mexico (USA).

In the intervening seven decades, nine different States have carried out 2,061 nuclear explosions polluting the world’s oceans, the atmosphere and the land with devastating health effects on many millions of people and the environment.

The Vienna-based United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have published scientific studies on the effects of ionizing radiation from nuclear test explosions.

Suffering from the radiological effects on human health and the environment, in 2009 Kazakhstan took the initiative in promoting the adoption of 29 August as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests by the United Nations General Assembly on 2 December 2009 through Resolution 64/35.

The Soviet Union had detonated 456 nuclear explosions at the Semipalatinsk Polygon nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, between 1949 and 1989, that led to lasting major genetic damage to the nearby population and contaminated thousands of hectares of land rendering it unusable for generations, said Rauf, who previously served as Expert Trainer at the CTBTO (2013) and Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination the International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011).

The other nuclear testing countries are: USA 1030; France 210, China and UK 45 each, India and Pakistan 6 each, the DPRK 4, and Israel 1 test (very likely).

Of the 2061 nuclear tests, 530 were detonated in the atmosphere resulting in the release of large quantities of radioactive materials, such as Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90.

North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in this century. Before declaring unilateral testing moratoria, the last nuclear explosive tests carried out were: by the USSR in 1990, the UK in 1991, the USA in 1992, China and France in 1996, and India and Pakistan in 1998 – North Korea has not yet announced an end to its nuclear testing.

Dr Johnson told IPS the test ban treaty lacks the final stamp of legal force because of diplomatic mistakes made in 1996, which set the barrier to entry into force far higher than any comparable treaty in history.

Any other agreement with the CTBT’s record, signed by over 180 countries and ratified by over 160, would be considered very successful.

To all legal, political and diplomatic intents and purposes, nuclear tests are completely banned, she noted.

“In context, we see treaties as legal and normative steps, not 100 percent guarantees, and so they all require constant political vigilance,” said Dr Johnson, who is also the UK Green Party Spokesperson on Security, Peace and Defence.

“With or without the final entry into force, we have to fully implement and enforce that ban, which also means putting pressure on the US, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and a couple of other hold-outs to join and ratify the treaty,” she declared.

The CTBT was an important step, and it will be greatly reinforced now the majority of states are recommending that negotiations start in 2017 on a more comprehensive legal instrument to prohibit all nuclear weapons.

That’s the next step, building on the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and CTBT, while also learning lessons from gaps left when those treaties were negotiated, Dr Johnson added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Drought Deals Harsh Blow to Cameroon’s Cocoa Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/drought-deals-harsh-blow-to-cameroons-cocoa-farmers/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:27:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146702 Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Six million Cameroonians depend on the cocoa sector for a living. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
KONYE, Cameroon, Aug 28 2016 (IPS)

Tanchenow Daniel fears he will lose more than half a tonne of his cocoa yield during the next harvest at the end of this month.

He usually harvests no less than 1.5 tonnes of cocoa beans during the mid-crop season, but he says every farmer in the Manyu Division of Cameroon’s South West Region is witnessing a catastrophe this year because of a prolonged dry season.

“The effects of droughts were worse this year because people had been ignorantly cutting down trees which provided shade to cocoa. Many trees have been dried up this year while bush fires dealt us a heavy blow,” Tanchenow told IPS, adding that though he is a victim, others have it even worse, including a friend who lost an entire farm of five hectares.

Adding insult to injury, prices fell in August, ranging from 1,000 CFA francs (1.72 dollars) per kg of cocoa to 1,200 CFA francs – down from prices as high as 1,700 CFA in July – with producers saying buying was delayed because of the drought.

Chief Orock Mbi of Meme division in Cameroon’s South West region tells IPS that he and other cocoa growers in the division also witnessed “a drastic drop” in cocoa yields in the past few months. He hopes for new methods to protect this key crop from the effects of climate change.

The South West Region of Cameroon is among the major cocoa-producing regions of Cameroon, along with the Center, East and South regions.

Data from the National Cocoa and Coffee Board suggests the drop in cocoa production was nationwide. The data indicates 7,610 tonnes of cocoa were exported in March. In April, the country exported 5,780 tonnes and the figure further dropped to 3,205 tonnes by the end of June.

Farmers pin hopes on cooperatives, new varieties

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest producer of cocoa. It has exported 239.7 million kgs this year of which 97 percent was grade II, according to statistics published on Aug. 3 by the Cocoa and Coffee Board.

The country’s minister of trade believes for this position to be maintained, farmers burdened by the undesirable effects of climate change must join cooperative unions. It is through these cooperative societies that government distributes farm inputs such as pesticides and improved variety seeds to smallholder farmers.

Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana addressed hundreds of farmers in Konye municipality on Aug. 3 as he launched the 2016/2017 cocoa marketing season.

He told the farmers in Cameroon’s third-largest cocoa producing locality that cooperative unions would help to constantly improve on the quality of their cocoa and protect them from deceitful cross-border buyers from neighbouring countries that pay them less than the worth of their produce.

Clementine Ananga Messina, Deputy Minister in charge of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says cooperatives would help farmers make the best of aid offered in their localities, boost their bargaining power and improve gains for the six million Cameroonians who depend on the cocoa sector for a living.

Besides distribution, cooperatives sensitise farmers on the use of new varieties and techniques.

Zachy Asek Ojong, manager of the Konye Area Farmers Cooperative, tells IPS they have provided immense support to local members. “Farmers can attest to the assistance they have had from the cooperative society,” says Ojong.

Esapa, president of South West Farmers’ Cooperative, says “cocoa farmers have never really witnessed the effects of climate change until this year. So now we are beginning to work with common initiative groups in sensitising farmers, especially cocoa and coffee growers.”

He tells IPS the cooperative is now, among other things, advising farmers who had cut down trees to replant them in order to shade their cocoa and coffee farms. “The sunshine this year was so wild that people who set fires on their farms ended up burning many other farms around them. We are reinforcing campaigns against bush fires,” he said.

Tanchenow says he has planted 4,000 cocoa trees of a new variety commonly called “Barombi,” a name coined from an organisation that introduced the variety in the division. He says that two years in, yields are better and “Barombi is the hope for our cocoa’s future.”

However, he does not trust cooperative societies and calls them unreliable and tainted by favoritism.

“People in my area who depended on them for pesticides were shocked to find out selected individuals were called up by a different organisation to receive farm inputs from the agriculture ministry,” Tanchenow complained.

Farmers fall ever deeper in debt

The National Cocoa and Coffee Board says Cameroon’s cocoa was exported to eight countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain –  with the Netherlands alone importing 76.30 percent.

Still, farmers in Konye live without roads and electricity and depend on solar energy and firewood for drying and processing their cocoa. Some of them prefer to hang onto old ways of financing and sales despite the advantages of adhering to cooperatives.

Edward Ekoko Bokoba tells IPS that many farmers still prefer “pledging” their farms as means of financing, while others operate outside the major buyers of cocoa.

“Climate change is impacting pledging negatively, but some farmers seem to trust the system more than the micro-loans from the cooperatives,” he says.

“Pledging” is a system where farmers sign agreements with individuals who pay for farm inputs or lend them money. At the end of the harvest and sales, the funder’s money is reimbursed with an agreed quantity of cocoa or cash in interest.

Bokoba, who currently is expecting profits from a “pledge,” says when the dry season is prolonged or when the weather is distorted, as was the case this year, farmers are forced to borrow more money and may end up handing over all their harvest to creditors.  Some creditors are cocoa merchants who claim exclusive rights to purchase all their debtor’s cocoa and by so doing, dictate the price.

Another farmer, Ako Kingsley Tanyi, says though government is condemning sales of cocoa to trans-border buyers, some farmers prefer to sell their cocoa to Nigerian buyers who pay better prices. “Cocoa sold to Nigerians does not go through the Douala seaport and government does not have the figures,” he explains.

The performance of Cameroon’s cocoa has been as unstable as weather conditions in recent years. And the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) forecasted in 2011 that climate change will lead to a global slump in cocoa production by the year 2030.

Many hope that relief might be forthcoming from the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to raise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate change adaptation and mitigation once their country-based COP21 plans have been fine-tuned.

CIAT, whose mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics, says the coffee and cocoa sectors could be the first to benefit from this fund.

In the same optimistic regard, Cameroon’s trade minister holds that government’s target to export 600,000 tonnes by 2020 would be met.

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Myanmar Turns to Kofi Annan for Help on Festering Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/myanmar-turns-to-kofi-annan-for-help-on-festering-rohingya-crisis/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 16:06:01 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146697 A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A young girl in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
YANGON/LONDON, Aug 27 2016 (IPS)

Myanmar’s government has responded to pressure from the international community to tackle religious tensions and persecution of Muslims in Rakhine State by appointing former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan to head a commission to advise on “a sustainable solution” to the crisis.

The northwest region bordering Bangladesh has been under close scrutiny from western governments and some U.N. agencies since clashes erupted in 2012 between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority."It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved..., but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism." -- Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project

The violence, in which extremist monks are accused by human rights observers of playing a role, resulted in over 200 deaths, mostly Muslims. Since then, more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined in IDP camps or ghettos. Access to medical treatment, education and jobs are so heavily compromised that thousands from the community have undertaken the risky journey to nearby southeast Asian countries, at the hands of human traffickers.

A 2015 boat people crisis laid bare the existence of mass graves near the border between Thailand and Malaysia, triggering a worldwide call for action to end the Rohingya persecution.

“The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution to the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that’s why it has formed an advisory commission,” the office of Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of government, said in a statement announcing Annan’s appointment on Aug. 24.

The Nobel peace laureate, who scored a landslide election victory in November 2015 and took office nearly five months ago, has until recently attracted criticism from outside Myanmar for her reluctance to address openly the issue. Fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, were notably critical last year.

Even as leader of the opposition to the previous military-backed government, Suu Kyi was accused of not speaking out for the 1.1 million Rohingya minority despite her status of human rights icon following 15 years under house arrest.

Her supporters point to the sensitivity of the issue and the risk of triggering further conflicts to justify what others call a dismissive attitude at best. Suu Kyi did however repeatedly call for a quick and transparent solution to the Muslim minority’s lack of status, which has dragged on since 1982 when the military junta under Ne Win stripped many of their citizenship.

The National League for Democracy leader explicitly avoids using the word Rohingya, a controversial term of some historic dispute which triggers fierce responses from nationalist politicians of the Arakan majority who form the largest bloc in the Rakhine State parliament.

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The graves of people killed in the 2012 clashes between the Buddhist Arakan community and the mostly stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

In May, the Myanmar government advised foreign embassies, including the US, not to use the term. However at a later meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Suu Kyi also said that she would avoid using the term Bengali, adopted by the previous government and rejected by the Rohingya, as it identifies them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, rather than long-term residents.

A statement by the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva also chose not to use the term Rohingya.

“I am pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine,” Annan said. “I look forward to listening to the leaders and people of Rakhine and to working with the State and central authorities to ensure a more secure and prosperous future for all.”

The statement says the overall objective of the commission, assisted by the Kofi Annan Foundation, is “to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine.”

The commission is to “initiate a dialogue with political and community leaders in Rakhine with the aim of proposing measures to improve the well-being of all the people of the State.”

These will contemplate “humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”.

The final report and recommendation will be submitted next year directly to the Myanmar government.

The commission is to meet for the first time next month. It also includes former U.N. adviser Ghassan Salamé, Dutch diplomat Laetitia van den Assum, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights and religious groups.

A top official in Suu Kyi’s party was reported by local media as saying that “Mr Annan is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”

“We need his advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not,” he added.

However, the choice has already hit raw nerves.

According to Eleven Myanmar, a local newspaper, the move has sparked anger from the Arakan National Party.

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Teenagers clear ditches before the rainy season in Aung Mingalar Muslim ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

“We cannot accept these developments only after internal issues have been made an international issue,” said ANP chairman Aye Maung. “If tax revenue could be derived from the natural resources in our state within the framework of rights and privileges of our own people, we want to try to develop our region in cooperation with the global community. I don’t accept that the State can develop only after flattering the international community.”

Reaction on social media to Annan’s statement highlighted a harsh debate over which community in Rakhine should be helped, reflecting in some cases the view of extremist Buddhist movements such as 969, which is driven by Ashin Wirathu, a prominent Mandalay-based monk, and the nationalist Ma Ba Tha – the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion.

These groups have in the past years exacerbated tensions, calling for the defence of the country against foreign influence and organising rallies in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Wirathu, who has a large following on Facebook, has repeatedly stressed how Islam is penetrating the country, threatening the existence of the Rakhine majority.

Such nationalist messages have resonated across Myanmar, with some 90 per cent of the population estimated to be Buddhist. Muslims, who come from various ethnic backgrounds and are not all Rohingya, are estimated to make up about one third of Rakhine’s 3 million people. The state is one of the poorest in Myanmar.

One of the first challenges for the newly established commission will be how to balance the urgent need to find a solution to the desperate situation in which the Rohingya have been forced and an improvement in living conditions for the general Rakhine population.

This balancing of human rights and development issues have been at the heart of a debate raging within the United Nations which has yet to be resolved.

According to a non-profit CDA Collaborative Learning Projects report on conflict sensitivity by Gabrielle Aron, a concentration of humanitarian help since the 1990s within the Muslim areas of Rakhine State has led to the perception of an imbalance in aid disadvantaging ethnic Rakhines. As a result, international intervention has evolved into a trigger for ethnic tensions.

For Suu Kyi’s government, which is in effect sharing power with the military, the thorniest issue will be how to grant some form of citizenship to the Rohingya community that will allow them greater integration with Myanmar as a whole without antagonizing Buddhist nationalists. Meanwhile military leaders casting themselves as protectors of Myanmar’s Buddhist identity are sticking with the term Bengali and have taken a tough line on citizenship.

While the establishment of the commission is seen by many as a positive step, Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project and a respected expert on the conflict in Rakhine, says it leaves many questions open, starting with its unclear mandate.

“Other reports have already come out with ‘recommendations’. But what is needed now is action, and the implementation of what has already been recommended so far in terms of freedom of movement and access to healthcare, for example,” she tells IPS. Lewa is also sceptical about the timeframe, arguing that one year is far too long to come out with suggestions on how to solve the situation.

“I am a bit worried that the commission will not be meaningful. It’s good that Kofi Annan is involved to raise the profile of the mandate, but there is also the risk that it becomes a window-dressing for the NLD to buy time and avoid international criticism,” Lewa says.

Meanwhile the situation in Rakhine and in the camps has not changed much since the NLD has taken over from the military-backed government. Conditions inside the camps are miserable, with temporary bamboo houses now falling apart and too old to offer acceptable living conditions.

Most importantly, the key issue of freedom of movement to allow access to healthcare has not been tackled. “The central government has to take action to end this situation. They need to find a way and force the Rakhine to accept the Rohingya,” she says.

The Arakan Project director, however, also highlights a number of small positive steps undertaken by Suu Kyi, such as the rejection of the term ‘Bengali’.

Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, points to the lack of Rohingya representation within the newly-established commission as its main limitation: “We welcome the commission, but it is quite disappointing that the Rohingya are not included in it,” he tells IPS.

“We want to know how they will consult with the Rohingya community… We are also worried about how the government will act following the recommendations [next year]. People cannot wait for food,” he says.

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Addressing the Dangers of Freelance Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:38:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146694 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/addressing-the-dangers-of-freelance-journalism/feed/ 0 Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Kenya Has Made Impressive Gains Under New Constitution, but the Hard Work is Just Beginninghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/kenya-has-made-impressive-gains-under-new-constitution-but-the-hard-work-is-just-beginning/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:24:16 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146680 Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

Workers on a flower farm in Naivasha, in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

On August 27 Kenyans will be celebrating not just the promulgation of the new Constitution six years ago, but also the tangible gains made throughout the country.

The 2010 Constitution heralded a new era of open and inclusive governance best epitomised by devolution, which is helping to bridge the development gap between rich and poor regions.  This gap was first created by colonialists who zoned the country into high-potential and low-potential agricultural areas.

The Constitution created 47 county governments where resources and power have been devolved since 2013. Despite teething problems, allocations to counties have risen from $210 million in 2013 to $280 million this financial year, signaling increasing commitments by both levels of government to enhance public service delivery and ultimately making devolution a success for Kenya.

In the difficult process of entrenching devolution, Kenya has enjoyed technical and financial support from the international community and the United Nations.

There are inspiring success stories coming from the counties, like the subsidised seeds and tractor services bringing down production costs for farmers in the North Rift, and rural access roads that are making it easier for farmers in central Kenya to get produce to market in time.

In other areas, the transformation has been profound. The hitherto impoverished northern county of Mandera became the poster child of devolution when its first Caesarian section was performed in Takaba Sub-county Hospital in October 2014.  Neighbouring Marsabit and Wajir counties conducted their first Caesarians two months ago.

In these counties, these procedures mark the difference between life and death and signal higher chances of survival for women, children and men through access to basic medical services. A recent study by the United Nations estimates that this region has the highest number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Kenya.

These milestones were largely made possible by increased county allocations to the health sector, with health facilities undergoing renovations and having medical stocks that were unavailable under centralised governance.

Going forward, the new Constitution must bring the promise of prosperity to the underprivileged and “leave no one behind”. This will not happen if the greatest segment – the youth – is not participating. Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed and with few prospects.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. By 2050, Kenya’s population is expected to reach 85 million. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 per cent in the next three decades.

The mission therefore is to have a laser-like focus on those investments that enable Kenya to reap from its demographic dividend, which means working towards a time when there will be fewer dependents for every Kenyan in employment.

With the right investments helping to bring about 90 per cent of working age population into meaningful employment, Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product could increase twelve-fold from current $1,377.

Improvements in education, health and nutrition, especially of girls, women and children, will contribute to a decrease in the number of children born to each family, as survival improves.

This calls for programmes to increase access to family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies. As women spend less time bearing and raising children, they can enter the workforce and contribute to economic production.

At the same time, we must not forget the fact that the Constitution recognises women as a special group deserving legal protection. That is why it directs that all public positions, including political office, shall not be occupied by more than two-thirds of either gender. This constitutional provision needs to be urgently and comprehensively implemented.

Even as Kenyans celebrate these achievements, it is not lost to all that a major test lies around the corner – that of remaining united in the countdown to the next general election, only one year away.

Preparations for the elections have started in earnest, with efforts to strengthen the institutions created by the Constitution to manage elections and resolve electoral disputes. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on matters relating to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has tabled proposals on electoral reforms. Kenyans are optimistic that the elections will be credible, free and fair, devoid of violence.

The new Constitution must guide Kenya towards being seen as a beacon of hope for democratic values, good governance, rule of law and social inclusion for all of Africa.

Towards this vision, the United Nations will remain a resolute partner of the Government and the people of Kenya.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

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Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

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The Lesser Sexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-lesser-sex http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-lesser-sex/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:22:39 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146672 The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

Sakina’s  glare is empty. Her defeated, glassy eyes scan the room passively. The subdued silence and withered frame expose her fragility.

As a young girl, she endured both the physical and emotional trauma that had aged her into a state of lifelessness.

Sakina’s childhood innocence had already been ruthlessly beaten away. She was only 12 years old.

Sakina’s expressionless stare showed indestructible detachment.

As hard as a rock, her inner turmoil had obligated her to push her emotions aside and live in a state of heartless survival.

However, once encouraged to voice the perils of her childhood, Sakina’s face softened.

The gushes of tears that flooded her eyes remind one of a  coursing river that has burst at its banks, wild, chaotic and finally free of limitations.

Sakina  articulated her experience of what can be considered years of irreversible trauma and abuse in her family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“I remember my mother’s crushing custom of spitting venom. Her vicious words wounded me more than the beatings.  Somehow, her malicious remarks  always seemed to cut deeper than the whip.”

However, the root of Sakina’s abuse is not founded in ignorance or poverty.

The cause of her mother’s fury stemmed in her being a “kalluni”, a dark-skinned girl. She would never fare well in  a marriage market  so focused on the South Asian standard of “fair” beauty.

In spite of having grown up in a privileged manner,  attended to by dozens of servants in a household  of plenty, violence was  rife within the four walls of what appeared to be “paradise” for those who could not look inside.

“I recall being locked in the bathroom for 2 days , deprived of food and water as a punishment for my disobedience. Most of the time, I felt like ending my life in that suffocating bathroom, I couldn’t take it any longer.” Sakina said.

The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me
When she was not being made to starve or dehydrate, she endured severe physical punishment under the wrath of both her mother and father, her younger brother never failing to report on the shame she brought on to the family  once he discovered Sakina’s exchange of love notes with a local boy.

“There is one nightmarish memory that refuses to leave my mind. I shudder in fear when I think  of it. It comes back to me in the form of a recurring dream, my mother’s snarling expression as she  takes out a one and a half metre long whip , freshly chiselled from the branch of a “kadam” tree, thrashing me with it mercilessly, for hours on end.”

She paused to compose herself.

“The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me” she stated.

Although  Sakina’s tragic story happened over five decades ago, has Bangladesh made any radical change for the better in terms of female security and development?

It appears the great lengths the local government has gone to eradicate violence against women and young girls have not stretched far enough.

Even today, cases of abuse and violence against women and girls are  commonplace  in male-dominated Bangladeshi society.

Recently, a woman was reported to have been caned 101 times in rural community in Bangladesh for what was considered to be a shameless “extramarital affair” by the local village arbitration committee.

In reality, the “affair” was a case of breaking and entering as the woman shamefully  labelled “adulteress” fought off a neighbor who entered her home by force.

In spite of this violation of privacy and act of male-perpetrated violence, the woman as the “weak” scapegoat was obligated to take the blame for the man’s reckless  behaviour.

As a direct consequence, she was relentlessly beaten in the presence of 400 villagers. The final court ruling obligated her husband to conduct the caning.

Readers  of the Daily Star Bangladesh report commented on the sheer barbarity and sexism of the caning as the  male perpetrator of the attack’s sole punishment was 20 lashes.

Young women and girls in Bangladesh are punished for the crime of being the “lesser sex” on a daily basis. They are pushed into child marriages, slain for dowry and subjected to severe familial and marital acts of  gender-based violence.

In many ways, young girls and women are seen as nothing more than “financial burdens” on the family.

There is far less investment in education and healthcare for young girls and women across Bangladesh and once they reach puberty, their mobility is heavily restricted.

As the high number of child marriage, gender-based acts of violence and adolescent motherhood soars, it is clear this growth surpasses the setbacks of social disparity and lack of education.

The UNICEF country programme document states that in spite of significant progress in the reduction of poverty and  gender equity in the education system up to secondary level, gender bias still exists.

The   document emphasises that “the low socio-economic status of women is reflected in the poor health services provided to them, their inadequate food intake and their limited decision-making authority. Early marriage, dowry practices and sexual harassment, as well as violence against children and women continue because of social acceptance and gender norms”.

In this sense, Sakina, in spite of her prestigious family name and affluent background, is just as much a victim of violent brutality as the isolated village woman who was mercilessly caned.

In South Asia and elsewhere, ruthless violence against young women knows no bounds, it unleashes itself in  all classes of society, from the marginalised to the elite, like a  threatening plague.

In most cases, the abuse is rooted in the home where girls decision-making power is most limited.  Women’s  “intrinsic role” relegates  them into a position of subservience.

Violence within the home perpetrated by women who target other vulnerable young women and girls, much like in the case of Sakina and her abusive mother, are by far the most difficult cases to tackle as few have the courage to condemn and speak out against the actions of their own families.

In a recent research study, more than half of women interviewed aged between 15-49 experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their homes.

Ironically, UNICEF has reported that even in the wealthiest quintile of society,  13 percent of girls are underweight, possibly due to food deprivation as a form of punishment.

Acid throwing, whipping, and sexual harassment are also common forms of violence perpetrated against women and young girls.

The rampant culture of violence and abuse has led many young women to contemplate suicide, as UNICEF reports suicide to be most common among girls aged between 14 and 17 in Bangladesh.

The need to implement gender-equal initiatives with the outcome of delimiting women and young girls mobility is vital. Through innovative education, the perpetrator of violence in Bangladesh will benefit just as much as the victim.

Through the widespread implementation of  anti-violence initiatives, those most affected by abuse will come to realise that brutal castigation is by no means embedded in the national culture, nor is it an acceptable manner of monitoring and “controlling” female behaviour.

It is time women in Bangladesh and elsewhere speak out in the face of violence and realise that the open condemnation of abuse is key to addressing the entrenched discrimination against women and girls that dominate the nation.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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Smart Technologies Key to Youth Involvement in Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/smart-technologies-key-to-youth-involvement-in-agriculture/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 10:50:48 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146645 A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

A cow being milked by a milking robot. Photo courtesy of Cornelia Flatten.

By Friday Phiri
BONN, Germany, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

She is only 24 and already running her father’s farm with 110 milking cows. Cornelia Flatten sees herself as a farmer for the rest of her life.

“It’s my passion,” says the young German. “It is not just about the money but a way of life. My dream is to grow this farm and transform it to improve efficiency by acquiring at least two milking robots.”

A graduate with a degree in dairy farming, Cornelia believes agriculture is an important profession to humanity, because “everyone needs something to eat, drink, and this requires every one of us to do something to make it a reality.”

Simply put, this is a clarion call for increased food production in a world looking for answers to the global food problem where millions of people go hungry. And with the world population set to increase to over nine billion by 2050, production is expected to increase by at least 60 percent to meet the global food requirements—and must do so sustainably.

While it is unanimously agreed that sustainability is about economic viability, socially just and environmentally friendly principles, it is also about the next generation taking over. But according to statistics by the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), agriculture has an image problem amongst youth, with most of them viewing it as older people’s profession.

For example, YPARD says half of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older while in South Africa, the average age of farmers is around 62 years old.

This is a looming problem, because according to the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), over 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, for many regions of the world, gross domestic product (GDP) and agriculture are closely aligned and young farmers make considerable contributions to the GDP from this sector. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of rural youth who work in agriculture are believed to contribute one-quarter to one-third of Africa’s GDP.

Apart from increasing productivity, leaders are tasked to find ways of enticing young people into agriculture, especially now that the world’s buzzword is sustainability.

“It’s time to start imagining what we could say to young farmers because their concern is to have a future in the next ten years. The future is smart agriculture, from manual agriculture, it’s about producing competitively by not only looking at your own farm but the larger environment—both at production and markets,” said Ignace Coussement, Managing Director of Agricord, an International Alliance of Agri-Agencies based in Belgium.

Speaking during the recent International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress discussion on sustainable solutions for global agriculture in Bonn, Germany, Coussement emphasised the importance of communication to achieve this transformation.

“Global transformation is required and I believe communication of agricultural information would be key to this transformation to help farmers transform their attitude, and secondly push for policy changes especially at government level,” he said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), creating new opportunities and incentives for youth to engage in both farm and non-farm rural activities in their own communities and countries is just but one of the important steps to be taken, and promoting rural youth employment and agro-entrepreneurship should be at the core of strategies that aim to addressing the root causes of distress of economic and social mobility.

Justice Tambo, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonn (ZEF), thinks innovation is key to transforming youth involvement and help the world tackle the food challenge.

With climate change in mind, Tambo believes innovation would help in “creating a balance between production and emission of Green House Gases from Agriculture (GHGs) and avoid the path taken by the ‘Green Revolution’ which was not so green.”

It is for this reason that sustainability is also linked to good governance for there has to be political will to tackle such issues. According to Robert Kloos, Under Secretary of State of the Germany Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, “It is true that people are leaving their countries due to climate change but it is not the only problem; it is also about hunger…these people are starving. They live in rural underdeveloped areas of their countries.”

“Good governance is a precondition to achieving sustainability,” he adds, saying his government is working closely with countries in regions still struggling with hunger to support sustainable production of food.

Alltech, a global animal health and nutrition company, believes leadership has become a key ingredient more than ever to deal with the global food challenge.

“Business, policy and technology should interact to provide solutions to the global food challenge of feeding the growing population while at the same time keeping the world safe from a possible climate catastrophe,” said Alltech Vice President, Patrick Charlton.

Addressing the IFAJ 2016 Master class and Young Leaders programme, Charlton added that “If the world is to feed an increased population with the same available land requires not only improved technology, but serious leadership to link policy, business and technology.”

But for Bernd Flatten, father to the 24-year-old Cornelia, his daughter’s choice could be more about up-bringing. “I did not pressure her into this decision. I just introduced her to our family’s way of life—farming. And due to age I asked whether I could sell the farm as is tradition here in Germany, but she said no and took over the cow milking business. She has since become an ambassador for the milk company which we supply to,” said the calm Flatten, who is more of spectator nowadays on his 130-hectare farm.

It is a model farm engaged in production of corn for animal feed, while manure is used in biogas production, a key element of the country’s renewable energy revolution. With the services of on-farm crop management analysis offered by Dupont Pioneer, the farm practices crop rationing for a balanced biodiversity.

But when all is said and done, the Flattens do not only owe their farm’s viability to their daughter’s brave decision to embrace rural life, but also her desire to mechanise the farm with smart equipment and technology for efficiency—an overarching theme identified on how to entice youths into agriculture.

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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Breaking the Silence on Gender-Blind Transporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:34:58 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146634 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/feed/ 0 Uruguay’s Victory over Philip Morris: a Win for Tobacco Control and Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:49:27 +0000 German Velasquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146586 Credit: Bigstock

Credit: Bigstock

By Germán Velásquez
GENEVA, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In a landmark decision that has been hailed as a victory of public health measures against narrow commercial interests, an international tribunal has dismissed a claim by tobacco giant company Philip Morris that the Uruguay government violated its rights by instituting tobacco control measures.

The ruling had been much anticipated as it was the first international case brought against a government for taking measures to curb the marketing of tobacco products.

Philip Morris had started proceedings in February 2010 against Uruguay at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) under a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between Uruguay and Switzerland. The decision was given on 8 July 2016.

Under the BIT, foreign companies can take cases against the host state on various grounds, including if its policies constitute an expropriation of the companies” expectation of profits, or a violation of “fair and equitable treatment” These investment treaties and arbitration tribunals like ICSID have been heavily criticised in recent years for decisions favouring companies and that critics argue violate the right of states to regulate in the public interest.

In this particular case, the tribunal gave a ruling that dismissed the tobacco giant’s claims and upheld that the Uruguayan pro-health measures were allowed.

President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, responding to the ruling, stated on 8 July:: “We have succeeded to prove at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes that our country, without violating any treaty, has met its unwavering commitment to defend the health of its people… From now on, when tobacco companies try to undermine the regulations adopted in the context of the framework tobacco convention with the threat of litigation, they (countries) will find our precedent.”

Germán Velásquez

Germán Velásquez

Philip Morris International (PMI) started legal proceedings against Uruguay’ government at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), based at the World Bank, in February 2010. This was the first time the tobacco industry challenged a state in front of an international tribunal.

Philip Morris claimed that the health measures imposed by the Ministry of Health of Uruguay violated its intellectual property rights and failed to comply with Uruguay’s obligation under its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Switzerland.

Two specific measures were contested by Philip Morris. The first measure was the Single Presentation Requirement introduced by the Uruguayan Public Health Ministry in 2008, where tobacco manufacturers could no longer sell multiple varieties of one brand. Philip Morris had to withdraw 7 of its 12 products and alleged that the restriction to market only one variety substantially affected its company’s value.

The second measure contested by Philip Morris was the so-called “80/80 Regulation”. Under a presidential decree, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages should cover 80 percent instead of 50 percent, of the packaging, leaving only 20 percent for the tobacco companies’ trademarks and advertisement.

Uruguay adopted strict tobacco control policies to comply with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in light of evidence that tobacco consumption leads to addiction, illness, and death.

According to the Ministry of Health, since Uruguay introduced its tobacco control programme in 2003, its comprehensive tobacco control campaign has resulted in a substantial and unprecedented decrease in tobacco use.

From 2005 to 2011 per person consumption of cigarettes dropped by 25.8 %. Tobacco consumption among school-going youth aged 12­17 decreased from over 30 percent to 9.2 percent from 2003 to 2011. Ministry of Health data also indicate that since smoke-free laws were introduced, hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction has reduced by 22 percent.

Since this was the first international litigation, the case is highly important for similar debates taking place in other forums, like the World Trade Organization, where some states are being challenged by other states for their tobacco control measures. It is a significant victory for a state facing commercial threats by tobacco companies fighting control measures.

The decision is supportive of states that choose to exercise their sovereign right to introduce laws and strategies to control tobacco sales in order to protect the health of their population.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay”s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion. The international lawyer and practitioner in investment treaty arbitration Todd Weiler stated in a legal opinion that: “the claim is nothing more than the cynical attempt by a wealthy multinational corporation to make an example of a small country with limited resources to defend against a well-funded international legal action.”

An important aspect of the case was that the secretariats of the World Health Organization and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) submitted an amicus brief during the proceedings.

The brief provided an overview of global tobacco control, including the role of the WHO FCTC. It set out the public health evidence underlying Uruguay’s tobacco packaging and labelling laws and detailed state practice in implementing similar measures.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay''s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion
The Tribunal accepted the submission of the amicus brief on the basis that it provided an independent perspective on the matters in the dispute and contributed expertise from “qualified agencies”. The Tribunal subsequently relied on the brief at several points of the factual and legal analysis in their decision.

In accepting submission of the amicus brief the Tribunal noted that given the “public interest involved in this case”the amicus brief would “support the transparency of the proceeding”.

The Tribunal ruling upheld that Uruguay could maintain the following specific regulations:

Prohibiting tobacco companies from marketing cigarettes in ways that falsely present some cigarettes as less harmful than others.

Requiring tobacco companies to use 80% of the front and back of cigarette packs for graphic/pictures of warnings of the health danger of smoking.

According to expert Chakravarthi Raghavan there are several specific legal findings of the panel ruling, including:

  1. Uruguay did not violate any of its obligations under the Switzerland/Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty, or deny Philip Morris any of the protections provided by that Treaty.
  1. Uruguay’s regulatory measures did not “expropriate” Philip Morris’ property. They were bona fide exercises of Uruguay’s sovereign police power to protect public health.
  1. The measures did not deny Philip Morris “fair and equitable treatment” because they were not arbitrary; instead, they were reasonable measures strongly supported by the scientific literature, and had received broad support from the global tobacco control community.
  1. The measures did not “unreasonably and discriminatorily” deny Philip Morris the use and enjoyment of its trademark rights, because they were enacted in the interests of legitimate policy concerns and were not motivated by an intention to deprive Philip Morris of the value of its investment.

This is a landmark ruling because it supports the case that it is the sovereign right not only of Uruguay but of States in general to adopt laws and regulations to protect public health by regulating the marketing and distribution of tobacco products.

It is hoped that many other countries, which have been awaiting this decision before adopting similar regulations, will follow Uruguay’s example.President Vázquez said it is time for other nations to join Uruguay in this struggle, “without any fear of retaliation from powerful tobacco corporations, as Uruguay has done.”

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of public concern worldwide about the role that bilateral investment treaties has played in curbing the policy space of countries, including for health policies. There have also been serious concerns about the rulings made by other tribunals of ICSID and other arbitration centres, which have favoured the claims of companies and imposed high monetary awards against states. In the case of Philip Morris versus Uruguay, the tribunal’s ruling was correct in supporting the state’s right to regulate in the interest of public health. But the concerns in general are still valid. Other tribunals in other cases may or may not be so sympathetic to the public interest.

This is a reduced version of the article published in www.southcentre.int.

 

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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UN Admits it Needs to do More After Causing Haiti Cholera Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 21:34:15 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146610 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/feed/ 0 The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Olympic Games – More Media Show than Sports Eventhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:04:20 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146598 Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazil’s first gold medal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics gave it a new multipurpose heroine, Rafaela Silva, whose defeat of the favourites in judo has made her a strong voice against racism and homophobia. Not only is she black and poor, but she just came out as gay.

In her first remarks as an Olympic champion, on Aug. 8, she referred to the harsh criticism she received after being disqualified in the second round of the London Olympics in 2012, when people lashed out against her in the social media, with one saying she was a “monkey who should be in a cage.” Her medal is her vengeance against racism.

It is also an example of a triumph over the poverty and crime that drags down so many young people in the Cidade de Deus, the Rio de Janeiro “favela” or shantytown where she grew up, which was made famous by the film City of God.

Colourful figures like Silva or Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, or unbeatable athletes like U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps,are crucial in the Olympics, which have become a huge global media event, more than the leading international sports competition.

Sheer overkill also plays a key role in the media spectacle. In the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games, 11,552 athletes – eight percent more than in London 2012 – are participating in 306 medal events in 42 disciplines.

But the number of journalists grew even more, by about 20 percent. More than 25,000 accredited reporters are covering Rio 2016, which translates into 2.2 press, TV, radio and internet journalists for each athlete during the 19-day Games.

The Rio Games – the first held in South America – are the most connected Olympics in history, with data traffic and internet activity four times greater than in London.

And while six million tickets were sold for the stadiums, according to the organisers, billions in profits have been made from the spectators watching the Games on TV or over the internet worldwide.

The opening ceremony alone was watched by an estimated three billion people around the globe. The colourful ceremony and its special effects, directed by prize-winning filmmakers, cleared up the doubts about the success of the Games, due to threats like construction delays, the Zika virus epidemic and Brazil’s political and economic crisis.

The filtered view provided by dozens of TV cameras is no substitute for the actual atmosphere of the stadiums, but it makes it possible to see up-close details from different angles, including up above, which is impossible for spectators in the stadiums. And the technological advances constantly improve the experience of watching the Games from far away points on the globe.

Aesthetics is another dimension that colors the competition. It played a role in the inauguration of the Games and its strong presence in some disciplines, like the various gymnastics or diving events, helped minimise the military origins of many Olympic sports, like wrestling or shooting.

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold – on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

But the drama seen in many of the contests is perhaps the central element of the Olympic media spectacle.

More people remember Swiss long-distance runner Gabriela Andersen’s struggle to finish the 1984 Olympic marathon in 37th place, staggering with heat exhaustion in the final 200 metres, than the actual winner of the marathon in Los Angeles that year.

For the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the inauguration of the Rio 2016 Games, the athlete chosen was Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima, who became famous in Athens in 2004 when an Irish priest shoved him to the side of the road when he was in the lead in the marathon.

A Greek spectator helped free Lima from the grasp of the priest – who was later defrocked – and he continued the race. But he lost time and his rhythm was broken, and he ended in third place. For exemplifying the spirit of sportsmanship he showed by settling for the bronze, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special decoration that carries the name of the founder of the IOC.

The footage of the incident, broadcast over and over around the world, made Lima an Olympics symbol.

The show needs heroes. National ones abound; sometimes winning a medal is all it takes. So far in Rio 2016, there are many examples.

Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi will surely provide a major boost to the eight-year-old Kosovo’s consolidation as an independent nation now that she has won the country’s first medal – gold. In 2012 she competed under the Albanian flag.

Fiji as well won its first medal – also gold – in Rugby Sevens, which debuted in these Games as an Olympic sport. (Rugby union was played at the Olympics from 1900 to 1924.)

Puerto Rico, an associated free state of the United States, with its own delegation in the Olympics, also took its first gold medal in Rio, won by Monica Puig in tennis.

The IOC recognizes 208 national committees, surpassing the 193 members of the United Nations. Some participants in the Olympics are not independent states, as in the case of Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, the Virgin Islands or American Samoa.

Dramatic incidents like the one involving Vanderlei de Lima also give rise to Olympic heroes, who add to the show.

Etenesh Diro of Ethiopia was cheered when she completed the 3,000-metre steeplechase, even though she finished seventh. She had pulled off her shoe when it was torn in a tangle with other competitors and continued on, barefoot.

But although she didn’t qualify for the final, the authorities rewarded spots in the race to her and two others who fell.

Heroes are generally individuals. Maybe that’s why football didn’t overshadow the Games – a worry that was apparently behind some restrictions set on participating in the sport, which is wildly popular in Brazil, such as a 23-year age limit, with three exceptions.

At any rate, the Olympic audience is guaranteed thanks to the diversity of sports, cultures and dramatic personal or national situations.

The excess of raw material for journalists and for the television and online show and the out of proportion size will make it difficult for another country of the developing South to host the Games in the near future.

Besides aspects linked to the needs and pressures of what is, more than anything, a huge global spectacle, the decision will also be influenced by the problems that cropped up in Rio, like construction delays, urban crime, water pollution, half-empty stadiums, and unsportsmanlike loud booing of some foreign athletes and teams.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

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

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