Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 01:38:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Latin America’s Relative Success in Fighting Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 23:35:52 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140868 Food distribution in a town in the Mexican state of Tabasco through one of the many government programmes created in Latin America in the last 15 years to fight hunger. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Food distribution in a town in the Mexican state of Tabasco through one of the many government programmes created in Latin America in the last 15 years to fight hunger. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 29 2015 (IPS)

The Latin American and Caribbean region is the first in the world to reach the two global targets for reducing hunger. Nevertheless, more than 34 million people still go hungry.

“This is the region that best understood the problem of hunger, and it’s the region that has put the greatest emphasis on policies to assist vulnerable groups. The results achieved have been in accordance with that emphasis,” FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez told IPS.

According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) 2015 report, released Wednesday by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), hunger affects 5.5 percent of the population of Latin America – or 34.3 million people.

That means the region has met the target of halving the proportion of hungry people from 1990 levels, established by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000, with a 2015 deadline.

These statistics also show that the region has lived up to what was agreed at the 1996 World Food Summit.

According to SOFI, 28 percent of the population of Latin America, estimated at a total of 605 million people, lives in poverty, compared to 44 percent in 2002. By contrast, the progress in reducing extreme poverty stalled two years ago.

With respect to the eradication of hunger, SOFI reports that South America made the greatest progress between the periods of 1990-1992 and 2012-2016. But South America, which accounts for 66 percent of the region’s total population, also has the largest number of undernourished people.

In that period, Central America also managed to reduce the number of hungry people, from 12.6 million to 11.4 million. However, the reduction in hunger has slowed down since 2013.

The Caribbean is lagging the most, with 7.5 million hungry people. That is mainly due to the situation in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, where 75 percent of the Caribbean’s malnourished people live, the report states.

Haiti’s problems are deep-rooted, Eve Crowley, FAO deputy regional representative, said Thursday during the launch of the report at the agency’s regional office in Chile. They date back centuries and are linked to colonialism and land distribution, she added.

“The recent problem of political instability is a very important factor that has had a negative impact on economic growth,” she said. “Historical problems take a long time to fix.”

On the other hand, more than 30 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have overcome hunger in the last 20 years, “revealing in the process a valuable repertoire of public policies that can serve as a basis for other contexts and regions,” the report says.

FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez at his office in the agency’s regional office in Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez at his office in the agency’s regional office in Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

According to FAO, the improvements in food and nutritional security in the region were largely due to the “positive macroeconomic backdrop in the region during the last decade as well as the political commitment to fighting food insecurity exhibited by the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The most recent expression of this commitment, Benítez told IPS, was the approval of the Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The plan, a pioneer at the international level, proposes eliminating hunger by 2025 – a goal that encompasses several challenges, like mitigating the effects of climate change that mainly affect small-scale family farmers and the poor, who live in more complex, fragile ecosystems, Benítez said.

The task then is adaptation to climate change to achieve sustainable food production systems.

The challenges also include successfully weathering the economic slowdown that is not only affecting this region.

“The dangers of backsliding are always latent,” the FAO representative warned. “We have to raise awareness about the fact that this continues to affect millions of women, men and children in the region.

“Hunger deprives people of education, of health, even of citizenship, but it principally deprives people of freedom, and this affects all of us: the hungry and those who have full stomachs. We can’t allow any one of our Latin American or Caribbean sisters or brothers to continue to go hungry,” he added.

Benítez pointed out that in Latin America and the Caribbean the problem is not a lack of food, but the fact that the poor can’t afford it.

“It’s a problem of access, not production,” he stressed.

“Hunger is much more than a plate of food on a table, and it’s still a problem that affects all of us. It’s a regional problem, which means it needs a regional-level solution.”

Benítez said that “while all countries have been reducing the proportion of people who have managed to overcome the problem of hunger, some have done so faster than others.

“That means countries with more experience or the richest countries in the region have to help other countries, in order for them to speed up the process of eradicating hunger.”

Francisca Quiroga, a public policy expert at the University of Chile, told IPS that this new stage must be spearheaded by a change in model, from the current “extractivist” model to a new one based on more suitable forms of development and higher-quality public policies.

“Many social policies implemented by countries in the region with the aim of meeting the MDGs were focused on improving indicators or reducing the gaps based on statistics, but they failed to focus on issues that are so important for this region, such as inequality,” she said.

New problems have also arisen, such as the impact of climate change or access to the development of natural resources, or the poor quality of food, which means the new model must be sustainable, the academic added.

At the end of this year the MDGs will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where the reduction of hunger is accompanied by other challenges involving food, such as the dangerous increase in obesity, which is becoming a major new global problem, Benítez said.

“The problem of obesity is something that we cannot stop analysing, because it has a severe impact on our populations,” she said. “It’s not as serious yet as the problem of hunger, but it threatens to become so.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Scores of Sri Lankan Tamils Still Living Under the ‘Long Shadow of War’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 23:14:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140864 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

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

In many ways, Jayakumari Balendran epitomizes the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces, both during and after the island nation’s 26-year-long civil conflict.

Her oldest son was shot dead in 2006 while working in the coastal town of Trincomalee, about 300 km east of the capital, Colombo, by ‘unidentified killers’.

“We are just trying to remind the government that there are people, communities, hundreds of thousands of families, waiting for justice." -- Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute
Abandoning her husband, she was forced to flee to Kilinochchi, a town in the north, which, at the time, served as the administrative nerve-centre for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebel group battling the government’s armed forces for an independent state for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Three years on, in May 2009, as the war dragged to a bloody finish, her second son was also killed – one of dozens who perished in the shelling of the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital, an attack the army denies responsibility for.

Both boys were 19 years old at the time of their deaths.

Her third and final son, who was forcibly conscripted into the LTTE’s ranks as a child soldier, reportedly surrendered to government forces later that same month after the army overran LTTE-controlled areas and declared a decisive win over the rebels.

However, she has neither seen nor heard from him since, an ominous sign in a country where enforced disappearances are a common occurrence.

And her troubles did not end there. While protesting his disappearance, Jayakumari was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Boosa prison, an institution that has become synonymous with torture.

Following presidential elections in January 2015 that saw the ouster of long-time president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the transfer of power to his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, Jayakumari was released, in a move that activists took as a sign of safer and more just times to come.

But after returning to find her humble home ransacked and her possessions looted, Jayakumari was forced to place her daughter in an ashram for her own safety, while she herself move into a hut, the only place she could afford as a single mother – her husband died of cancer in 2012 – and where she now ekes out a rough living.

The converging issues that have defined her life over the past 10 years – war, disappearances, detention, displacement and abject poverty – are now the subject of an independent inquiry by a U.S. think-tank, the first of its kind to be released after the guns fell silent in 2009.

Titled ‘The Long Shadow of War’, the 37-page report by the California-based Oakland Institute (OI) details the unhealed wounds that still plague the former war zone, preventing civilians like Jayakumari from moving on with their lives.

During a press conference call Thursday, OI Executive Director Anuradha Mittal outlined some of the biggest hurdles to reconciliation, including continued heavy militarisation of the north and east, systematic erasure of Tamil history and culture, and the inability of the government to implement an effective mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes – for which both the government and the LTTE stand accused – committed during the last phase of the conflict.

Although Sirisena’s government has taken steps towards demilitarization, appointing a non-military civil servant as governor of the northern province in place of the former security forces commander who previously held the post, the presence of one soldier for every six civilians is a thorn in the side of many war-weary residents.

OI’s report quotes Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene as saying, as recently as February, that the government has no intention of removing or scaling down army formations in the Jaffna peninsula.

Furthermore, as Mittal pointed out Thursday, the army is not a passive presence. Rather, “it is engaged in property development, running luxury tourist resorts, whale-watching excursions, farming and other business ventures on land seized from local populations.”

Land and property have been major sticking points since 2009, with 90,000 of an estimated 480,000 people displaced during the last months of fighting still living in makeshift shelters, according to 2014 statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The situation has been particularly difficult for war widows, who are thought to number between 40,000 and 55,000, now tasked with providing single-handedly for their families.

For women like Jayakumari, poverty and unemployment combine with uncertainty over missing relatives to create a culture of fear, and stillborn grief.

Citing data from the United Nations as well as religious institutions on the ground in the Vanni – a vast swathe of land in the north and east – OI estimates the number of missing people to be between 70,000 and 140,000.

“So many mothers like me are wandering from place to place in search of their children,” Jayakumari said in a statement to the press this past Thursday.

“We need answers. The government should at least arrange a place where we can go and visit our children. I want my child,” she asserted.

Her demand strikes at the heart of what could well be the defining challenge for the present government: implementing a national reconciliation process centered on a credible investigation into wartime abuses.

In March last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) agreed on a resolution that would have launched a war crimes inquiry, but the then-government barred independent researchers from entering the country.

Despite these roadblocks, the world body was set to release its findings earlier this year, but agreed to the fledgling government’s request to delay publication for six months – leading to criticisms over a perceived watering down of U.N. mandates to suit the whims of electoral politics.

“Given the past records of government inaction, international pressure is critical for any decisive action,” Mittal asserted. “Instead of pursuing their geostrategic interests, the U.S., India and other countries should demand the release of the U.N. inquiry.”

She clarified that urgent tone of the report is not an attack on the new government, but should rather serve as a reminder of the severity of the situation for ordinary Tamil people.

“We are just trying to remind the government that there are people, communities, hundreds of thousands of families, waiting for justice,” she noted.

The death toll during the war’s last stages remains a hotly contested figure, both within Sri Lanka and among the international community. U.N. data suggest that 40,000 people died, but the previous government insisted the number of dead did not exceed 8,000.

Meanwhile, a new book by the eminent research body University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) says the true death toll could be closer to 100,000.

This is one of just many unanswered questions that could be put to rest by a just reconciliation process.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan Continues to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 22:22:13 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140844 Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
MUNICH, Germany, May 28 2015 (IPS)

After peace talks failed earlier this month, the ongoing conflict in South Sudan between government forces and opposition forces that began at the end of 2013 is having a severe impact on the country’s food security and civilian safety.

While fighting continues, widespread burning, destruction, and looting of property have aggravated the efforts of both sides to gain control of the oilfields in the north of the country.

"South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses." -- Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan
“South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses,” Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan, based in Nairobi, told IPS.

To date, 10,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes.

Aid organisations are calling this a severe humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the brutal violence against civilians and children, including the burning down of entire villages and the rapes and murders of women, and children as young as seven years old, over the past few weeks.

The states of Unity and Jonglei are the worst affected. It is unclear exactly who is responsible for the violence and destruction of property.

An estimated 13,000 children under 15 years of age have been recruited by both government and opposition forces, an act that constitutes a war crime, not only in South Sudan but also according to international law.

Another concern is the displacement of civilians and destruction of agriculture.

“People should be planting crops right now, instead they are fleeing,” Pawel Krzysiek, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, told IPS.

With the rainy season fast approaching, farming communities in Unity State need to plant their crops now to ensure decent harvests, something they cannot do due to the fighting. Many people have little choice but to depend on food aid.

According to Oxfam,  two-thirds of the population is now food insecure, with 7.8 million people in “Phases 2, 3 and 4 of food insecurity.”

The number of hungry people is projected to rise to 4.6 million by the end of July, accounting for 40 percent of the population. The rights group further estimates that 800,000 people have reached “emergency levels of hunger, facing extreme and dangerous food shortages.”

An Oxfam statement released Wednesday cautioned that this latest analysis “was undertaken before the recent escalation of the war, so it is expected that for thousands of people in South Sudan, the outlook is now even worse.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Children have been badly hit, with malnutrition at a “critical level” in 80 percent of all counties in the Greater Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.

Dependence on food aid will only increase now with worsening displacement – gaining access to those most in need is becoming increasingly difficult, aid workers say.

“ICRC is providing food and medicine for about 120,000 people. Many of them are displaced as a result of the fighting, which is challenging our aid workers,” Krzysiek says.

More than two million people are displaced, about 500,000 of them are completely cut off from services.

Besides civilians, aid organisation now find themselves affected, with ongoing violence limiting both the options and capacity of various humanitarian groups.

According to Krzysiek, medical facilities in Unity State and Jonglei State were attacked, targeted and detroyed. Aid organisations were forced to evacuate staff to ensure security.

ICRC was forced to move its base from the city of Kodok to Oriny to the disadvantage of civilians.

“The hospital of Kodok is the only one in its region and therefore very important. People now have even more limited access to health services and food because of the country‘s insufficient infrastructure,” Jean-Yves Clemenzo, based at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, told IPS.

Humanitarian organisations putting their operations on hold could spell disaster for the roughly 50 percent of South Sudan’s 12 million who are almost entirely dependent on the delivery of aid supplies.

UNICEF estimates it will distribute aid to meet the humanitarian needs of children alone to the tune of 165 million dollars by the end of 2015.

Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the continous deterioration of the conflict. Over the last couple of months, dozens of cases have been documented in which civilians were arrested arbitrarily, beaten up or tortured by unidentified forces.

“It looks like we are seeing a repeat of late 2013, when government forces moved through these areas burning, looting and destroying large parts of it,” Wheeler told IPS.

South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, in a moment that marked the end of a two-decade-long war for independence, which claimed 2.5 million lives. But peace was short-lived.

In December 2012 a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his then-vice president Riek Machar escalated after Machar was accused of attempting to depose Mayardit.

War broke out once again on Dec. 15, 2013, and since then the world’s ‘newest country’ has been consumed by a tide of violence.

Back in March 2015, peace talks hosted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa failed.

In response, the United Nations security council imposed sanctions on the country, in a resolution that threatened travel bans and asset freezes on individuals or entities “responsible for, complicit in, or engaged directly or indirectly in actions or policies threatening the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:40:44 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140833 The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to government ministries, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Laissez Faire Water Laws Threaten Family Farming in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 07:44:19 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140818 Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 27 2015 (IPS)

Family farmers in Chile are pushing for the reinstatement of water as a public good, to at least partially solve the shortages caused by the privatisation of water rights by the military dictatorship in 1981.

“Why should we pay for water rights if the people who were born and grew up in the countryside always had access to water?” Patricia Mancilla, a rural women’s community organiser in the southern region of Patagonia, remarked to Tierramérica.

That is a question echoed by small farmers throughout Chile.

This long, narrow country is rich in water, but it is unequally distributed: while to the south of Santiago annual freshwater availability per capita is over 10,000 cubic metres, it is less than 800 cubic metres per capita in the north, according to a 2011 World Bank study.

But the 1980 constitution made water private property, and the Water Code gives the state the authority to grant use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. Water use is regulated by the Code, according to the rules of the free market.

The laissez-faire Code allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking into consideration local priorities and needs, such as drinking water.

“Chile is the only country in the world to have privatised its water sources and water management,” activist Rodrigo Mundaca, secretary general of the Movement for the Defence of Water, Land and the Environment (MODATIMA), told Tierramérica.

Mundaca, an agronomist, added that Chile’s legislation “separates ownership of water from ownership of land, giving rise to a market for water,” which means there are people who own land but have no water, and vice versa.“Water is now, without a doubt, the most important environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have gone elsewhere to find work.” -- Rodrigo Mundaca

The 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet created two categories of water use rights: consumptive and non-consumptive.

Consumptive water use refers to water that is removed from available supplies without returning to a water resource system.

In this category, 73 percent of water rights have gone to agriculture, nine percent to the mining industry, 12 percent to industry and six percent to the sanitation system, Mundaca said.

Non-consumptive use refers to water that is used but not consumed. This mainly includes water withdrawn for the purpose of generating hydroelectricity, and since 2009, 81 percent of these water use rights have been in the hands of the Italian-Spanish company Enel-Endesa, the activist said.

As a result, “today the communities of northern Chile are at loggerheads with the mining corporations, over water use; the communities of central Chile with agribusiness and agroexporters; and communities in the south with hydropower plants and forestry companies,” Mundaca said.

“Water is now, without a doubt, the main environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have had to leave to find work,” he added.

Latin America in general is one of the regions most vulnerable to the crises caused by climate change, according to the World Bank. But in Chile, small farmers are less vulnerable to climate change than to the “theft” of their water by large agroexporters, activists say.

Petorca, a case in point

“The water business reflects the conflicts of interest, influence peddling and corruption in Chile,” Ricardo Sanhueza told Tierramérica. Sanhueza is a small farmer who lives in the municipality of Petorca, 220 km north of Santiago, which illustrates the impact of the water management model put in place 34 years ago.

“I remember that even though we suffered from a major drought between 1987 and 1997, we always had clean drinking water,” he said.

The 70,000 people who live in Petorca, located in the province of the same name, depend on tanker trucks for their water supply.

“The problem here isn’t related to the climate,” he said. “The problem is the over-exploitation of the land and the abusive use of water….Political interests are undermining the foundations of small-scale family farming.”

According to a study by the National Human Rights Institute (INDH), a government body, the province’s water shortages are not only caused by drought but also by “business activities in that area.”

The report also states that the granting of rights to use water sources that have been exhausted has played a part in generating a water crisis that seriously affects the quality of life of the residents of the province of Petorca.

The prioritisation of the use of water for productive activities rather than human consumption has aggravated the problem, the study goes on to say.

Mónica Flores, a psychologist with the municipal Public Health Department, told Tierramérica with nostalgia that the Petorca river had completely dried up, putting an end to social activities and community life surrounding the river.

“The river emerged in the Andes mountains and flowed to the ocean,” she said. “But today you just see a gray line full of dirt and stones.”

“It marked a before and after,” Flores said. “My childhood revolved around the river: I played there with my friends, we would swim, we would flirt with each other. But my daughter’s life isn’t the same, it’s much lonelier.

“Many rituals played out by the river, which was the heart, the spinal column of the province,” she said, stressing the impact on the local population of the drying up of the river.

But Petorca is just one example of the water problem in Chile.

On Mar. 22, World Water Day, the INDH declared that “Chile’s development cannot come at the cost of sacrificing the water of local communities, or at the cost of mortgaging the future of coming generations.”

The hydric resources commission in the lower house of Congress is currently debating a reform of the Water Code, which would represent significant advances, such as giving a priority to water use for essential needs and replacing water use rights in perpetuity with temporary rights.

But the modifications will not be retroactive, and most water use rights have already been granted.

Moreover, the water use privileges enjoyed by the mining industry will not be touched by the reform. Nor has the question of water shortages for essential uses by small farmers and indigenous communities been addressed. And there is no talk of a constitutional amendment to make water a public good once again.

The constitution put in place by the dictatorship “states that all people are free and equal in dignity and rights,” Mundaca said. “However, vast segments of the population, deprived of water, depend on tanker trucks for drinking water, can only do a quick rinse around key areas instead of showering, and go to the bathroom in plastic bags.

“It’s shameful and wrong. People have to regain access to water one way or another,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling inequality in the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

And they are not alone in their woes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The situation in Latin America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A regional crisis

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

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

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

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

However, these requests have so far gone unheeded.

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

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

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

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

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

Risking death to flee their homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Asia-Pacific Region Is ‘Growing’, but Millions Are Living in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:11:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140635 If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Home to an estimated 3.74 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region holds over half the global population, determining to a great extent the level of economic stability, or chaos, in the world.

This year’s edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, the flagship publication of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has mostly good news for the region – lauding growth achievement “albeit in a somewhat uneven manner.”

Average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990. -- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Growth has remained steady – with developing nations in the region showing a slight increase to 5.9 percent growth, up from 5.8 percent last year.

The survey also states that average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990, and Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam seeing their own real incomes triple in the same time period.

Although China’s growth is expected to fall to seven percent in 2015, India’s growth of 8.1 percent – an increase from 7.4 percent last year – could offset any impacts of its neighbor’s “planned moderation”, while Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation is projected to see growth rise from five to 5.6 percent this year.

But the spoils of growth have not been evenly shared.

According to the report, “income inequality has increased […] especially in the major developing countries, particularly in urban areas.” Overall, since the 1990s, the Gini index – a measure of income inequality on a scale of 0-100 – has risen from 33.5 to 37.5 percent for the region as a whole.

And while experts praised the region for halving the number of people living on 1.25 dollars a day, ahead of the 2015 deadline laid out at the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, a closer look at poverty in the region suggests that there is less to celebrate and far more to tackle.

Poverty: How much has changed since 1990?

Estimates prepared by ESCAP in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific reveal that the number of people in the region living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2011 – a reduction from 1.7 billion to 772 million people.

While this is a tremendous improvement, it does not change the fact that too many millions are still eking out an existent on practically nothing, while a further 40 percent of the region’s population, some 933 million people – although not classified as the “poorest of the poor” – are in similarly dire straits, earning less than two dollars a day.

The 2014 annual statistical publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) takes an even deeper look at poverty statistics in the region, suggesting that the gains made in the past two decades may not be as bright as they seem.

According to the Bank’s sub-regional overview of declining extreme poverty, East Asia drove the drop in numbers with a 48.6-percent decline, followed by a 39-percent drop in Central and West Asia, 31 percent in Southeast Asia and 19 percent in South Asia.

However, the Bank highlighted three reasons for why the conventional 1.25-dollar poverty line is an inadequate measure of the costs required to maintain a minimum living standard by the poor: “Updated consumption data specific to Asia’s poor; the impact of volatile and rising costs associated with food insecurity; and the region’s increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.”

By increasing the base poverty line to 1.51 dollars per person per day, as well as factoring in the impacts of food insecurity and vulnerability to natural disasters and other shocks, Asia’s extreme poverty rate shoots up to 49.5 percent of the population, or roughly 1.7 billion people.

Inclusive growth

In addition to poverty, the ESCAP survey broke down major challenges facing each particular sub-region, including “excessive dependence on natural resources and worker remittances for economic growth in North and Central Asia […]; employment and climate-related challenges in Pacific island developing countries […]; macroeconomic imbalances and severe power shortages in South and South-West Asia […]; and weaknesses in infrastructure and skilled labour shortages in South-East Asia.”

Since the financial crisis of 1997, for instance, infrastructure investment in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam fell from 38 billion during the year of the crash to 25 billion in 2010.

Infrastructure is desperately needed to improve basic services for the poor, including better transport networks and energy grids.

According to some estimates the sub-regions of South and South-West Asia need an estimated 400 billion dollars annually for power generation. Only 71 percent of South Asians have access to electricity, compared to 92 percent of those living in East and North-East Asia.

Financing for infrastructure is also desperately needed to improve access to water and sanitation, a huge problem in the region where 41 percent of the population does not have access to toilets and 75 percent do not have access to piped water, according to ESCAP.

Further demands for infrastructure are driven by the rapid rate of urbanisation, with ESCAP suggesting that the region will need upwards of 11 trillion dollars over the next 15 years to deal with the stresses of urbanisation and prepare for huge population shifts.

The year 2012 saw 46 percent of the Asia-Pacific population dwelling in urban areas, but current growth rates indicate that by 2020, that number could rise to 50 percent, meaning an additional 500 million people will reside in the region’s cities by the end of the decade.

The title of this year’s survey, ‘Making Growth More Inclusive for Sustainable Development’, begs a review of the region’s level of inclusivity, particularly of women and young people in the labour force and political ranks.

Sadly the results are disappointing: in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, women constitute just 18 percent of national parliamentarians, while one-third of countries in the ESCAP region have less than 10 percent female representation in parliament.

For youth, too, the situation is bleak, with seven out of 13 countries surveyed showing youth unemployment rates higher than 10 percent – including a 19.5-percent youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka.

“To enhance well-being, countries need to go beyond just focusing on ‘inequality of income’ and instead promote ‘equality of opportunities’,” ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said Thursday.

She also said the survey underscores the need for countries to adopt policies that will foster inclusive growth, both to ensure outstanding MDG commitments are met and pave the way for an ambitious post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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

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

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Failings Exposed in U.N. Human Rights Reviewhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-failings-exposed-in-u-n-human-rights-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-failings-exposed-in-u-n-human-rights-review http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-failings-exposed-in-u-n-human-rights-review/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 22:51:38 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140606 The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

The human rights exam in Geneva complained that U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to keep his promise to close down the Guantánamo military base. Credit: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Without the emperor’s clothes, like in the Hans Christian Andersen story, the United States was forced to submit its human rights record to the scrutiny of the other 192 members of the United Nations on Monday.

Washington attended the country’s second universal periodic review (UPR) in the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which reviews each U.N. member country’s compliance with international human rights standards.
“So today was a demonstration of the no confidence vote that world opinion has made of the United States as a country that considers itself a human rights champion,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program (HRP) of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit organisation that has worked to defend individual rights and liberties since 1920.

“I think that there was a clear message from today’s review that the United States needs to do much more to protect human rights and to bring its laws and policies in line with human rights standards,” he told IPS.

Although the UPR has come in for criticism because its conclusions are negotiated among governments, it is recognised for starkly revealing the abuses that states commit against their own citizens and those of other countries – and the Monday May 11 session was no exception.

One of the demands set forth by the 117 states taking part in the debate was for Washington to take measures to prevent acts of torture in areas outside the national territory under its effective control and prosecute perpetrators, and to ensure that victims of torture were afforded redress and assistance.

With respect to torture, among the positive achievements mentioned was the release of a report on abuses committed as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation practices.

The head of the 20-member U.S. delegation that flew over from Washington, acting legal adviser in the State Department Mary McLeod, gave an indication that the negotiations for the visit by Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay were not closed.

In March, Méndez, an Argentine lawyer who lives in the United States, complained that Washington did not intend to give him access during his visit to the more than 100 inmates in Guantanamo.

The country’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, congratulated the United States on its commitment to close Guantanamo, announced by President Barack Obama before his first term began in January 2009. But the British delegate said they would like to see it actually happen.

“The problem with Guantanamo is that it created a system of indefinite detention that we would like to see shut down with the facility,” Dakwar said. “It also created a flawed system of military commissions that provide a second system of justice. This system should also be shut down.”

Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, said the concerns brought to the attention of the U.S. delegation revolved around issues of poverty, criminalisation and violence.

“In the United States we have more money today than we ever had. We have the highest child poverty rate of any industrialised country. However, for the UPR no one from the government mentioned poverty,” Dike commented to IPS.

The Cuban delegates addressed the issue, urging the United States to guarantee the right of all residents to decent housing, food, healthcare and education, in order to reduce the poverty that affects 48 million of the country’s 319 million people.

A number of countries asked the United States to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in effect since 1976 and considered one of the pillars of the U.N. human rights system.

They also pointed out that the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nor has it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Furthermore, it has not recognised the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, or the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions on forced labour, minimum age for admission to employment, domestic workers, and discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

McLeod also said that her country is not currently considering the ratification of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court.

Dakwar said the debate in the UPR highlighted “the issue of the lack of a fair criminal justice system that is being demonstrated through the stops and frisks, racial profiling, racial studies in the death penalty. You see it in the police violence and killing of unarmed African-Americans with no accountability.

“Its inhuman and unfair system of immigration needs to again be brought in line with human rights…That means…no detention of migrants, and ending migrants’ family detention,” he added.

Another of the main recommendations to the United States is that it desist from targeted killings through drones.

“The United States continues to violate human rights in the name of national security and it needs to roll back these policies and bring them in line with the U.S. constitution and international law,” Dakwar argued.

“Also in the domestic system we have surveillance of Muslim communities. There is a guidance by the Department of Justice that they allow the use of informants within communities, particularly Muslim and Middle Eastern communities,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Definition of ‘Rape’ Cannot Change with a Marriage Certificatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:40:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140594 A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 12 2015 (IPS)

“I was brutally raped thrice by my husband. He kept me under surveillance in his Dubai house while I suffered from severe malnutrition and depression. When I tried to flee from this hellhole, he confiscated my passport, deprived me of money and beat me up,” recalls Anna Marie Lopes, 28, a rape survivor who after six years of torture, finally managed to board a flight to New Delhi from the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Today, Lopes works at a non-profit in India’s capital, New Delhi, and is slowly picking up the shards of her life. “Life’s tough when you have to start from scratch after such a traumatic experience with no support even from your parents. But I had no other choice,” Lopes tells IPS.

"Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” -- Amitabh Kumar, the Centre for Social Research
Her story is different from that of thousands of Indian women only in that it has a somewhat happy ending. For too many others who are victims of marital rape, escape is not an option, keeping them trapped in relationships that often leave them broken.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over 40 percent of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age have been beaten, raped or forced to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouses.

In 2011, a study released by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based non-profit, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, the survey stated, adding women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When violated, women typically approach family members rather than the police.

Given this ominous and entrenched social reality, the present government’s reluctance to criminalise marital rape on the grounds that marriage is “sacred” in India has fuelled an intense debate.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) last week that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, could not be “suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty […] religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society.”

Human rights campaigners are up in arms about this statement, claiming that in addition to it affirming the country’s patriarchal mindset, it besmirches India’s reputation as a liberal and equitable democracy.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” asked Amitabh Kumar of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“A rape is a rape, and […] infringes upon the victim’s fundamental rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Currently, marital rape, defined as forceful sexual intercourse by a husband without the consent of his wife – leading to the latter being physically and sexually battered – is governed by Section 375 of India’s Penal Code.

The law expressly states that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided the latter is not under 15 years of age, does not constitute rape.

Though the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship, legal eagles say it offers only civil recourse, which cannot lead to a jail term for the abusive spouse.

Following the gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, the groundswell of public angst in India led the then-ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to set up a commission tasked with reforming the country’s anti-rape laws.

 

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The three-member Justice Verma Committee recommended that sexual violence between spouses be considered rape and be punishable as a criminal offence.

However the government, which at the time was helmed by the Congress Party, dismissed the committee’s suggestion by arguing that such a move would wreck the Indian institution of marriage.

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” said a report by lawmakers submitted to parliament in 2013. The government eventually cleared a new sexual assault law, one that did not criminalise marital rape.

Experts say the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is toeing a similarly conservative line to its predecessor.

BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi stated last week, “We will give prominence to our institutions,” suggesting that the government has little intention of acting on the recommendations of the Verma Committee, or demands from civil society.

In January this year, the Supreme Court rejected a woman victim’s petition to declare marital rape a criminal offence, arguing that nationwide legislation couldn’t be tweaked for one person.

Even now, the legal community is splintered over the merits and demerits of criminalising marital rape.

While senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas have publicly endorsed the government’s viewpoint that the law must not be changed, others beg to differ.

“The institution of marriage is an integral part of Indian culture. But this has not stopped us from bringing in the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Soumya Bhaumik told IPS.

“If a husband can be tried for murdering his wife, why can’t he be tried for raping her? The entire concept of consent or definition of rape does not change with a marriage certificate.”

Bhaumik also referred to documented cases of husbands or even wives forcing themselves upon their spouses, leading to not just physical but mental and emotional trauma as well.

“The current Domestic Violence Act treats such episodes as civil cases. This means that erring spouses are issued restraining orders or the aggrieved party is given a protection order. However, there is no provision for putting the guilty party behind bars,” he stated.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife.

Marital rape has already been criminalised in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, most European nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Bolivia.

This places India in a tiny global minority – along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – which refuses to criminalise this form of assault.

Some experts feel that the Indian government’s reservations over the issue may stem from fears about a communal or religious backlash. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that it is a wife’s foremost duty to have sex with her husband.

This entrenched attitude, as well as a lack of economic independence, acts as a barrier for women who might otherwise come forward to report the crime.

“Most women don’t come forward to complain about such rapes as they fear that jail for the breadwinner will spell doom for family and kids,” Winnie Singh, executive director of Maitri, a Delhi-based non-profit that works for the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, told IPS.

“According to our research, conviction has been less than one percent in such cases.”

Singh also blames a cumbersome legal process that puts the onus on the woman to prove that a rape has occurred, something that few women are willing to take on given low conviction rates.

According to a report by Aashish Gupta of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported.

Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, reveals Gupta’s report.

Experts like Singh feel that in such a scenario, sensitisation and mass education are vital to bringing about awareness and ensuring justice for the victims.

“Stepping up rehabilitation efforts as well as large-scale visual campaigns by the government and human rights organisations involving all stakeholders are the only ways to safeguard women from this heinous crime,” she stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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