Inter Press Service » Regional Categories Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 French Add Voice to Global Climate Action Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

As if to highlight the reality of climate change, the rain came pouring down here as demonstrators prepared to rally for political action to combat global warming.

But as the march got under way from Paris’ historic Place de la Republique, bright sunshine broke from behind the ominous clouds, giving a boost to the several thousand people who had heeded the call to send a message to world leaders.

“I’m here because we need to make governments realise that a new economic model that respects nature must be possible,” street artist Rémi Gautier told IPS. “We need to work for the future.”“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming. Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo” – Monique Morellec, Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist

The Paris march was one of 2,500 events that took place around the world Sunday, involving 158 countries, according to Avaaz, the international civic organisation that coordinated the “People’s Climate March” in Paris.  French cities Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux also held marches.

The demonstrations came two days ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Summit scheduled for Tuesday, when world leaders will gather in New York to discuss the wide-ranging effects of global warming, including ocean acidification, extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.

“The leaders can’t ignore this massive call for action,” said Marie Yared, an Avaaz global campaigner in Paris. “The message is much stronger now because we’re seeing people in all their diversity making their voices heard. It’s not just activists.

To reflect the global concern, the rallying cry at the march was: “To change everything, we need everyone (Pour tout changer, il faut tout le monde).” The diversity of those taking part was notable, with demonstrators including senior citizens, students, children, non-governmental organisations, union members and religious groups.

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

They chanted, beat drums, danced and carried large banners as well as self-made drawings and signs. Other demonstrators met the marchers as the rally moved to the square in front of the city’s town hall.

The largest French Protestant organization, the Fédération Protestante de France, had urged its members to participate in the movement, saying “it’s time to change the course of things”.

“From New York to Berlin, from Bogota to New Delhi, from Paris to Melbourne, thousands of people are marching together to make their voices heard and to remind heads of state that the climate issue is universal, urgent and affects ecosystems and the future of mankind,” the Federation stated.

Joining in were farmers organisations, Oxfam France, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), Catholic groups and others who wanted to draw attention to the less obvious consequences of global warming, which also affects food security and has created “climate refugees”.

“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming,” Monique Morellec, a Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist, told IPS. “Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo.”

The Left Front was one of the political parties, including Europe Ecologie Les Verts (Greens) and Jeunes Socialistes (Young Socialists), that was out in support as well, with members handing out leaflets bearing the slogan: “We must change the system, not the climate”.

Participating groups stressed that France has a crucial role to play because Paris will be the host city of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) where binding agreements are expected to be made on reducing carbon emissions.

“People need to stay alert and to keep the politicians awake until we see what happens next year in Paris,” Yared of Avaaz told IPS.

Some rights organisations that did not take part in the march are planning their own events to put pressure on politicians to act. Amnesty International is launching a campaign on Sep. 23 titled “Faites Pas l’Autruche (Don’t be an ostrich, don’t ignore what’s going on) to highlight the lack of laws governing multinational companies whose local subsidiaries may cause human rights violations.

The group wants French lawmakers to enact a law that will hold companies to account, an Amnesty spokesperson told IPS, citing incidents such as oil pollution in Nigeria and the dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire.

The group said that victims of corporate malfeasance should have recourse to French law and courts, wherever they happen to live.  To raise public awareness, Amnesty will hold demonstrations at political landmarks in Paris, such as at the Assemblée Nationale, the seat of parliament, on the day that leaders meet in New York.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0
OPINION: Invest in Young People to Harness Africa’s Demographic Dividend Sun, 21 Sep 2014 22:09:25 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad

Julitta Onabanjo is Regional Director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa. Benoit Kalasa is Regional Director, UNFPA West and Central Africa. Mohamed Abdel-Ahad is Regional Director, UNFPA North Africa and Arab States.

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad

Different issues will be competing for the attention of different African leaders attending the 69th United Nations General Assembly Special Session on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 in New York on Sep 22.

But the central question for Africa’s development today is this: How do we harness the dividend from the continent’s current youthful population?

Solving this issue has never been more fundamental to Africa’s development than it is today.

For decades many, African countries have come up with a variety of ‘development’ plans. But often missing in these documents is how best to harness the potential of the youthful population for the transformation of the continent.

Therefore, strategic investment to harness the potential of the youth population can no longer wait.“African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights”

The groundswell for change

Africa is undergoing important demographic changes, which provide immense economic opportunities. Currently, there are 251 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in Africa compared with 1.2 billion worldwide, which means that around one in five adolescents in the world comes from Africa.

Africa’s working age population is growing and increasing the continent’s productive potential. If mortality continues to decline and fertility declines rapidly, the current high child dependency burden will reduce drastically. The result of such change is an opportunity for the active and employed youth to invest more.  With declining death rates, the working age population in Africa will increase from about 54 percent of the population in 2010 to a peak of about 64 percent in 2090.

This increase in the working age population will also create a window of opportunity  that, if properly harnessed, should translate into higher economic growth for Africa, yielding what is now termed a ‘demographic dividend’ – or accelerated economic growth spurred by a change in the age structure of the population.

Reaping the demographic dividend requires investments in job creation, health including sexual and reproductive health and family planning, education and skill and development, which would lead to increasing per capita income.

Due to low dependency ratio, individuals and families will be able to make savings, which translate into investment and boost economic growth. This is how East Asian countries (Asian Tigers) were able to capitalise on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

The impact of such a demographic transition on economic growth is no longer questionable – it is simply a fact.

But this transformation requires that appropriate policies, strategies, programs and projects are in place to ensure that a demographic dividend can be reaped from the youth bulge.

Seizing the moment

Without concerted action, many African countries could instead face a backlash from the growing numbers of disgruntled and unemployed youth that will emerge.

In the worst-case scenario, such a demographic transition could translate into an army of unemployed youth and significantly increase social risks and tensions.

To seize the opportunity, African states will need to focus their investments in a number of critical areas. A priority will be the education and training of their youth.

African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights.

If these efforts are to succeed, this will demand addressing gender disparities between today’s boys and girls especially, but more specifically, addressing the vulnerabilities of the adolescent girl.

Beyond rhetoric

As we move toward the post-2015 development agenda, unleashing the potential and power of Africa’s youth should be a critical component of the continent’s developmental strategies, as reflected in the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development – the regional outcome of ICPD beyond 2014 – and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

This can no longer be reduced to election or political polemics. It requires urgent action.

Young people are central to the realisation of the demographic dividend. It is therefore important to protect and fulfil the rights of adolescents and youth to accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education, and health services for sexual and reproductive well-being and lifelong health, to ensure a productive and competitive labour force.

Africa cannot afford to squander the potential gains of the 21st Century offered by such an important demographic asset:  its youthful population.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

]]> 0
Boosting the Natural Disaster Immunity of Caribbean Hospitals Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:38:55 +0000 Jewel Fraser Seismologists say a new children's hospital being planned for Couva, in Trinidad, is located near a fault line. According to one report, 67 per cent of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas at high risk for natural disasters. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Seismologists say a new children's hospital being planned for Couva, in Trinidad, is located near a fault line. According to one report, 67 per cent of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas at high risk for natural disasters. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

When floods overwhelmed the Eastern Caribbean in December last year, St. Vincent’s new smart hospital, completed just a few months earlier, stood the test of “remaining functional during and immediately after a natural disaster.”

The floods, later dubbed the Christmas rains, killed more than a dozen people and caused millions of dollars in infrastructural damage. However, the Georgetown Hospital in St. Vincent weathered the natural disaster, living up to the definition of a smart hospital in that it continued to serve the community without interruption.“We had the Christmas floods on Dec. 24 and the island’s water supply system was down whereas the hospital’s water supply remained functional. The community bought into it [after that]." -- Shalini Jagnarine of PAHO

According to a report by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), “More than 67% of hospitals in the Caribbean and Latin America are located in areas of higher risk of disaster.

“Enormous economic losses occur (including lost income and work days) when health facilities are destroyed or damaged by natural disasters — they must be re-built and downtime limits their ability to provide emergency care to victims and ongoing healthcare for their communities.”

The report adds, “Building resilience of communities and critical buildings like hospitals and schools delivers better results in terms of lives saved and livelihoods protected than simply through responding to the effects of disasters or climate variability.

“Establishing an integrated and forward looking approach to hospital design is essential if health facilities are to be safe, green and sustainable.”

Dr. Dana Van Alphen, the regional advisor for PAHO’s Disaster Risk Management Programme, told IPS that during a meeting of PAHO officials there were discussions about “how we could include climate change adaptation measures into our safe hospital initiative.”

The safe hospital initiative was launched in the Caribbean about a decade ago and has become a global standard for assessing the likelihood a hospital can remain functional in disaster situations.

PAHO worked with the DFID to launch the Smart Hospital Initiative. The DFID agreed to fund the initiative from its International Climate Fund for one year, citing “building resilience to climate change and disasters [as] a central pillar” of its 2011-2015 Operational Plan for the Caribbean.

Dr. Van Alphen said the Georgetown Hospital was chosen as one of two demonstration hospitals for the Smart Hospital Initiative because PAHO wanted “to convince policy makers that there are tangible measures for safety and natural disasters, there are practical measures that one can take and still see a benefit” without the costs being prohibitive.

Georgetown Hospital and the Pogson Hospital in St. Kitts were chosen as the two demonstration hospitals, after surveying 38 hospitals in the region. Of the 38 surveyed, 18 per cent were found to have structural and functional issues that required urgent measures to protect the lives of patients and staff.

“We took [those] two hospitals where we got support from the community and support from the government to implement the project. We wanted to do a success story,” Dr. Van Alphen said.

Some 350,000 dollars was allocated to retrofit Georgetown Hospital, which had structural and functional deficiencies including an unsafe roof, no backup power supply, and no water storage system.

The hospital, built in the 1980s, is a 25-bed facility in the parish of Charlotte that serves a population of almost 10,000.

The work done on the hospital included the renovating of the roof, waterproofing of the windows, installation of photovoltaic solar panels to ensure an alternative power supply, and the introduction of a rainwater harvesting system. The hospital was generally refurbished and upgraded to make it a more comfortable and pleasing environment for working and convalescing.

As a result of the retrofitting, there was a 60 percent reduction in energy consumption, said Dr. Van Alphen.

The DFID in its “Intervention Summary: Smart Health Care Facilities in the Caribbean”, notes that “according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations, every dollar a hospital in the United States saves on energy is equivalent to generating 20 dollars in new revenues.

“Therefore, investing in activities that help reduce the health sector’s climate footprint will ultimately liberate money for allocation towards a hospital’s genuine purpose — improving overall patient care and health in the community.”

Since energy costs in the Caribbean are among the highest in the world, reduction in hospitals’ energy bill would free up significant resources, the DFID noted.

While the community was generally happy with the upgrades — according to the results of surveys conducted before and after the retrofitting that showed a significant increase in patients’ and staff’s satisfaction levels — there remained some concerns.

One of these was the community’s reluctance to accept the use of harvested rainwater. Shalini Jagnarine, a structural engineer with PAHO’s Disaster Management Unit, told IPS that that reluctance melted away with the Christmas floods.

“We had the Christmas floods on Dec. 24 and the island’s water supply system was down whereas the hospital’s water supply remained functional. The community bought into it [after that],” she said.

Another issue, according to the cost-benefit analysis of the project, was the financial sustainability of the project. The cost-benefit analysis report stated that “the cost of maintenance and operation [needs to be] minimized and other sources of revenue schemes…identified to financially support the project over its lifespan.”

The retrofitting of St. Kitt’s Pogson Medical Centre in Sandy Point village focused on showing how small changes can make a new and otherwise safe hospital more efficient, safe and environmentally friendly.

The work done included the installation of emergency exits, better access for the disabled, and upgrade of the plumbing fixtures and electrical systems.

Jagnarine said, “When you have a hospital that is already built, to make it safe you have to be smart about the financial decisions you make. To make it 100 per cent green may be too expensive.”

Dr. Van Alphen added, “The cost-benefit analysis is very important…What is the cost of not implementing these measures? What is the cost to your country and community if you do not make your health facility green and you are impacted by a natural disaster? The decision we take depends on the money we have, but there are simple things that can be done.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Georgia’s Female Drug Addicts Face Double Struggle Sun, 21 Sep 2014 09:27:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Irina was 21 when she first started using drugs. More than 30 years later, having lost her husband, her home and her business to drugs, she is still battling her addiction.

But, like almost all female drug addicts in this former Soviet state, she has faced a desperate struggle not only with her drug problem, but with accessing help in the face of institutionalised and systematic discrimination because of her gender.

“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated,” she told IPS. “And this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there.”

Women make up 10 per cent of the estimated 40,000 drug users in Georgia, according to research by local NGOs working with drug users.“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated and this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there” – Irina, now in her 50s, who has been taking drugs for 30 years

However, because of very strong gender stereotyping, women users have very low access to harm reduction services – only 4 percent of needle exchange programme clients are women and the figure is even less for methadone treatment.

Local activists say this startling discrepancy is down to the massive social stigma faced by women drug users.

Dasha Ocheret, Deputy Director for Advocacy at the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) told IPS: “In traditional societies, like Georgia’s, there is a much stronger negative attitude to women who use drugs than to men who use drugs. Women are supposed to be wives and mothers, not drug users.”

Many female addicts are scared to access needle exchanges or other harm reduction services because they fear their addiction will become known to their families or the police. Many have found themselves the victims of violence as their own families try to exert control over them once their drug use has been revealed. Others fear their drug use will be reported to the authorities by health workers.

Registered women drug users can have their children taken away while they routinely face violence – over 80 percent of women who use drugs in Georgia experience violence, according to the Georgian Harm Reduction Network– and extortion at the hands of police helping to enforce some of the world’s harshest drug laws. Possession of cannabis, for example, can result in an 11-year jail sentence.

Irina, who admits that she arranges anonymous attendance at an opioid substitution therapy (OST) programme so that as few people as possible can see her there, told IPS that she had herself been assaulted by a police officer and that police automatically viewed all female drug users as “criminals”.

But those who do want to access such services face further barriers because of their gender.

Free methadone substitution programmes in the country are extremely limited and because levels of financial autonomy among women in Georgia are low, other similar programmes are too expensive for many female addicts.

Discrimination is not uncommon among health service workers. Although some say that they have been treated by very sympathetic doctors, other female drug users have complained of abuse and denigration by medical staff and in some cases being denied health care because of their drug use.

Pregnant women are discouraged from accessing OST, despite it being shown to be safe in pregnancy and resulting in better health outcomes for both mother and child.

Eka Iakobishvili, EHRN’s Human Rights Programme Manager, told IPS: “Pregnant women don’t have access to certain services – they are strongly advised by doctors and health care workers to abort a baby rather than get methadone substitution treatment because they are told the treatment will harm the baby.”

While some may then undergo abortions, others will not, instead continuing dangerous drug use and the potential risk of contracting HIV/AIDS which could then be passed on to their child.

Meanwhile, those harm reduction services accessible by women are not gender-sensitive, according to campaigners, who say that female drug users need access to centres and programmes run and attended only by women.

Irina told IPS: “On some [harm reduction] programmes, the male drug users there will abuse the women drug users for taking drugs. This puts a lot of women off attending these programmes.”

She said that she had asked for a women-only service to be set up at the OST centre she attends but that it had been rejected on the grounds that only a few women were enrolled in it.

Together, these factors mean that many women are unable to access health services and continue dangerous drug-taking behaviour, sharing needles and injecting home-made drug cocktails made up of anything, including disinfectants and petrol mixed with over the counter medicines.

But there is hope that the situation may be about to change, at least to some degree, as local and international groups press to have the problem addressed.

At the end of July, CEDAW (UN Commission on Elimination of Discrimination against Women) released a set of recommendations for the Georgian government to ensure that women obtain proper access to harm reduction services after local NGOs submitted reports on the levels of discrimination they face.

These include, among others, specific calls for the government to carry out nationwide studies to establish the exact number of women who use drugs, including while pregnant, to help draw up a strategic plan to tackle the problem, and to provide gender-sensitive and evidence-based harm reduction services for women who use drugs.

The government has yet to react publicly to the recommendations but local campaigners have said they are speaking to government departments about them and are preparing to follow up with them on the recommendations.

Tea Kordzadze, Project Manager at the Georgian Harm Reduction Network in Tibilisi, told IPS: “We are hoping that at least some of the recommendations will be implemented.”

The Georgian government has been keen to show the country is ready to embrace Western values and bring its legislation and standards into line with European nations in recent years as it looks to create closer ties to the European Union. Rights activists say that this could come into play when the government considers the recommendations.

Iakobishvili said: These are of course just recommendations and the government is not obliged at all to accept or implement any of them. But, having said that, Georgia does care what other countries and big international rights organisations like Amnesty International and so on say about the country.”

Irina told IPS that only outside pressure would bring any real change. “The European Union, the Council of Europe and other international bodies need to put pressure on the Georgian government to make sure that the recommendations don’t remain on paper only.”

But, she added, “in any case, the recommendations alone won’t be enough. The whole attitude in society to women drug users is very negative. It has to be changed.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0
Africa Seeks Commitment to Adaptation in Climate Deal Sun, 21 Sep 2014 05:52:54 +0000 Brendon Bosworth Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

Recurring droughts have destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Brendon Bosworth

It is a critical time for international climate change negotiations. By December 2015, world leaders are due to decide on an international climate change agreement covering all countries that will take effect in 2020. 

Going into the upcoming United Nations negotiations — the December COP 20 talks in Lima, Peru, where the agreement will be drafted, and the pivotal COP 21 next year in Paris, France, where it is due to be signed — African climate change negotiators are driving for leaders to up their commitment to climate change adaptation.

“No matter what we do, we are at a stage where we need to adapt. Adaptation should be at the centre of the deal in Paris,” South Africa’s director of international climate change, Maesela Kekana, a negotiator with the African Group of Negotiators, told IPS. “If we do not get adaptation, then it means Africa would not have got anything since the beginning.”

The African Group has proposed that a global adaptation goal should be part of the 2015 agreement.

Africa is one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change. As the world continues to warm it is likely that land temperatures in Africa will rise quicker than the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change impacts would place added stress on already stretched water resources in parts of the continent and affect crop production. For instance, roughly 65 percent of maize-growing areas in Africa would experience yield losses for just one degree Celsius of warming, with impacts worsened by drought, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change

Coastal areas run the risk of damage from sea level rise. In Tanzania, for example, it is estimated that with sea-level rise by 2030 as much of 7,624 square kilometres of land could be lost, with up to 1.6 million people at risk of being flooded, according to researchers from the University of Southampton.

Adapting to climate change will be costly. Developed nations have pledged to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year for climate action in developing countries by 2020.

“We want to disaggregate [the 100 billion dollars] and have an adaptation target or goal for supporting adaptation,” Mali’s Seyni Nafo, a lead negotiator with the African Group of Negotiators, told IPS.

While the group hasn’t yet decided on the specific amount, it wants to ensure funds are set aside for adaptation and mainly channeled through the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations fund set up to channel climate aid to developing countries, he explained.

In the past the majority of global climate finance has gone to funding mitigation measures. Of the 30 billion dollars developed countries gave to developing countries between 2010 and 2012 for climate change action just 21 percent went into adaptation, according to a 2012 Oxfam report.

The Green Climate Fund aims to split its funding 50: 50 for mitigation and adaptation.

Germany recently pledged one billion dollars to the fund, but other developed nations are yet to make large pledges.

“As one of my African colleagues says, ‘it’s still an empty vault,’” Matthew Stilwell, an adviser on climate change negotiations and policy with the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development, told IPS. “Developed countries’ tendency is to withhold some of the money and offer the money as part of the quid pro quo in Paris as part of the negotiations.”

Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of civil society coalition the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, welcomed the potential of the Green Climate Fund but remained sceptical.

“Based on the experience of the other existing funds, which are just shells, our fear is that we are going to have the Green Climate Fund going the way of the Adaptation Fund and the Least-Developed Countries Fund, and the others — we have celebrated them but eventually they end up a disappointment,” Mwenda told IPS.

As 2015 draws near, the urgency of dealing with human-induced climate change is becoming more apparent since the effects of climate change are already being seen.

“Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes” are being felt around the world as a result of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, says a leaked draft report from the U.N., The New York Times reported.

The report notes that continued emissions “will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

While there are hopes for an ambitious 2015 climate agreement some civil society actors, frustrated with continued political wrangling over climate change, are not holding their breath.

“There are a lot of unfulfilled promises from the first COP to now,” Rajen Awotar, executive chairman of the nonprofit Mauritius Council for Development, Environmental Studies and Conservation, told IPS.

“The 2015 agreement: I bet we’ll see a very weakened agreement,” he said. “There will be no winner; everybody will be a loser. The biggest loser will be the climate.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

]]> 0
Environmental Funding Bypasses Indigenous Communities Sat, 20 Sep 2014 12:37:39 +0000 Amantha Perera Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Multi-million-dollar environmental conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of small local communities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

When she talks about the forests in her native Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, Maridiana Deren’s facial expression changes. The calm, almost shy person is transformed into an emotionally charged woman, her fists clench and she stares wide-eyed at whoever is listening to her.

“The ‘boohmi’ (earth) is our mother, the forest our air, the water our blood,” says the activist, who has been taking on mining and oil industries operating in her native island for over a decade.

Deren, who counts herself among the Dayak people, works as a nurse and has had numerous run-ins with powerful, organised and rich commercial entities. They have sometimes been violent – she was once stabbed and on another occasion rammed by a motorcycle.

After years of taking on wealthy corporations, Deren is now facing a new opponent, one she finds even harder to tackle – her own government.

“They want to [designate] our forests as conservation areas, and take them away from us,” she tells IPS.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund
She alleges that under the guise of the scheme known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which provides financial incentives for developing countries to cut down on carbon emissions, governments are encroaching on indigenous people’s ancestral lands in remote areas like Kalimantan.

The REDD scheme, which came into effect at the close of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in 2007, works by calculating the amount of carbon stored in a particular forest area and issuing ‘carbon credits’ for the preservation or sustainable management of these carbon stocks.

The carbon credits can then be sold to polluting companies in the North wishing to offset their harmful emissions. Now, according to indigenous communities worldwide, the programme has become just another way for interested parties to strip small communities of their ancestral lands.

It is not only in Indonesia that large, multi-national and multi-million-dollar environment conservation efforts are running headlong into the interests of local communities. In the Asia-Pacific region, India and the Philippines are witnessing similar conflicts of interest, a pattern that is repeated on a global scale, according to experts and researchers.

In India, activists claim, successive governments have been trying to use the 1980 Forest Conservation Act to take over forests from indigenous communities for decades.

“Now they can use REDD+ as an added reason to take over forests, it is becoming a major issue where communities that have lived off and taken care of forests for generations are deprived of them,” Michael Mazgaonkar, a member of the Indian advisory board at the U.S.-based Global Greengrants Fund, which specialises in small grants to local communities, told IPS.

In the northern Indian state of Manipur, for instance, the Asian Human Rights Commission reports that forest clearing for the purpose of constructing the Mapithel dam on the Thoubal River in the Ukhrul district has, since 2006, ignored the objections of indigenous communities in the region.

Well-oiled global entities undermining grassroots interests under the guise of ‘development’ is a frequent occurrence, according to Mary Ann Manahan, a programme officer with the think-tank Focus on the Global South in the Philippines.

She takes the example of assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that devastated the country in late 2013.

“It was a one-billion-dollar loan, that came with all kinds of conditions attached. It stipulated what kind of companies could be [contracted] with the funding” and how the funds could be spent, she said.

“By doing that, the loan limited how local communities could have benefited from the funds by way of employment and other benefits,” Manahan added.

According to Liane Schalatek, associate director at the Heinrich Böll Foundation of North America, which aims to promote democracy, civil rights and environmental sustainability, close to 300 billion dollars are allocated annually to environmental funding worldwide but it is unclear “how this money is spent.”

What is clear is that the bulk of that funding goes to governments and large corporations, while only a small portion of it ever reaches the communities who live in areas that are supposedly being protected or rehabilitated.

“Billions of dollars are spent on climate-friendly projects the world over, but very little of that really trickles down to the level of the communities that are affected,” Terry Odendahl, executive director of the Global Greengrants Fund, told IPS.

She and others advocate for donors to take a much closer look at how funds are allocated, and who reaps the benefits. Others argue that without the input of local communities, ancestral wisdom dating back generations could be lost.

Mazgaonkar pointed to the example of development in the Sundarbans, the single largest mangrove forest in the world, extending from India to Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The region has long been vulnerable to changing climate patterns and the increasing prevalence of natural disasters like cyclones, typhoons and rising sea levels.

“To stop storm tides, a large bilateral funder [recently] built a big wall [on the island of Sagar, located on the western side of the delta], which has created a new set of problems like pollution and fish depletion.”

He said the project went ahead, even though local women advocated growing mangroves as a more viable solution to the problem.

“What is lacking is priorities on how and where we are spending money,” Maxine Burkett, a specialist in climate change policy at the University of Hawaii, told IPS, adding that a clear policy needs to be laid out vis-à-vis development and assistance that impacts indigenous people.

In March, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a collection of organisations that work on land rights for forest dwellers, found that despite the hype on REDD+ it has not led to the predicted increase in recognition of indigenous lands. In fact, recognition of ancestral lands was five times higher between 2002 and 2008 than it was 2008-2013.

An RRI report analysing the ability of indigenous communities to benefit from carbon trading in 23 lower and middle-income countries (LMICs) found, “[T]he existing legal frameworks are uncertain and opaque with regard to carbon trading in general but especially in terms of indigenous peoples’ and communities’ rights to engage with, and benefit from, the carbon trade.”

The report warned that because of the opaque nature of carbon trading laws, governments could use the 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, adopted at last year’s Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19) held in the Polish capital, to transfer the rights of indigenous communities to state entities.

New RRI research released last week in the run-up to U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, said that the 1.64 billion dollars pledged by donors to develop the REDD+ framework and carbon markets could secure the rights of indigenous communities living on 450 million hectares, an area almost half the size of Europe.

In order for that to happen, however, the land rights of indigenous communities have to become a priority among major donors and multilateral institutions.

“Secure land tenure is a prerequisite for the success of climate, poverty reduction and ecosystem conservation initiatives,” according to RRI.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 1
Will Governments Keep Their Promises on the Human Right to Water? Sat, 20 Sep 2014 11:20:35 +0000 Dilip Surkar Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Dilip Surkar
AHMEDABAD, India, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

It was a dramatic moment at the United Nations when it voted in 2010 to affirm water and sanitation as a human right.

Then Bolivian ambassador to the U.N., Pablo Solon, shocked the silent auditorium with a devastating reminder of the consequences a lack of access to safe, available and affordable water and sanitation have on human life – every 21 seconds, a child dies of a water-borne disease.The shameful events in Detroit, when thousands of the poorest inhabitants of the U.S. city were disconnected from their water supply this summer after being unable to pay their bills, brought the failure to realise the human right to water and sanitation into sharp relief.

This key moment at the U.N. – which hosts its General Assembly next week – marked the beginning of a diplomatic process through which the need for states to progressively realise the human right to water and sanitation, and all the standards and principles it entails, became an obligation for member states.

Now, four years on, governments around the world are coming together to finalise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will guide official development policy and processes for the next 15 years.

However, while there has been recognition of the centrality of water and sanitation to development through its standalone goal, there has been a palpable reluctance from many – though not all – governments to firmly state the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation as a SDG target.

Mirroring this at national level, there is an equally distinct lack of movement in the recognition of the right in constitutions and legislation. And in many cases where it is recognised, a few bright spots aside, rights have failed to become a reality.

Rights vs reality

In the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, the framework of access has come to dominate. For those unfamiliar with the human right and its legal obligations, it is a perfectly reasonable call – for everyone to have access to water and sanitation.

But everyone has a human right to water and sanitation that is not only accessible, but universally available, safe and affordable and in addition to this for sanitation, acceptable.

Reducing our demand for water and sanitation to access alone hinders the fulfilment of these all important standards of the human right, while it also puts out of focus human rights principles such as opposing discrimination, ensuring participation, equality and accountability, among others.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reduced our monitoring of water to access alone, with no measure for its sustainability. While having a tap would be a step up for many millions, as anyone living without water as a daily reality could attest, a tap, standpipe or other means of accessing water does not mean water is consistently available from it, nor that it is safe or affordable.

By the measure of access alone, the MDG on water has already been achieved. Figures from the World Health Organisation and Unicef’s Joint Monitoring Programme suggest that 748 million people now lack access to water – between 1990 and 2012, 2.3 billion people gained access to ‘improved drinking water sources’.

But, as research has demonstrated, increase the complexity of this measure to safe water and the figure balloons: some 1.8 billion people are thought to lack access to safe water.

The shameful events in Detroit, when thousands of the poorest inhabitants of the U.S. city were disconnected from their water supply this summer after being unable to pay their bills, brought the failure to realise the human right to water and sanitation into sharp relief: in the world’s richest economy, people can be left, essentially, to die, removed in a discriminatory manner from the sustenance of life-giving water.

“Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying,” said U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, who was joined by the rapporteurs on housing and extreme poverty in condemning the USA.

“In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”

In Kenya, one of the very few countries where the human right to water and sanitation is embedded in the constitution, rights remain far from reality, with patterns visible across the world replicated in microcosm – the poor pay more for their water than the rich.

“I call upon the authorities to take immediate measures to enforce and monitor the official tariffs for water kiosks. This is crucial to correct the systematic pattern of the poor paying much more for water from kiosks than the rich for water from pipes,”said de Albuquerque.

“The rights to water and sanitation should not remain a dream for so many. These rights are recognised in the Kenyan Constitution itself,” she went on.

What is to be done?

At End Water Poverty, the world’s biggest water and sanitation coalition with more than 275 members, we decided at the beginning of the year to reframe our “Keep Your Promises” campaign to focus on the human right to water and sanitation.

This means that at a national level we will support our members in demanding that the right is recognised, and where it is already recognised, that it is realised.

This means all the standards and principles of the right are adhered to; it means that in situations of water scarcity the state must meet people’s needs, whether for drinking, cooking, washing or hygiene, as a first priority; and it means governments must use the maximum available resources in a non-discriminatory manner to realise the right.

At an international level, it means the SDGs must adopt the realisation of the right as a target. Do governments intend to regress on international human rights law they created? Do they not want provision of water and sanitation to be framed by non-discrimination? Or for sanitation to be framed by privacy, dignity and cultural acceptability?

As then U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said last year on the SDG process, development efforts must be directed to the realisation of human rights:

“This has been so central to the demands of people from all regions that we can now confidently assert that the extent to which it is reflected in the new framework, will in large measure, determine its illegitimacy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Surprisingly Equal, Surprisingly Unequal Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:01:47 +0000 Judith Niehues

Judith Niehues is an economist at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. She can be contacted at

By Judith Niehues
COLOGNE, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

Thomas Piketty, a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality, has triggered a debate on the distribution of income and wealth in many countries. This is no small issue because views on income inequality and concomitant redistributive preferences are crucial to the design of tax and transfer systems.

Particularly in many European countries, society is concerned about distributional issues, reflected in recurring debates on redistributive policies. However, a study presenting international survey data on subjective perceptions of inequality and redistributive preferences reveals that perceived and actual inequality diverge quite substantially in many of these countries.

Dr Judith Niehues

Dr Judith Niehues

According to the 2009 Social Inequality Module of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), more than 50 percent of Germans strongly agree that differences in income are too large.

Correspondingly, a similar portion of Germans thinks that it is “the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes” – a questionnaire item which is commonly used to capture subjective preferences for redistribution.

Regarding this majority of critical views on inequality, social justice and redistribution are topics for debate that continually feature on the political agenda in Germany – reflected in the current introduction of redistributive policies, such as a minimum wage and additional pension benefits for mothers.

On the other hand, in the United States – which is characterised by a far higher degree of actual income inequality – people are less concerned about income differences, and they do not see any reason for redistributive state intervention. There is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

The missing link between inequality and its assessment is not specific to these two countries. In a sample of 23 European countries and the United States, there is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

Obviously, there might be a range of individual and national factors which may explain cross-country differences in critical views on income differences and related redistributive preferences.

For example, in line with the argument of the “American exceptionalism”, people in the United States might just accept certain inequalities as incentives because they believe in the chance of upward mobility.

On the other hand, Germans may be more convinced that income positions arise from luck or other exogenous circumstances, thus regarding inequality as more unfair, and therefore they might demand more state redistribution.

However, current research on mobility reveals that there is a tendency for countries with higher inequality to also be associated with less income mobility.

Looking instead at how types of societies are perceived – a questionnaire item also included by the ISSP – gives some clues: 54.2 percent of Germans believe that the bulk of the German population lives rather at the bottom of society.

To what extent does this perceived type of society match with actual income distribution in Germany? Although there are different ways of demarcating society into a “bottom”, a “middle” and a “top”, studies generally reveal that the middle class represents by far the largest group in German society.

In particular, independently from the chosen definition of income groups, people on middle incomes are far more numerous than those at the bottom of the income distribution scale. This rather pessimistic view on income equality is typical of the European countries studied.

In most countries, the population significantly overestimates the degree of inequality. This is particularly true for former socialist countries such as Hungary, Slovenia as well as the Czech and Slovak republics.

In Hungary, for example, 56.6 percent of the population views Hungarian society as “a small elite at the top, very few people in the middle and the great mass of people at the bottom”, although the country is characterised by one of the lowest income inequalities in the European Union.

Thus, it is not that former socialist countries view already small income differences as much more critical, but that the population is just not aware of the small level of income inequality.

The situation is different in the Scandinavian countries. Here the various populations are much more realistic about the low levels of inequality and truly identify their societies as “typical middle class models”.

In contrast to the European countries, the United States reveals a completely different picture: U.S. citizens substantially underestimate the extent of inequality in their country. The lower income group in the United States is considerably larger than Americans suppose

This varnished view on inequality in the United States is not new – but it is rather new that in European countries it tends to be the other way round.

These results provide an explanation of why redistributive policies find more support in some countries than in others.

Although results from previous ISSP surveys suggest that cross-country differences in views on inequalities and redistributive preferences tend to change slowly, it would nevertheless be interesting to see if critical views on income differences and redistributive preferences would change if citizens were aware of the actual degree of inequality in their countries.

Interestingly, the overestimation of inequality is adversely related to the absolute level of living standards in corresponding countries. Thus, it might also be the case that the perceived structuring of the society is more associated with absolute levels of living standards than commonly suggested.

(Edited by Phil Harris)


]]> 0
U.N. Urged to Reaffirm Reproductive Rights in Post-2015 Agenda Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 Thalif Deen Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda has been described as the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the world body.

But where does population, family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) fit into the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an integral part of that development agenda?"We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life." -- Purnima Mane, head of Pathfinder International

Of the 17, Goal 3 is aimed at “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” while Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the “empowerment of all women and girls.”

But when the General Assembly adopts the final list of SDGs in September 2015, how many of the proposed goals will survive and how many will fall by the wayside?

Meanwhile, SRHR will also be a key item on the agenda of a special session of the General Assembly next week commemorating the 20-year-old Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) said, “Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girs and young people, including their reproductive rights.

“But the battle is not over,” he said.

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

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS, “We are delighted the final set of [proposed] SDGs contains four critical targets on SRHR: three under the health goal and one under the gender goal.”

The inclusion of a commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes, is necessary and long overdue, she said.

“But we have not reached the finish line yet,” cautioned Mane, who oversees an annual budget of over 100 million dollars for sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing countries.

The SDGs still need to be adopted by the General Assembly, “and we must all continue to raise our voices to ensure these SRHR targets are intact when the final version is approved,” she added.

Mane said civil society is disappointed these targets are not as ambitious or rights-based as they should be.

“And translating the written commitment into actionable steps remains a major challenge and is frequently met with resistance. We must retain our focus on these issues,” she said.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Malaysia-based Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) working across 17 countries in the region, told IPS it is ideal to have SRHR captured both under the gender goal as well as the health goal.

The advantages of being part of the gender goal is that the rights aspects can be more strategically addressed – because this is the area where universal commitment has been lagging – the issues of early marriage, gender-based violence, harmful practices – all of which have an impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women, she pointed out.

“The advantages of being part of the health goal is that interventions to reduce maternal mortality, increase access to contraception, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are part and parcel of sound national health policies,” Thanenthiran said.

It would be useful for governments to learn from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process and ensure that the new goals are not implemented in silos, she added. “Public health concerns should be addressed with a clear gender and rights framework.”

Maria Jose Alcala, director of the secretariat of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD, told IPS what so many governments and stakeholders around the world called for throughout the negotiations was simply to affirm all human rights for all individuals – and that includes SRHR.

The international community has an historic opportunity– and obligation — to move the global agenda forward, and go beyond just reaffirming agreements of 20 years ago as if the world hasn’t changed,and as if knowledge and society hasn’t evolved, she noted.

“We know, based on ample research and evidence, based on the experiences of countries around the world, as well as just plain common sense, that we will never achieve poverty eradication, equality, social justice, and sustainable development if these fundamental human rights and freedoms are sidelined or traded-off in U.N. negotiations,” Jose Alcala said.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a must and prerequisite for the post-2015 agenda “if we are to really leave nobody behind this time around,” she declared.

Mane told IPS, “As the head of Pathfinder, I will actively, passionately, and strongly advocate for SRHR and family planning to be recognised and aggressively pursued in the post-2015 development agenda.”

She said access to SRHR is a fundamental human right. “We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life. ”

Asked about the successes and failures of ICPD, Thanenthiran told IPS there is a need to recognise the progress so far: maternal mortality ratios and infant mortality rates have decreased, access to contraception has improved and life expectancy increased.

However, much remains to be accomplished, she added. “It is apparent from all recent reports and data that SRHR issues worldwide are issues of socio-economic inequality.”

In every country in the world, she noted, women who are poorer, less educated, or belong to marginalised groups (indigenous, disabled, ethnic minorities) suffer from undesirable sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Compared to their better educated and wealthier sister citizens, these women and girls are more likely to have less access to contraception, have pregnancies at younger ages, have more frequent pregnancies, have more unintended pregnancies, be less able to protect themselves from HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases, suffer from poor maternal health, die in childbirth and suffer from fistula and uterine prolapse.

Hence the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda is also the equality agenda of this century, she added.

“Governments must commit to reducing these inequalities and carry these learnings from ICPD at 20 into the post-2015 development agenda,” Thanenthiran said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
OPINION: Step Up Efforts Against Hunger Fri, 19 Sep 2014 16:08:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed themselves to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2014 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates that 805 million people – one in nine people worldwide – remain chronically hungry: 789 million are in developing countries where this share has declined from 23.4 to 13.5 percent.

By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015.

Some 25 countries have made more impressive progress, achieving the more ambitious WFS target of halving the number of hungry. However, the number of hungry people in the world has only declined by one-fifth from the billion estimated for 1990-92.

Major effort needed

The proportion of undernourished people – those regularly not able to consume enough food for an active and healthy life – has decreased from 23.4 percent in 1990–1992 to 13.5 percent in 2012–2014. This is significant because a large and growing number of countries show that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

However, the MDG target of halving the chronically undernourished people’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 cannot be met at the current rate of progress. Meeting the target is still possible, however, with a sufficient, immediate additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress so far.

Progress uneven

“By 2012-14, 63 developing countries had reached the MDG target – to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the hungry under five percent – with several more on track to do so by 2015”
Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 14 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished.

Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions. There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean – where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached, or nearly reached.

West Asia has seen a rise in the share of the hungry compared with 1990–1992, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight and stunting persist in children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Such nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Food security and nutrition

Hunger is conventionally measured in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment, the FAO estimate of chronic inadequacy of dietary energy. While such a measure is useful for estimating hunger, it needs to be complemented by more measures to capture other dimensions of food security.

SOFI’s suite of indicators measures different dimensions of food security. Information thus generated can guide priority policy actions. For example, in countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting.

With the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals likely to seek to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO has recently developed and tested a new Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in over 150 countries to measure the severity of reported food insecurity.


Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water supply and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, and more effective, resources to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome without universalising social protection to all in need, but also to provide the means for future livelihoods and resilience.

The forthcoming Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome on November 19-21 is expected to articulate coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition as well as for greater international cooperation and support for enhanced and more integrated national nutrition efforts.


(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0
Geographical Divide in Maternal Health for Syrian Refugees Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:17:22 +0000 Shelly Kittleson A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
DOHUK, Iraq, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the largest refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, young Syrian mothers and pregnant women are considered relatively lucky.

The number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed 3 million in late August, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (over 1.1 million), Turkey (over 800,000), and Jordan (over 600,000). In all of the above, serious concerns have been expressed about the availability of healthcare services for expectant mothers.

In Lebanon, for example – which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children – the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last year had to reduce its coverage of delivery costs for mothers to 75 percent instead of 100 percent, due to funding shortfalls.Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare

The Domiz camp in the northern Dohuk province houses over 100,000 mostly Syrian Kurds, but is in a geographical area with a 189 percent coverage rate of humanitarian aid funding requests in 2014. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (SHARP) has received only 33 percent of the same.

Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare.

This does not necessarily equate with quality healthcare, however. Halat Yousef, a young mother that IPS spoke to in Domiz, said that she had been told after a previous birth in Syria that she would need a caesarean section for any subsequent births.

On her arrival at the Dohuk public hospital, she was instead refused a bed, told to come back in a week and that she would have to give birth normally. They also told her she had hepatitis.

Fortunately, she said, her husband realised the seriousness of the situation and took her to the capital, where they immediately performed a C-section and found that she was instead negative for hepatitis. IPS met her as she was leaving healthcare facilities set up in the camp, holding her healthy 10-day-old infant.

Until recently, many mothers would also simply give birth in their tents. On August 4, Médicins San Frontiéres (MSF) opened a maternity unit in the camp that offers ante-natal check-ups, birthing services headed by MSF-trained midwives and post-natal vaccinations provided by staff who are also refugees.

Information on breastfeeding and family planning advice is also provided, according to MSF’s medical team leader in the camp, Dr Adrian Guadarrama.

MSF estimates that 2,100 infants are born in the camp every year, and others to refugees living outside of it.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long been providing safe delivery kits to healthcare providers. It also works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provides contraceptives to those requesting them, thereby ensuring that pregnancies are planned, wanted and safer.

The clean delivery kits contain a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet for the woman to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a sterilised umbilical cord tie, a cloth (to keep the mother and baby warm) and latex gloves.

UNFPA humanitarian coordinator Wael Hatahet told IPS that so far the programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan for Syrian refugees had received enough funding to cover the necessary services, and this was why ‘’the situation is no longer an emergency one for Syrians here’’.

Hatahet said that he gives a good deal of credit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which – despite having seen a major cut in public funds from the central government as part of a prolonged tug-of-war between the two – continues to support Syrian refugees coming primarily from the fellow Kurdish regions across the border.

Many residents expressed dissatisfaction to IPS about what they considered ‘’privileged treatment’’ given to Syrian refugees while the massive influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have arrived in the region over the past few months – after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group took over vast swathes of Iraqi territory in June – are seen to be suffering a great deal more.

Even Hatahet, who is of Syrian origins himself, noted that he had seen ‘’Iraqi IDPs wearing the same set of clothes for the past 15 days’’.

‘’We obviously try to support with garments and dignity kits,’’ he said, ‘’but it’s really, really sad.’’

However, he also noted that ‘’almost all the IDP operations are supported by the Saudi Fund [for Development]’’ totalling some 500 million dollars and announced in summer, ‘’which was strictly for IDPs and not refugees.’’

Hatahet expressed concerns that a broader shift in focus to Iraqi IDPs might result in a loss of the gains made in this geographical area of the Syrian refugee crisis, urging the international community to remember that ‘’we have 100,000 refugees scattered within the host community’’ and not just in the camps.

The Turkish office of UNFPA told IPS that, in its area of operations, ‘’it is estimated that about 1.3 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey, of which only one-fifth of them are staying in camps due to limited space. 75 percent of the refugees are women and children under 18 years old.’’

It pointed out that ‘’women and girls of reproductive age under conditions of war and displacement are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, early and forced marriage, high-risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, risky deliveries, lack of family planning services and commodities and sexually transmitted diseases.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0
Rare Zambian Tree Faces Exploitation Because of Legal Loophole Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:32:16 +0000 Piliro Phiri The South Luangwa National Park in North Eastern Zambia. This is one of the areas where the Mukula tree grows. Credit: Alex Berger/CC by 2.0

By Piliro Phiri
RUFUNSA, Zambia, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

Steven Nyambose used to sell charcoal for a living until he discovered that the trees could be more lucrative in another way – through cutting them down and selling the logs to international buyers.

“We used to see this [Mukula] tree and think of it being just like any other, not knowing that it is a gold mine on its own. And now that the buyers are plenty, we have changed the business focus from the usual charcoal burning and hunting to the lucrative business of cutting and selling the Mukula logs,” Nyambose, a resident of Rufunsa, which lies about 200 kilometres east of Zambia’s capital Lusaka, told IPS.

But there is a downside to Nyambose’s business – it is illegal.“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber." -- government forestry officer

Zambia has seen a rise in the demand for its timber, mainly for export. Unfortunately, much of the exploitation of the timber, especially the rare Mukula species, otherwise known by its biological classification, Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is illegal in this southern African nation.

But the trade is flourishing because of a lack of clarity in legislation that protects Zambia’s forests.

Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973 states that one cannot harvest major forest products like trees without a licence. But the act allows local communities to harvest forest produce for domestic use and not export.

The  loophole is apparently being exploited as local communities are contracted to cut the trees by timber dealers who are supplying international consumers, among them the Chinese and Americans.

The Mukula tree is in high demand among the international business communities who are using it in the production of gunstocks and other artefacts.

Locals are paid between five and 10 dollars per log.

“The charcoal business is not only a health risk but it is also not lucrative because of the high number of people in the same business. Trading in Mukula is more profitable because its market is not local like it is with charcoal, we target the Chinese nationals because they seem to be more interested in the logs,”  Nyambose explained.

The popularity of the tree lies in the fact that it has three usable layers, while other trees only have a usable heart or inner layer.

The Mukula tree’s heart wood is used for making rifle butts; the second layer is used in the timber industry for furniture, while the outer part is used for medicinal purposes.

The sudden soaring demand  from the international market for the tree has probably been triggered after the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique intensified security around the harvesting of the tree.

“We have our bosses who contract us to cut the Mukula trees. These bosses are sometimes our fellow Zambians who are more establish in the timber business or even the foreign businessmen,” Nyambose said.

The tree, which takes more than 90 years to mature, is widely spread in all provinces of Zambia apart from the Copperbelt, North Western and Western provinces.

For a long time, no attention was paid to monitoring how the timber industry operated and how the country’s precious resource was exported. However, illegal loggers and transporters are increasingly being caught.

Recently, cases of trucks laden with logs of the Mukula tree were impounded in different locations across Zambia.

Last month, in Chipata, in the Eastern province, police intercepted a truck laden with Mukula trees enroute to neighbouring Malawi. Over 1,000 Mukula logs, suspected to have been illegally cut in Vubwi District in Eastern province, were being transported to Malawi without clearance.

And in April, a Lands, Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection team impounded a truck laden with Mukula logs in Rufunsa.

According to a government forestry officer based in Lusaka, who spoke to IPS on the condition of anonymity, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

He did point out that there was a significant loophole in Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973.

“The Forest Act number 39 of 1973, Chapter 199, is not effective as it allows harvesting any tree apart from species that bear fruits and those involved in the conservation of water near or around a water table.

“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber,” the expert said.

But Lands and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Mwansa Kapeya said the government intensified patrols and operations in areas where the illegal cutting down of the Mukula tree was rife.

He warned foreign nationals involved in the cutting and exporting of the Mukula tree that they risked going to jail and could be deported from Zambia.

“We are not just watching, we are reviewing policies on forestry and would also put in place a national strategy to address the levels of deforestation and illegal timber business,” Kapeya told reporters recently.

The government forestry officer pointed out that the root of combating the tree’s exploitation lies not in policies but in their implementation.

“Look at the Forestry Department for example; it is present in all the provinces and districts but the tools and equipment required to ensure sustainable forest protection and management including law enforcement are not available.

“We have suitable legislation but if practical application is not available then the policy or Act may not be effective.”

But according to Zambia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher Davison Gumbo, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation like the Forests Act of 1973 and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

“The major point is policy enforcement,” Gumbo agreed.

“When there is no enforcement by government, people do as they see fit. With a higher level of enforcement, government would realise more revenues from the Mukula tree,” he told IPS.

]]> 0
New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rights Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

]]> 0
Is Newly-Renovated U.N. Readying For Balkanisation of World? Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:38:27 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, facing audience) greets staff and guests during his Sep. 15 visit to the newly renovated General Assembly Hall at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre, facing audience) greets staff and guests during his Sep. 15 visit to the newly renovated General Assembly Hall at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When world political leaders arrive next week for the annual ritual of addressing the United Nations, they will be speaking inside a newly renovated General Assembly hall – part of a hefty 2.1-billion-dollar, seven-year refurbishing project – with an extended seating capacity for 204 member states, 11 more than the current 193.

In the next decade, the United Nations may be anticipating a rash of new member states, primarily breakaway nations triggered partly by separatist movements, seeking to join the world body.If political fantasies become realities, the unlikely lineup of new U.N. member states may include Catalonia, Scotland, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Quebec, Kashmir, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Palestine, and possibly a Sunni Iraq and a Shia Iraq.

If political fantasies become realities, the unlikely lineup may include Catalonia, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Quebec, Kashmir, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Palestine, and possibly a Sunni Iraq and a Shia Iraq.

As one Middle Eastern diplomat sarcastically speculated, “I was wondering whether one of those new seats is meant for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” (which the United States considers a terrorist group).

As in previous years, the drill next week will be the same: long-winded speeches, hundreds of bilateral meetings between world leaders (without even crossing the street) and a tight security around the U.N. perimeter.

And this year, the visiting political leaders – at last count, over 150 heads of state or heads of government – will be taking the podium at a time when the world is facing a slew of political and military crises, including in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and an associate professor at Bard College, told IPS the completion of renovations to the General Assembly hall shows some degree of foresight, with a dozen or so spare places available for new delegations.

“With the pace of Balkanisation worldwide, however, that might not be enough,” he said, with tongue firmly in cheek.

Kosovo, Kurdistan, and not to mention the various Putinistans springing up on the fringes of Russia, could soon fill those seats, said Williams, who is working with artist Christian Clark on a new edition of ‘The U.N. For Beginners’ for the 70th anniversary of the world body next year.

He pointed out there is also increasing political Balkanisation of the blocs in the United Nations.

“In days of the old Cold War, there was a certain discipline. All the East Bloc speeches were drearily similar. Now, countries pay little heed to instructions from self-appointed superpowers and are more eager,” said Williams.

Asked if the General Assembly sessions have any impact at all on world events, Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS, “With all due respect to all visiting heads of state, I am not certain the term ‘leaders’ would apply anymore.”

That may partially explain the atmosphere of widespread turmoil the world over, he added.

“So many presidential appearances yet so little positive impact,” said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general.

Until recently, he pointed out, there were endless bilateral meetings between presidents and prime ministers on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. The general debates during the sessions were substantive, and they constituted a backbone for eventual U.N. resolutions.

But most of those visits are now perceived as photo opportunities, said Sanbar, editor of the online electronic newsletter, U.N. Forum.

Addressing reporters Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “At this time of turmoil, the next two weeks will highlight again the indispensable role of the United Nations in tackling global threats and seizing opportunities for common progress.”

He said the new session of the General Assembly will be “a pivotal period for our efforts to defeat poverty and adopt a new generation of sustainable development goals.

“Action on climate change is urgent. The more we delay, the more we will pay in lives and in money,” he said, on the eve of the heavily-hyped U.N. Climate Summit next week.

Ban also announced the appointment of Hollywood movie star Leonardo DiCaprio as “our newest United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on climate change issues.”

Williams told IPS the U.S. delegation then and for a long time afterwards suffered from a national diffidence about the United Nations.

He pointed out U.S. Congressional right-wingers continually harassed the United Nations with cut appropriations, while Democrats, with an eye to their more rabidly pro-Israeli lobbyists, would not cross the road to defend it.

Even the fact that there was money to repair the leaky Assembly Hall is result of the change of American attitude, he added.

But controversy at least creates noise. Now there is a deafening silence, said Williams.

“What happened to all those loons who thought U.N. peacekeepers would take over the United States with their black helicopters?” he asked. “And who remembers the U.N. land grab through World Heritage Sites, or the martyred GIs (U.S. soldiers) who refused to wear blue berets?”

Williams said one hopes they switched to new hobby horses, such as Benghazi, U.S. President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and similar distractions, rather than that the U.N. has become irrelevant.

“Because while the leaders will tut-tut from the podium about the strategic and seemingly insoluble problems – Ukraine/Russia, Syria/Iraq – the assembled leaders will still be in a position to assist the U.N. in serious issues: the flooding of the basement during Hurricane Sandy brought Climate Change home to Turtle Bay.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is doing his best to concentrate the minds of assembled leaders on restarting effective negotiations on a Climate Change pact, said Williams.

“He will probably get better results with that than uniting the members on Syria,” he noted.

Sanbar told IPS when former General Assembly President Razali Ismail of Malaysia cautioned in 1996 about “creeping irrelevance” of these gatherings, he was almost branded a rebel.

“Now heads of key states dash in and out, mainly competing to speak on the first two days, while others who may be have been actually visiting New York a week before do not bother to show up at all,” he added.

“Even our own substantive star, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who admirably maintained the momentum on climate change, seems to feel a need to bring in a Hollywood star for that purpose.

“It would be a Titanic if Leonardo de Caprio gets the Noble Peace Prize for that one,” said Sanbar, who thinks the secretary-general is making a case for the Nobel Peace Prize for his vigorous campaign on climate change.

Referring to the expansion of the General Assembly hall, Sanbar recounted that when the first expansion was planned, the architects sought to be very forward-looking to the year 1990 by designing it for 120 delegations (almost double the original members).

“On an equally sarcastic note,” he added, “you may explore a potential seat for Beyonce,” the celebrated singer, song writer and actress.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan? Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
Promoting Human Rights Through Global Citizenship Education Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:28:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid escalating conflicts and rampant violations of human rights all over the world, spreading “human rights education” is not an easy task. But a non-governmental organisation from Japan is beginning to make an impact through its “global citizenship education” approach.

At the current annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which began on Sep. 8, two side events marked the beginning of what promises to be a sustained campaign to spread human rights education (HRE).

Alongside the first, the launch of the web resource “The Right to Human Rights Education” by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a special workshop was also convened on HRE for media professionals and journalists.

The workshop was an initiative of the NGO Working Group on HRE chaired by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a prominent NGO from Japan fighting for the abolition of nuclear weapons, sustainable development and human rights education.“It is important to raise awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts” – Kazunari Fujii, Soka Gakkai International

“This is the first time that the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning and a group of seven countries representing the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training have organised a workshop on human rights education for media professionals and journalists,” said Kazunari Fujii, SGI’s Geneva representative.

Fujii has been working among human rights pressure groups in Geneva to mobilise support for intensifying HRE campaigning. “Through the promotion of human rights education, SGI wants to foster a culture of human rights that prevents violations from occurring in the first place,“ Fujii told IPS after the workshop on Tuesday (Sep. 16).

“While protection of human rights is the core objective of the U.N. Charter, it is equally important to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses,” he argued.

Citing SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s central message to foster a “culture of human rights”, Fujii said his mission in Geneva is to bring about solidarity among NGOs for achieving SGI’s major goals on human rights, nuclear disarmament and sustainable development.

The current session of the Human Rights Council, which will end on Sep. 26, is grappling with a range of festering conflicts in different parts of the world. “From a human rights perspective, it is clear that the immediate and urgent priority of the international community should be to halt the increasingly conjoined conflicts in Iraq and Syria,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“In particular, dedicated efforts are urgently needed to protect religious and ethnic groups, children – who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence – and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions,” Al Hussein said in his maiden speech to the Council.

“The second step, as my predecessor [Navanetham Pillay] consistently stressed, must be to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and international crimes,” he continued, arguing that “impunity can only lead to further conflicts and abuses, as revenge festers and the wrong lessons are learned.”

Al Hussein, who comes from the Jordanian royal family, wants the Council to address the underlying factors of crises, particularly the “corrupt and discriminatory political systems that disenfranchised large parts of the population and leaders who oppressed or violently attacked independent actors of civil society”.

Among others, he stressed the need to end “persistent discrimination and impunity” underlying the Israel-Palestine conflict – in which 2131 Palestinians were killed during the latest crisis in Gaza, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children, and 71 Israelis.

The current session of the Human Rights Council is also scheduled to discuss issues such as basic economic and livelihood rights, which are going to be addressed through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the worsening plight of migrants around the world, and the detention of asylum seekers and migrants, including children in the United States.

“Clearly, a number of human rights violations and the worsening plight of indigenous people are major issues that need to be tackled on a sustained basis,” said Fujii. “But it is important to raise the awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts.”

During open discussion at the media professionals and journalists workshop, several reporters not only shared their personal experiences but also sought clarity on how reporters can safeguard human rights in conflicts where they are embedded with occupying forces in Iraq or other countries.

“This is a major issue that needs to be addressed because it is difficult for journalists to respect human rights when they are embedded with forces,” Oliver Rizzi Carlson, a representative of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, told IPS.

Commenting on the work that remains to be done in spreading global citizenship education, Fujii noted that tangible progress has been made by bringing several human rights pressure groups together in intensifying the campaign for human rights education.

“Solidarity within civil society and increasing recognition for our work from member states is bringing about tangible results,” said Fujii. “The formation of an NGO coalition – HR 2020 – comprising 14 NGOs such as Amnesty International and SGI last year is a significant development in the intensification of our campaign.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0
Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrants Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, the 44-year-old daughter of another deceased Committee founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]> 0
Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farming Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning After Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

]]> 1
OPINION: Sleepwalking Towards Nuclear War Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:27:35 +0000 Helge Luras

In this column, Helge Luras, founder and director of the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (SISA) based in Oslo, Norway, argues that up until now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and has thus survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

By Helge Luras
OSLO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

New military measures to deter what NATO perceives to be a direct threat from Russia were adopted at the alliance’s Heads of State meeting in Wales (Sep. 4-5). A few days earlier, President Barack Obama made promises in Estonia that the three tiny Baltic NATO member states would “never stand alone”. 

Since early 2014, Russia has done practically all that Western leaders have warned President Vladimir Putin in advance not to do. Crimea was occupied and annexed. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were encouraged and given practical support. Later, Russian personnel and equipment came more and more openly into conflict with Ukrainian forces.

Helge Luras

Helge Luras

But the West’s warnings to Russia did not stop there. Already several months ago, establishment figures and the media began to associate events in Ukraine directly with the situation in the Baltics and in Poland. NATO has responded to the Russian offensive against Ukraine, a non-NATO country, by shifting military resources towards the areas of NATO that it claims, but only by conjecture, are threatened by Russia.

But did anyone at the NATO summit warn that the alliance might create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did anyone have the foresight to consider how tensions between Russian speakers and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians might increase as a result of the hyperbole of the Russian threat? One should not assume hostile intentions in today’s ethnically-charged world without good reason.

That some Western minds consider themselves, and by extension NATO, to be an idealistic force for peace, human rights and democracy, is beyond dispute. But the reality is that NATO countries – that is, the West – represent the world’s most powerful military force, both conventional and nuclear.

Up to now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and therefore has survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

Since the Cold War, the West has swallowed up a large area formerly under the influence, if not outright control, of Soviet Russia. The hegemonic mind saw this as just natural and of no business to an anachronism like Russia.“The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time”

The future of humanity when expansion started in the 1990s was a Western future: liberal, democratic and free-market. Spheres of influence were the hallmark of others, exemplified by “reactionary” and authoritarian forces like Russia under Putin. Western influence is in another category – it is natural if not God-given.

In Russia, there is a clear and evolving bias in news reporting which the West characterises as “propaganda”. In the West, there is less need to instruct the media directly, there is a reverse bias due to cultural indoctrination. Evidently the West is a keeper of the right values. There is no cause and effect. Evil just pops up. All things Russian are bad, deceitful, not to be trusted. But in Russia this feeds an undeniable paranoia in the psyche.

The West has retained one “acceptable” bogeyman in the atmosphere of religious tolerance that creates such cognitive dissonance as it struggles to come to grips with core tenets of original (radical) Islam. The Western “liberal mind” has at least one cultural object left to legitimately hate: Russian political culture and the strong man it produces.

The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time.

Western leaders undoubtedly perceive that their power is waning. No more state-building in faraway countries for us. The end of omnipotence, indeed of paradigm, is obviously traumatic and difficult to consider with a cool mind. But the diminution of Western political power occurs with no corresponding weakness in pure military muscle.

This leaves the temptation of a “Mad Man Doctrine”. If you can convince your opponent that you are willing to react disproportionately to what is at stake for you, he will fear you beyond the otherwise sensible. Everyone treats a mad man with caution.

In Ukraine, there is more at stake for Russia than for the West. Therefore Russia, as it has also shown, will not give up or allow itself or its allies to lose. In the Baltic countries, there is also more at stake for Russia than for the United States and for most other NATO countries as well.

For, in the post-Cold War, Russia has no ideology beyond nationalism. Its most ambitious claims, even if unopposed, would come to a halt at the geographical outer limits of the ethnic Russian nation.

This is not to say that Russian nationalism could not become a factor of instability beyond Ukraine. Trouble is latent. The partly Russian-populated Baltic countries are now in NATO, and NATO is an institutionalised form of the Mad Man Doctrine. The danger of miscalculating the reaction for NATO as well as for Russia is therefore significant.

Little suggests that the West understand how risky the games in progress really are. NATO and Russia are nuclear powers. Sensible leaders on both sides understood as much during the Cold War. Nuclear powers must not go to war with each other. If at all, the conflicts must remain by proxy. Such insights must be rediscovered today.

NATO should concentrate on finding a way to downplay the conflict with Russia, compromise on Ukraine, and not follow what the United States seem intent on doing; escalating, increasing defence spending across the bloc, sending more troops to the Baltic countries. Appeasement, if the starting point is dumb-headed NATO-expansionism, can be a virtue as well as a vice.

Military means are already at play in the conflict between NATO and Russia. Some call for even more. Before pushing Russia further in the direction they claim not to want – ethnic expansionism – politicians in the West must remember that nuclear arms are the last weapons in the arsenal of both.

Luckily, Putin seems quite sane, with superior rationality to many of his Western counterparts. The irresponsible comparison between Putin and Hitler is therefore wrong in many respects, but not least because Hitler never had the bomb. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]> 0