Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:19:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 New Antibiotics Urgently Needed to Combat Resistant Bacteriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-antibiotics-urgently-needed-to-combat-resistant-bacteria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-antibiotics-urgently-needed-to-combat-resistant-bacteria http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/new-antibiotics-urgently-needed-to-combat-resistant-bacteria/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:19:09 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149161 Credit: WHO/Jim Holmes

Credit: WHO/Jim Holmes

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Feb 28 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations health organisation has just published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” – a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.

The list was drawn up in a bid to guide and promote research and development (R&D) of new antibiotics, as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

The list highlights in particular the threat of gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and can pass along genetic material that allows other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well, WHO reported on Feb. 27.

“This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs,” says Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation. “Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in prolonged illness, disability, and death.

Without effective antimicrobials for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high risk.

Three Categories According to Urgency of Need

The WHO list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.

Key facts

• Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
• Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.
• Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
• A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhoea – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.
• Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.
Source: WHO

The most critical group of all includes multidrug resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters.

They include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and various Enterobacteriaceae (including Klebsiella, E. coli, Serratia, and Proteus). They can cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

These bacteria have become resistant to a large number of antibiotics, including carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins – the best available antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The second and third tiers in the list – the high and medium priority categories – contain other increasingly drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

Tuberculosis – whose resistance to traditional treatment has been growing in recent years – was not included in the list because it is targeted by other, dedicated programmes, says the UN specialised body.

“Other bacteria that were not included, such as streptococcus A and B and chlamydia, have low levels of resistance to existing treatments and do not currently pose a significant public health threat.”

WHO explained that the criteria for selecting pathogens on the list were: how deadly the infections they cause are; whether their treatment requires long hospital stays; how frequently they are resistant to existing antibiotics when people in communities catch them; how easily they spread between animals, from animals to humans, and from person to person; whether they can be prevented (e.g. through good hygiene and vaccination); how many treatment options remain; and whether new antibiotics to treat them are already in the R&D pipeline.

“New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world,” warned Prof Evelina Tacconelli, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen and a major contributor to the development of the list.

“Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care.”

WHO elaborated a Global priority list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to guide research, discovery, and development of new antibiotics.

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These Women Cannot Celebrate Their Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/these-women-cannot-celebrate-their-day/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:18:56 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149132 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds that IPS is launching on the occasion of this year's International Women’s Day on March 8.]]> Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

Belinda Mason, Silent Tears “Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

This is a story that one would wish to never have to write—the story of hundreds of millions of life-givers whose production and productivity have systematically been ‘quantified’ in much detailed statistics, but whose abnegation, human suffering and denial of rights are subject to just words.

It is the story of those women who witness their children die while fleeing wars, or are kidnapped to sell their organs, or recruited as child soldiers.

It is the story of those women who fall prey to human traffickers and are sold as sexual slaves. (The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.)

And it is the story of those women and girls who become victims of abhorrent violence by their male relatives; whose rights as workers are routinely abused by their employers, and are even killed by their partners. (In some countries, up to 7 in 10 women will be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes, according to UN Women).

It is the story of millions of young girls who are forced into inhumane early marriage and pregnancy; of those who are subjected to female genital mutilation. (The UN recognises this practice as a human rights violation, torture and an extreme form of violence–Female genital mutilation denies women and girls their dignity and causes needless pain and suffering, with consequences that endure for a lifetime and can even be fatal, reminds the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.)

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.

“We envisage a world where all women and girls have equal opportunities and rights by 2030. Step It Up asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. NOW is the time to Step It Up!” Credit: UN Women.


Africa and the Arab region are among those areas where FGM is commonly practised. (The African Union concludes that it is an excruciatingly painful practice that violates basic human rights).

Its impact on young girls and women is multi-faceted and touches various aspects of their lives, including their physical, psychological and social well-being, with scars lingering on for the rest of their lives.

It is the story of millions of girls who have no access to education, and when they have it, most of them flee school because of the lack of sanitary services. (A study by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) covering the years spanning 2009 to 2014 reports thousands of attacks against schools in at least 70 different countries, many of which were targeted for advocating girls’ education.)

It is the story of nearly two-thirds of world’s inhabitants who suffer from lack of proper access to reproductive and maternity health care services. (The UN Population Fund stresses that universal access to reproductive health affects and is affected by many aspects of life. It involves individuals’ most intimate relationships, including negotiation and decision-making within these relationships, and interactions with health providers regarding contraceptive methods and options.)

Credit: UNODC

Credit: UNODC

It is also the story of very young girls who are abducted by terror groups to brutally satiate their sexual appetites and blackmailing, such as has been the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

And it is the story of those indigenous women who care for whatever remains of their lands, which guard 80 per cent of world’s biodiversity, but whose rights and ancestral knowledge are ignored and even disdained.

It is the story of those women farmers who produce up to 80 per cent of food but have no right to own their land, to agricultural inputs, resources or small credits.

And of those millions of domestic workers whose rights were lately acknowledged – though not sufficiently applied.

And it is the story of a flagrant growing inequality. (OXFAM estimates that, at current trend, it will take women 170 years to be paid the same as men are…Let alone the fact that half of world’s health is in the pockets of just eight individuals—all of them men).

This year’s International Women’s Day will be marked on March 8 under the theme “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50by 2030”.

The United Nations says that it will be “a time to reflect on progress made, to consider how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the long awaited goals of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”


The world body has set some key targets of that 2030 Agenda:

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.

• By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

• End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.

• Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

• Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The United Nations also notes that the world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. “We have globalisation, technological and digital revolution and the opportunities they bring, and on the other hand, the growing informality of labour, unstable livelihoods and incomes, new fiscal and trade policies and environmental impacts—all of which must be addressed in the context of women’s economic empowerment.”

All these words and good wishes sound great.

Yet International Women’s Day will represent, above all, another slap in the face of humankind who is still unable (unwilling?) to duly, effectively honour those who gave them life.

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Corruption: Promises, But Not Enough Progress from G20 Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:07:16 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149120 ///UPDATE to IPS article: Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruption]]> Credit: Transparency International

Credit: Transparency International

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

Open data is a pretty simple concept: governments should publish information about what they do to fight corruption– data that can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose, according to two major international anti-corruption watchdogs. This is particularly important in the fight against corruption.

In 2015 the Group of 20 (G20) governments agreed on a set of G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. These principles aim to make crucial data public specifically because they can help stop corruption, a joint research published by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation has revealed.

“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”

Publishing this data would allow civil society to monitor things like the use of public resources and taxes, the awarding of public contracts, and the sources of political party finance, the research underlines, explaining that this would make it easier to hold governments to account and deter criminal activities like bribery and nepotism, adds the research.

“Alongside the overview report, five country-level studies (Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa) revealed a range of shortcomings in national commitments to G20 open data principles. The graphics below summarise the main finding and recommendation for improvement per country.”

Transparency International and the Web Foundation examined the extent to which five G20 countries – Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa – are living up to these principles. There are individual country reports (see below) as well as an overall report.

The basic conclusion: there isn’t enough progress. No country released all the data-sets required, and much of the information proved either hard to find or difficult to use.

 

Access the Brazil report

brazil_

 

Access the France report

france_

 

Access the Germany report

germany_

 

Access the Indonesia report

indonesia_

 

Access the South Africa report

south-africa_

 

Read previous IPS article: Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruption

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Community Stations Fight for Frequencies in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:58:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149116 Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
NUEVA GRANADA, El Salvador, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006.

It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal channel, but that could change very soon.

“Our greatest wish is to compete for Izcanal to have its frequency and broadcast on an open signal channel; that’s our dream,” said Wilfredo Hernández, news coordinator at the Izcanal station, which was born in February 1993 in Nueva Granada, a town in the eastern department of Usulután.

Izcanal’s signal reaches across this town to 35 surrounding municipalities, but to receive it you have to pay for cable TV service. “The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way to guarantee this right.” -- Leonel Herrera

Its programming is focused on showing positive developments and initiatives in the community, revolving around themes such as local development, women and gender, environment, a culture of peace and migration.

“The major media outlets don’t show the good things that are happening in the communities, we offer this option,” said Sandra Juárez, coordinator of programming and content, while she edited an audio file on a computer.

Hernández and Juárez hope that radio and television, which are currently dominated by private commercial stations, will become more open and democratic, but to achieve that the authorities would have to generate the appropriate conditions.

They told IPS that the legal and operational foundations are in place to open up to new alternative projects, which would lead to a strengthening of the freedom of expression.

The government of leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has announced the launch of digital TV in 2018, a new technology which will optimise the bandwidth and could make way for new stations, especially community, public and academic stations, among others.

For the shift from analogue to digital, the authorities chose the ISDB-Tb model, known as the “Japanese-Brazilian” model, used throughout Latin America, except in Colombia and Panama.

Social organisations grouped together in the Network for the Protection of the Right to Communication (RedCo) are fighting for El Salvador’s General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget), the regulator of the sector, to promote the incorporation of these new players in the TV frequencies and also to open spaces on the jam-packed radio spectrum.

The expansion of the radio spectrum gained momentum following the reform of the Telecommunications Law in May 2016, which acknowledges community and other non-profit stations, and established alternate mechanisms for them to participate in the allocation of frequencies, such as direct allocation and a tendering process.

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

When the 1980-1992 civil war ended, a score of community stations were operating, initially broadcasting without a license from private frequencies, which led to crackdowns by the police.

In 2008, they managed to secure, through third parties, an FM license, which they fractioned and divided into zones to broadcast their programming, although with interference.

For years they struggled for the elimination of the auction system, imposed by the now reformed 1997 Telecommunications Law, a scheme that prevented community stations from competing on an equal footing.

In 2015, the Supreme Court came down on their side, ruling that something other than the auction system should exist, to guarantee the participation of these actors, in response to appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality filed by social organisations in 2012 and 2013 against this mechanism and other aspects of the law in force at the time.

The inclusion of these new players in radio and television would give the country’s media a more pluralistic and inclusive character, which would strengthen freedom of expression, said Leonel Herrera, head of the Association of Participatory Radios and Programmes of El Salvador (Arpas).

“The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way of guaranteeing this right,” Herrera told IPS.

But the idea of extending the allocation of frequencies faces heavy opposition from commercial radio stations, controlled by five corporate consortiums, which account for 92 per cent of the spectrum, according to Siget.

The segment for open TV is almost entirely in private hands, although of the 42 existing stations, seven are not commercial and are run by religious organisations, and two others are state-run.

Uncertain future

But the entry of new players, in radio as well as in television, cannot be taken for granted, and if the current system remains as it is, blocking the entry of other participants, the media will become even more concentrated in fewer hands, said Herrera.

In the case of television, the digital platform and its greater bandwidth would allow diversification, but Herrera argued that the existing license-holders intend to keep the extra bandwidth for their channels.

In radio, the panorama is even more complex, because the radio spectrum is full and the commercial consortiums refuse to give space to community stations, although there are proposals to divide the frequency bandwidth to double the space.

“Siget must comply and make room, otherwise the reform that acknowledges community radio stations will only remain on paper,” said Izcanal’s Hernández.

A request from IPS for an interview with the superintendent of the regulator, Blanca Coto, received no answer.

An opportunity for new licenses in radio could open this year, during the renewal of frequencies, a process which takes place every 20 years. Until the reform in 2016, they were automatically renewed, a mechanism which practically ensured the concessionaires a license for life..

Now they must meet requisites such as keeping up with payments, failing to commit serious infringements, and making proper use of the broadcast signal.

But RedCo argues that with these standards almost every station will manage to get its license renewed, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as whether the license was originally obtained in a transparent, legal manner.

A report from the Presidential Secretariat of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption revealed in September 2016 that 60 per cent of the concessions granted before the 1997 Telecommunications Law have no paper trail to verify their allocation.

The then regulatory body used to grant frequencies as an award for political favours or to benefit relatives or friends of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), in power from 1989 to 2009.

If Siget includes this transparency factor proposed by the organisations that make up RedCo, some licenses may not be renewed, giving community stations a chance.

But even if community stations are granted radio and TV licenses, this would not be enough to bring about a more democratic media system. To do that, the state must back up these measures with public policies aimed at promoting and developing community radio, said the interviewees.

The RedCo organisations have submitted a Proposal for a Public Policy in Communications, to contribute to a debate that, in the end, should generate clear measures to democratise the media in El Salvador.

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Maritime Boundary Dispute Masks Need for Economic Diversity in Timor-Lestehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/maritime-boundary-dispute-masks-need-for-economic-diversity-in-timor-leste/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 04:00:52 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149112 Timor-Leste wants the permanent maritime border between itself and Australia to lie along the median line. This would give sovereign rights to Timor-Leste over the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Source: Timor-Leste's Maritime Boundary Office

Timor-Leste wants the permanent maritime border between itself and Australia to lie along the median line. This would give sovereign rights to Timor-Leste over the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. Source: Timor-Leste's Maritime Boundary Office

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

Juvinal Dias has first-hand experience of mistreatment at the hands of a foreign power. Born in 1981 in Tutuala, a village in the far east of Timor-Leste, Dias’ family fled into the jungle following the 1975 invasion by Indonesia.

It was during this time, hiding from the Indonesian military, that his eldest sister died of malnutrition.Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars.

Speaking to IPS from Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, Dias told of how “the struggle” against the Indonesian occupation had intertwined with his own family’s history. “I heard, as I grew up, how the war affected the family,” he says.

Dias’ father fought against the occupation with FALANTIL guerrillas, the armed wing of FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste) before surrendering in 1979. Up to 200,000 people are believed to have been killed by Indonesian forces or died from conflict-related illness and hunger during the brutal 1975-1999 occupation.

“People saw the Indonesian military as public enemy number one,” says Dias, now a researcher at the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, known as La’o Hamutuk in the local Tetum language.

But things have changed. Dias says that it is now Australia that provokes the ire of the Timor-Leste public, who regard their southern neighbour as a “thief country” due to its behaviour towards Timor-Leste over disputed territory in the Timor Sea.

Timor-Leste has long-sought a permanent maritime boundary along the median or equidistance line, as is often the norm in such cases where nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones overlap.

For Timor-Leste’s government, concluding a maritime boundary with Australia is linked to the young nation’s long history of subjugation, including its centuries as a Portuguese colony, its occupation by Indonesia and its treatment by Australia.

“The achievement of maritime boundaries in accordance with international law is a matter of national sovereignty and the sustainability of our country. It is Timor-Leste’s top national priority,” said Timor-Leste’s independence hero Xanana Gusmão last year.

Australia argues that its permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be based on Australia's continental shelf, like that of the 1972 Australia-Indonesia seabed boundary. Source: Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australia argues that its permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be based on Australia’s continental shelf, like that of the 1972 Australia-Indonesia seabed boundary. Source: Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australia, for its part, has repeatedly avoided entering into such negotiations. Instead, it has concluded a number of revenue sharing deals based on jointly developing petroleum deposits in the Timor Sea with both an independent Timor-Leste and Indonesia during the occupation years.

Australia argues that any border with its much smaller neighbour be based on Australia’s continental shelf, which extends well into the Timor Sea, and should therefore be drawn much closer to Timor-Leste. Australia has taken a hard-nosed approach over border negotiations for decades with nations to its north.

Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars. If the median line was accepted by both sides, Greater Sunrise would likely fall within Timor-Leste’s jurisdiction, potentially providing one of the poorest nations in the region with much-needed revenue.

However, under current arrangements based on a 2006 deal, Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed to equally divide revenue from Greater Sunrise.

But this deal is set to expire on April 10 following Timor-Leste’s January notification to Australia that it was withdrawing from the treaty. Timor-Leste had been calling for this agreement to be scrapped following the 2012 revelations by a former Australian spy that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet rooms in 2004 to gain the upper-hand in the bilateral negotiations that eventually led to the 2006 treaty.

Australia has also been criticised for a 2013 raid on the offices of Timor-Leste’s Australian lawyer in which sensitive documents were seized.

While Timor-Leste took Australia to the International Court of Arbitration in April last year in the hope of forcing Australia to settle on a permanent maritime boundary, Australia’s 2002 withdrawal from compulsory dispute settlement procedures under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea meant, according to the Australian government, that Australia was not bound by any decision made by the court.

But in a significant development, Australia announced in January that it would seek to establish a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste by September this year.

Ella Fabry, an Australian activist with the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says that Australia now has an opportunity to go some way in righting the wrongs of the past by negotiating in good faith with Timor-Leste and agreeing to a border along the median line.

“For Timor-Leste, it could mean literally billions of dollars of extra funding for them that could then go on to fund health, education [and] all of those things that a developing country needs,” she says.

Investment in such areas is indeed needed in Timor-Leste. According to global charity Oxfam, 41 percent of Timor-Leste’s population of 1.13 million people live on less than 1.25 dollars per day and almost 30 percent do not have access to clean drinking water.

Australia’s foreign affairs department identifies high maternal mortality rates and poor nutrition – leading to stunted growth in half of all children under five years – as being among key areas of concern.

Whether negotiations eventually lead to the financial windfall for Timor-Leste that some are predicting remains to be seen. A maritime boundary agreement along the median line is far from certain and there are serious concerns over the viability of a gas pipeline connecting Greater Sunrise to Timor-Leste, not least because it must cross the three kilometre-deep Timor Trough.

For Juvinal Dias, what often gets overlooked in the maritime boundary dispute is his nation’s over-reliance on income from petroleum resources, which, he argues, has led to a lack of investment in the non-oil economy.

“The oil money has dominated everything in Timor-Leste,” he says.

Timor-Leste has earned more than 12 billion dollars from its joint petroleum development area with Australia. It set up a petroleum fund in 2005, the balance of which was 15.84 billion dollars at the end of 2016, down some 1.3 billion since its peak in May 2015.

According to La’o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste’s oil and gas income peaked in 2012 and will continue to fall, with the Bayu Undan field expected to end production by 2020. It has also warned that if current spending trends continue, the petroleum fund itself will run dry by 2026.

This is a serious concern in a country where petroleum revenue has provided some 90 percent of the budget, leading to what Dias describes as “a very dangerous situation”.

He says that while there is a growing awareness in Timor-Leste about the importance of diversifying its economy, there is no time to waste.

“If we can’t manage our economy today, the poverty will be even worse in the next decade,” says Dias.

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The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Huge Health Needs for World’s One Billion Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 17:11:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149099 Credit: IOM

Credit: IOM

By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

With an estimated 1 billion migrants today –or one in every seven people– their health needs are huge. Nevertheless, health systems are struggling to adapt and consequently access to health services among migrant populations varies widely and is often inadequate.

This has been the key issue before senior public health officials from over 40 countries, who met on February 23 in Colombo, concluding that addressing the health needs of migrants reduces long-term health and social costs, enhances health security and contributes to social and economic development.

Health systems must be strengthened to provide equitable, non-discriminatory, migrant-centred health services, noted the participants in the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health, which was hosted by the Government of Sri Lanka, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The scale of human migration currently witnessed is unprecedented, WHO reminds, there are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today, including 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants, the UN body adds. “Some people migrate voluntarily; while others are forcibly displaced, fleeing conflict and war. This has important implications for the health sector.” “With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts” IOM.

On this, IOM said that when one combines the volume of international migration, the large scale of internal migration of an estimated 740 million people worldwide, and the unprecedented and protracted displacement of populations due to unresolved conflicts and natural disasters, we can see that there is urgent need to address the cumulative health needs of people on the move.

“With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts,” adds IOM.

“Yet, despite the clear economic benefits of migration, large groups of migrants remain at risk of social exclusion, discrimination and exploitation…It is important to emphasize that migrants do not generally pose a health risk to hosting communities and they should never be stigmatized or associated with the risk and stigma of importing diseases.”

Rather, it is recognised that conditions surrounding the migration process today, more than ever, can increase the vulnerability of migrants to ill health, particularly for those forced to move and those who find themselves in so called ‘irregular’ situations. In that sense, migration is a social determinant of health.

Sri Lanka is providing leadership on migrant health, the UN health body informs. It is one of the few countries in the world to have a ‘National Migrant Health Policy’, introduced in 2008. Sri Lanka recognizes the contribution of migrants to national and overseas development, the WHO informed.

“Almost 2 million Sri Lankans work overseas, the country hosts a large number of immigrants and receives 2 million tourists annually. Ensuring the health of these migrants and the country’s own population is a top priority.”

Participating health leaders adopted the Colombo Statement, which calls for international collaboration to improve the health and well-being of migrants and their families. The move aims to address the health challenges posed by increasingly mobile populations.

“Protecting the health of mobile populations is a public health and human rights imperative. Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for all, including migrants and refugees, is something we must all strive towards, and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind,” said WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

For his part, Dr. Davide Mosca, director of IOM’s Migration Health Division, said “Migrant health must be looked at as a global agenda and the SDGs should be interpreted by linking the call to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people… with the achievement of universal health coverage.”

This can only be realised through the implementation of well-managed and coordinated migration policies, which include financial risk protection and equal access to quality health services, he said.

The Colombo Statement calls for mainstreaming migrant health into key national, regional and international agendas and promotes international solidarity for equitable migrant health policies, a shared research agenda and the development of global frameworks to ensure migrant health is protected.

The momentum generated by the Global Consultation will be carried forward to the World Health Assembly – WHO’s annual meeting in May 2017, where 194 countries will deliberate on priority actions to protect migrants’ right to health.

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Antarctic Ice Lowest Ever – Asia at High Risk – Africa Drying Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/antarctic-ice-lowest-ever-asia-at-high-risk-africa-drying-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antarctic-ice-lowest-ever-asia-at-high-risk-africa-drying-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/antarctic-ice-lowest-ever-asia-at-high-risk-africa-drying-up/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 16:56:15 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149096 Worldwide Extraction of Materials Triples in Four Decades, Intensifying Climate Change and Air Pollution. Credit: UNEP

Worldwide Extraction of Materials Triples in Four Decades, Intensifying Climate Change and Air Pollution. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

For those who still deny the tangible impact of climate change, please note that the extended spell of high global temperatures is continuing; the Arctic is witnessing exceptional warmth with record low ice volumes–the lowest on record; global heat is putting Asia on higher risk than ever, and Africa is drying up.

Also please note that almost one half of all forests is now gone’ that groundwater sources are being rapidly depleted, and that biodiversity has been deeply eroded.

In fact, reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that global average surface temperatures for the month of January were the third highest on record, after January 2016 and January 2007, says the UN World Meteorological Organization.

According to NOAA, the average temperature was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12°C. The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest, WMO on February 17 informed.

Natural climate variability – such as El Niño and La Niña – means that the globe will not break new temperature records every month or every year.

“More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).”

Meantime, the largest positive temperature departures from average in January were seen across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.A, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.

“At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air and increasing temperatures to near freezing point.”

This way, the temperature in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, north of Norway, topped 4.1°C on 7 February. The world’s northernmost land station, Kap Jessup on the tip of Greenland, swung from -22°C to +2°C in 12 hours between 9 and 10 February, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.

“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme‘s Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”

As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.

Sea Ice Extent, Lowest in Four Decades

“Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to both the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.”

Arctic sea ice extent averaged 13.38 million square kilometres in January, according to NSIDC. This is 260,000 square kilometres below January 2016, the previous lowest January extent – an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. It was 1.26 million square kilometres (the size of South Africa) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.

“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said Carlson.

“This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”

WMO, thus, confirms that the Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. A change in wind patterns, which normally spread out the ice, contracted it instead.

Credit: WMO

Credit: WMO


New Climate Change Alarm in Asia

Meanwhile, Asia is set to witness a new, extreme weather alert. On this the UN specialised body also warns that climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanisation are putting pressure on water supplies in many parts of the Asian region, and exposure to extreme weather and other hazards is increasing.

The most populated region on Earth is impacted by a wide range of natural hazards: tropical cyclones and storm surges; heat and cold waves; drought and wildfires; intense precipitation, flooding and landslides, and sand and dust storms. Air pollution is an additional major concern.

“2016 was the hottest year on record, beating even the exceptionally high temperatures of 2015 because of a combination of long-term climate change and the strong El Niño,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“There is increasing evidence that warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are affecting ocean circulation and the jet stream, disrupting weather patterns in lower latitudes in Asia. Glacier melt is linked, in the short term, to hazards like flooding and landslides and, in the long term, to water stress for millions of people.”

According to Taalas, in the last decades, the countries in the Asian region have been exposed to weather and climate events of increased intensity and frequency… The year 2016 was no exception.” India, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait all saw peak temperatures of more than 50°C last summer. Many other parts of Asia also saw heat-waves.

In view of this situation, the WMO’s Regional Association for Asia’s four-yearly conference, held on 12-16 February in Au Dhabi, discussed how best to support implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and associated moves towards a low-carbon economy, including through targeted climate services for the energy, water, transport, industry, agriculture and land use sectors.

Drought Set to Worsen in Greater Horn of Africa

In parallel, many parts of the Greater Horn of Africa are expected to receive below average rainfall in the important March to May rainy season, worsening food security and water availability in countries already seriously hit by drought, according to a new seasonal outlook issued by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum.

“What makes the current drought alarming in the Equatorial Greater Horn of Africa region is that it follows two consecutive poor rainfall seasons in 2016, and the likelihood of depressed rainfall persisting into the March-May 2017 rainfall season remains high,” said the Intergovernmental Authority onDevelopment’s Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC), which convened the regional forum.

“The situation will be worse in countries already experiencing drought, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, parts of Uganda, South Sudan and parts of Tanzania. Many parts of the region will experience serious water stress.”

With the exception of Sudan and Rwanda, the October – December 2016 rains failed in most countries in region. Contributing factors include the weak La Niña, which has just ended, and reduced moisture influx due to the cooling of the ocean water in the east African coast.

The forum, attended by meteorological and climate experts and users from agriculture and food security, livestock, water resources, disaster risk management, Non-Governmental Organisations and development partner, took place in Addis Ababa from 6 to 7 February 2017.

The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum said there is an increased likelihood of below normal to near normal rainfall over northern and eastern Tanzania; north, eastern and coastal Kenya; southern and north-western Somalia; north and western Djibouti; western and south-eastern Eritrea; north-eastern, eastern and southern Ethiopia; southern parts of South Sudan; north-eastern Uganda and southern parts of Sudan.

Still having doubts about the impact of climate change?

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Merkel Under Pressure for Refugee Policy in Germanyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:57:24 +0000 Wolfgang Kerler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149088 Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.]]>

Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.

By Wolfgang Kerler
MUNICH, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Internationally, German chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her humanitarian decision to open the countries’ border to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the decision has considerably reduced her support among Germans. Chances are real that Merkel could lose the chancellorship in the upcoming national elections.

Refugees in Germany

Refugees in Germany

On October 3rd 2016, a bulk of several hundred gathered in the historic center of Dresden, where the official celebration for Germany’s Unity Day took place. Most of the people did not come to celebrate though. They came to protest. When Angela Merkel finally arrived in Dresden, the crowd started to boo and yell “Merkel must go!”, “get out!” or “traitor!”.

Not long ago, a scene like this seemed impossible.

In spring 2015, all national polls saw Merkel’s conservative party at more than 40 percent support among Germans. The Social Democrats, which came in second, reached less than 25 percent. Even after almost ten years as chancellor, Merkel was considered as indispensable by most Germans. She enjoyed an approval rating of 75 percent.

However, after the events of September 2015, her popularity quickly started to drop to levels below 50 percent. Her party fell to 32 percent in recent polls.

Angela Merkel made her famous statement “we can make it” on August 31st of 2015. The number of refugees entering the country had already risen to 100,000 a month and she wanted to assure the public that Germany could tackle the integration of those immigrants.

Within days after Merkel’s comment the situation became even more dramatic.

Hungarian authorities had blocked thousands of refugees, who were fleeing violence and war in the Middle East, from boarding trains to Austria or Germany where they wanted to apply for asylum. Families had to sleep in makeshift shelters outside Budapest’s train station, while volunteers were struggling to provide at least a minimum of aid.

On September 4th, chancellor Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann therefore decided to open their countries’ borders for the people stranded in Budapest. Soon afterwards, first trains arrived in Munich, and many Germans welcomed the refugees and supplied food, drinks and clothing. A total of 890.000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015.

“The German government’s reaction was not an open-door policy, but a humanitarian reaction on the basis of international law”, Petra Bendel, a professor for political science at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, told IPS.

She also pointed out that Merkel’s grand coalition switched to a more restrictive refugee policy within weeks.

For example, the coalition introduced residence restrictions for asylum seekers. Instead of giving out money, some social benefits are provided in kind. And by granting only subsidiary protection instead of refugee status for Syrians, family reunions were made more difficult. On top of that, the German government started to push forward returns and expulsions.

“Timing suggests that these policy proposals must have existed in the drawers and waited for their time to come, since they were introduced in record time”, Bendel, who is also a member of The Expert Council on Integration and Migration, added.

But the rapid shift to a more restrictive stance on immigration and even the steep decline in the number of refugees coming to Germany in 2016 did not lead to a recovery of Merkel’s popularity.

Those parts of society that saw refugees as a threat to their wealth and security had already turned their back on her. Social networks were flooded with “Merkel must go!”-postings. After the events of Cologne and other cities, where groups of migrants sexually assaulted hundreds of women on New Year’s Eve 2015, tensions within the German society intensified.

“The events clearly had a decisive effect on public opinion”, said Bendel. “Survey data showed that in January 2016 for the first time a clear majority – 60 percent of survey participants instead of 46 percent in December – considered that Germany could not cope with such a large number of refugees.”

In the same time, eurosceptic right-wing party AfD gained momentum with a fierce and populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party easily surpassed the long-established Greens, the Left Party, and the Liberals in several regional elections with double digit results. In return, Merkel’s own Christian Democrats suffered one defeat after another.

In recent weeks, however, polls showed diminishing support for AfD. But it was not Merkel’s conservative block that benefitted. Instead, the Social Democrats which have been the junior partner in the ruling coalition made a comeback after nominating Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, as their candidate for chancellor.

Schulz already outpolled Angela Merkel in personal popularity.

“The few moderate AfD-supporters have migrated to the Social Democrats because they believe Martin Schulz could oust Angela Merkel, whom they hate”, Manfred Güllner, the head of pollster Forsa commented a survey that his institute conducted for TV network RTL and magazine Stern.

However, the resurge of the Social Democrats does not mean that refugee policy will not play a major role in the campaign for the national election due in September.

“Analyzing the party platforms, migration issues are on top of each and every party’s agenda”, Bendel said. “The danger exists that particularly the AfD’s campaign, which has already been leaked, further builds on irrational, explosive contents and appeals to most primitive instincts.”

Political observers now see a chance that after twelve years, Angela Merkel could lose the chancellorship.

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Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 15:09:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149086 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Five key G20 countries are failing to meet commitments to publish data that helps tackle corruption, warns a new report by international anti-corruption watchdogs.

“If the data was publicly available it could be used to curb criminal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion,” according to the joint research, published on February 23 by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation.

“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”

Connecting the Dots: Building the Case for Open Data to Fight Corruption looked at how much progress Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa have made in implementing the G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles, according to the research. These countries were chosen as a representative global and economic cross-section of G20 countries.

The conclusion is clear: there is not enough progress, says the report, adding that no country has released all the information and much of the information that has been released is hard to find and use.

According to the report, none of the countries posted any information about who owns companies (beneficial ownership information). France was the only country to publish some information on lobbying activities and only Brazil published information about government spending.

“Governments need to step up their game if open data is to put a dent in global corruption. ..They must work to change attitudes among civil servants, invest in vital technology and the development of skills, and crucially, they must enshrine G20 Principles into national law,” said Robin Hodess, interim Internal Managing Director of Transparency International and a co-author of the report.

“The Panama Papers showed us the scale of corruption happening in the shadows that datasets can help reveal. These developments called for urgent solutions. That governments are instead dragging their feet on mobilising open data raises questions about their commitment to transparency,” said Craig Fagan, Web Foundation Policy Director.

Transparency International and the Web Foundation analysed ten data sets linked to anti-corruption measures. These included public information on lobbying, land registrations, government spending, beneficial ownership of companies and political financing.

According to the report, researchers scored the quality of each data set using a nine-point checklist that includes an assessment of the timeliness for publication and updates, ease of access, provision of supporting documents, and the ability to cross-reference data sets.

“France performed best, scoring an average of 5.4 out of a possible 9 points. Indonesia received the lowest score, managing just 1.5 points.”

The dataset that had the most information was on government budgets with an average score of 7.8 across the five countries, says the report.

However, government spending and lobbying registers each scored 1.6 and land registers scored 1.8. This shows that governments are not collecting or disseminating crucial information in key areas prone to corruption.”

Key Findings:

No country released all anti-corruption datasets
• France showed the most progress, publishing eight of ten datasets identified as key to anti-corruption
• Brazil was the only country to publish data on government spending
• No country has a beneficial ownership register – despite all showing some level of commitment to do so at last year’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London.

When released, data is not always useful and useable
• In many cases the data is stale and lacks granularity – making meaningful insights difficult to draw
• Access is a problem in all countries, with datasets hard to find and not all available from a single platform, meaning those looking to identify corruption need to dig further to find critical information

Data not published to open data standards
• Only France published the majority of its datasets in line with open data standards
• This lack of adherence to open data standards makes merging and comparing datasets difficult, particularly between countries

Lack of open data skills

• Although some countries do offer some level of open data training for staff, these rarely incorporate an anti-corruption focus

Transparency International and the Web Foundation call for governments to take immediate steps to publish more information that can be used to fight corruption.

The report makes recommendations on the required legal measures needed to enforce open data and for commitments to invest in training.

Finally, the report suggests that in order for governments to make open data the default option, there will need to a change of culture, which will only come about when there are formal incentives for openness.

The full report can be downloaded here. The five country case studies: Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

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Netherlands to Host Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/netherlands-to-host-global-centre-of-excellence-on-climate-adaptation/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:42:42 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149083 "Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather" - Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment deputy chief “ Credit: UNEP

"Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather" - Ibrahim Thiaw, UN Environment deputy chief “ Credit: UNEP

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

The Netherlands announced that it will work with Japan and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to establish a Global Centre of Excellence to help countries, institutions and businesses to adapt to a warming climate, which is increasing the frequency of natural disasters and causing economic disruptions.

The Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation aims to bring together international partners, including leading knowledge institutes, businesses, NGOs, local and national governments, international organisations and financial institutions.

On this, the Dutch Minister for the Environment, Sharon Dijksma on February 6 said “Many around the world are hit hard by global warming. The ground-breaking Paris Climate Change Agreement puts climate change adaptation on par with mitigation.”

Failure of dealing adequately with climate change will increase a multitude of risks such as natural disasters, social and economic disruptions and increasing political tensions, Dijksma added.

“Many people are looking for good practices and guidance with regard to climate change adaptation. I am convinced the Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation can help addressing these challenges.”

For his part, Ibrahim Thiaw, UNEP‘s deputy chief, said “Even with the Paris Agreement on climate change, our planet is heading for a global warming of around 3°C.”

“Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather, erratic rainfall and rising sea levels. This Centre is a welcome step, but other countries need to follow this example and urgently invest in climate adaptation.”

By signing the Paris Climate agreement countries have made climate change adaptation a top global priority and the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation, a joint initiative of The Netherlands, Japan and UN Environment Programme is an important step to deliver on that commitment.

The Centre will support countries around the world to effectively adapt to climate change. It will collect lessons from recently executed projects and use those to develop guidance to accelerate climate adaptation.

The resulting pool of global knowledge and know-how to understand what works and what doesn’t will be used to support countries, communities and companies to successfully integrate climate adaptation into their investment decisions.

Italy Further Contributes to UN Environment Fund

Meanwhile, Italy’s Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti and Erik Solheim, UNEP Executive Secretary, this month signed a new agreement to intensify collaboration on pressing environmental issues, such as clean energy and environmental education.

Credit: UNEP

Credit: UNEP


On the occasion, the Italian government also made a significant, 5 million euro contribution to the Environment Fund.

The money will help UNEP implement crucial projects to design a sustainable financial system, boost resource efficiency and reinforce the sustainable management of natural resources and the marine economy.

“This generous contribution is yet another signal of Italy’s unwavering commitment to a clean, safe and healthy planet. We look forward to working with the Italian government to build the green future we all deserve,” said Solheim on February 6.

This new donation brings Italy’s total contributions to the Fund to over 10.5 million, euro or 11.2 million dollars since 2014.

Italy’s environmental priorities also include the transition to a green economy, clean energy and environmental education. The country is also expected to play an active role at the third UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, in December, where the world’s environment ministers will tackle the pressing challenge of pollution worldwide.

The UN Environment Fund depends on voluntary national contributions and is the main source of money for UN Environment to follow its programme of work in tackling trans-boundary challenges on topics ranging from climate change to the sustainable management of chemicals and flagging new environmental threats.

Italy is also a major donor to other project work for the environment through sources such as the Global Environment Facility.

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UN Declares War on Ocean Plastichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/un-declares-war-on-ocean-plastic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-declares-war-on-ocean-plastic http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/un-declares-war-on-ocean-plastic/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:07:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149079 The world's largest beach clean-up in history on Versova beach in Mumbai, India. Credit: UNEP

The world's largest beach clean-up in history on Versova beach in Mumbai, India. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

The available data is enough for the United Nations to literally declare war on oceans plastic: more than 8 million tonnes of leaks into their waters each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least 8 billion dollars in damage to marine ecosystems.

In fact, the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on February 23 launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: micro-plastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.

Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to the seas.

Erik Solheim, UNEP’s Executive Director, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”

In bathroom shelves across the world lie toothpaste and facial scrubs packed with tiny plastic pieces that threaten marine life. Up to 51 trillion microplastic particles are already in our oceans! Credit: UNEP

In bathroom shelves across the world lie toothpaste and facial scrubs packed with tiny plastic pieces that threaten marine life. Up to 51 trillion microplastic particles are already in our oceans! Credit: UNEP

Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate micro-plastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.

The #CleanSeas campaign is a global movement targeting governments, industry and consumers to urgently reduce the production and excessive use of plastic that is polluting the earth’s oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health. “We don’t need to invent or negotiate something new, we just need to have action to implement what we already agreed upon.” - Isabella Lovin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.

The UN environment body aims to transform all spheres of change –habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes.

So far, ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide: Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay.

Pledges to Turn the Plastic Tide

Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year. Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

And Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, said: “Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. Our oceans cannot wait any longer.”

Eneida de León, Minister of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment of Uruguay, underlined: “Our goal is to discourage the use of plastic bags through regulations, give an alternative for workers in the waste sector, and develop education plans regarding the impact of the use of plastic bags on our environment…”

According to estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Healthy oceans have a central role to play in solving one of the biggest problems of the 21st century – how to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Credit: FAO

Healthy oceans have a central role to play in solving one of the biggest problems of the 21st century – how to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Credit: FAO

Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters 5 – 9 June, and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

“No Need to Invent or Negotiate Something New…” – Sweden

In addition to the 8 million tons of plastic dumped each ears in the waters, oceans are also victims of overfishing, acidification and increasing global water temperatures linked to climate change.

The United Nations on 15 February held a two-day meeting in its headquarters in New York, to prepare for an Ocean Conference in June this year, which will aim “to help safeguard the planet’s oceans and help them recover from human-induced problems.“

In 2017, the Swedish climate law is signed by Isabella Lövin, with other female cabinet members.

In 2017, the Swedish climate law is signed by Isabella Lövin, with other female cabinet members.

On this, the deputy prime minister and climate minister of Sweden, Isabella Lövin, said in a video log on Twitter that the Conference could be a “chance of a lifetime” to save the oceans under enormous stress.

Most likely reflecting the general feeling of most scientists, environmentalists and civil society organisations, Lövin said “We don’t need to invent or negotiate something new, we just need to have action to implement what we already agreed upon.”

Lövin was referring to the expected ‘Call to Action’ that will result from the Conference in connection with stopping illegal fishing, stopping marine pollution and addressing the special circumstances of small island developing States.

“The World Going in the Totally Wrong Direction”

In an interview to IPS UN Bureau, Lövin said the world is going “in the totally wrong direction,” when it comes to achieving the goal of sustainable oceans and life below water.

“If you look at the trends right now, you see more and more overfishing, we are seeing more and more pollution, plastic litter coming into our oceans, and we’re also seeing all the stress that the ocean is under due to climate change, acidification of the water, but also the warming and sea level rises and all of this is putting a tremendous, tremendous pressure on our oceans,” Lövin explained.

During the New York meeting, the UN has called for voluntary commitments to implement Goal 14 and on February 15 launched an online commitment registry, which has its first three commitments – the Swedish Government, the UN Environment Programme, and Peaceboat, a non-governmental organisation.

The site will be up through the end of the Conference, which starts on World Environment Day, marked annually on 5 June, and includes 8 June, celebrated as World Oceans Day.

The voluntary commitments “underscore the urgency for action and for solutions,” said Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, who heads the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs and serves as the Secretary-General of the Conference.

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Humankind’s Ability to Feed Itself, Now in Jeopardyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humankinds-ability-to-feed-itself-now-in-jeopardy/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:07:19 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149065 Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

Women in the village of Rubkuai in Greater Unity State, South Sudan, on February 16, 2017. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mankind’s future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations’ report.

Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, “expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment,” says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, issued on Feb. 22, 2017.

“Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded.”

As a result, “planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue,” cautions FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.

At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food — a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. “Climate change will affect every aspect of food production,” the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.

Zero Hunger?

The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.

The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential – and ensuring that all of humanity benefits – will require “major transformations.”

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

Saving lives. Changing lives. Feeding dreams. Credit: WFP

According to the report, without a push to invest in and retool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 — the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.

“Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030,” it says. In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.

Where Will Our Food Come From?

Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.

However there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.

To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, “business-as-usual” is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” it says.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” adds the report.

More With Less

The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.

“For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities — especially agriculture and in rural economies — to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor. “

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

Famine hits parts of South Sudan. UN agencies warn that almost 5 million people urgently need food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Credit: FAO

According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.

This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.

Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets — along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.

On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director General for Economics and Social Development, said a media briefing, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture, said that it is climate change. “This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change.”

Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document incudes.

Top Trends and Challenges

The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world’s food systems:

15 Trends:
• _A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth “hot spots,” urbanization, and aging
• _Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
• _Greatly increased competition for natural resources
• _Climate change
• _Plateauing agricultural productivity
• _Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters
• _Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity
• _Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health
• _Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications
• _Increased migration
• _Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers livelihoods
• _Persisting food losses and waste
• _New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues
• _Changes in international financing for development.

10 Challenges:

• _Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand
• _Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base
• _Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards
• _Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality
• _Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition
• _Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient
• _Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration
• _Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts
• _Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats
• _Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance

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Shrinking and Darkening, the Plight of Kashmir’s Dying Lakeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/shrinking-and-darkening-the-plight-of-kashmirs-dying-lakes/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2017 02:00:16 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149017 Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday plucks a lotus stem from Wullar Lake in India’s Kashmir. He says the fish population has fallen drastically in recent years. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Feb 22 2017 (IPS)

Mudasir Ahmad says that two decades ago, his father made a prophecy that the lake would vanish after the fish in its waters started dying. Three years ago, he found dead fish floating on the surface, making him worried about its fate.

Like his father, Ahmad, 27, is a boatman on Kashmir’s famed Nigeen Lake, located north of Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar. He says the lake has provided a livelihood to his family for generations, but now things are taking an “ugly turn”.“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation." --Researcher Aabid Ahmad

The gradual algae bloom in the lake, otherwise known for its pristine beauty, led to oxygen depletion. Fish began to die. Environmentalists termed the development the first visible signs of environmental stress in the lake.

But no one was more worried than Mudasir himself. “We have been rowing boats on the lake for centuries. My grandfather and my father have been fed by this lake. I also have grown up here and my livelihood is directly dependent on the lake,” Ahmad told IPS.

He believes the emergence of rust-coloured waters is the sign of the lake dying a silent death, and he holds everyone responsible. “We have built houses in an unprecedented way around its banks. The drainage from the households directly drifts into the lake, making it more polluted than ever,” Ahmad said.

Blessed with over 1,000 small and large water bodies, the landlocked Kashmir Valley, located northern India, is known as the land of lakes and mountains. However, due to large scale urbanization and unprecedented deforestation, most of the water bodies in the region have disappeared.

A recent study by Kashmir’s renowned environmentalists Gowher Naseem and  Humayun Rashid found that 50 percent of lakes and wetlands in the region’s capital have been lost to other land use/land cover categories. During the last century, deforestation led to excessive siltation and subsequent human activity brought about sustained land use changes in these assets of high ecological value.

The study concludes that the loss of water bodies in Kashmir can be attributed to heavy population pressures.

Research fellow at Kashmir University, Aijaz Hassan, says the Kashmir Valley was always prone to floods but several water bodies in the region used to save the local population from getting marooned.

“All the valley’s lakes and the vast associated swamps played an important role in maintaining the uniformity of flows in the rivers. In the past, during the peak summers, whenever the rivers would flow high, these lakes and swamps used to act as places for storage of excessive water and thereby prevented large areas of the valley from floods,” Hassan said.

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir's Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

Fishermen cover their heads and part of their boats with blankets and straw as they wait to catch fish Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Credit: Umer Asif/IPS

India’s largest freshwater lake, Wullar Lake, is located in North Kashmir’s Bandipora area. It too is witnessing severe degradation due to large-scale human intervention. Wullar Lake, which claimed an area of 217.8 sq. km in 1911, has been reduced to about 80 sq. km today, with only 24 sq. km of open water remaining.

Environmentalist Majid Farooq says large areas of the lake have been converted for rice cultivation and tree plantations. According to him, pollution from fertilizers and animal waste, hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds, and weed infestation are other factors contributing to the loss of Wullar Lake’s natural beauty. The fish population in the lake has witnessed a sharp decline due to depletion of oxygen and ingress of pollutants.

Another famed lake known as Dal Lake has shrunk by 24.49 per cent in the past 155 years and its waters are becoming increasingly polluted.

The lake, according to research by the University of Kashmir’s Earth Science Department, is witnessing “multiple pressures” from unplanned urbanisation, high population growth and nutrient load from intensive agriculture and tourism.

Analysis of the demographic data indicated that the human population within the lake areas had shown “more than double the national growth rate.”

Shakil Ahmad Ramshoo, head of Department of Earth Sciences at University of Kashmir, told IPS that the water quality of the lake is deteriorating and no more than 20 percent of the lake’s water is potable.

“As the population increased, all the household sewage, storm runoff goes into the Dal Lake without any treatment — or even if there is treatment done, it is very insufficient. This has increased the pollutant load of the Dal Lake,” he said.

According to Ramshoo, when the study compared the past water quality of the lake with the present, it found ingress of the pollutants has increased and the lake water quality has deteriorated significantly.

According to the region’s tourism department, over one million tourists visit Dal Lake annually and around 300,000 people are directly and indirectly dependent on the lake for their livelihood. The multimillion-dollar handicrafts industry of Kashmir, which gives employment to over 200,000 people, is also heavily dependent upon the arrival of tourists in the region.

A study on the Impact of Tourism Industry on Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir says that almost 50-60 percent of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism related activities. The industry contributes 15 percent to the state’s GDP.

However, Mudasir Ahmad, whose livelihood is directly dependent on the lake, says every time he takes tourists to explore the lake in his Shikara (a boat), he is asked about the murkier water quality.

“My grandfather and even my father used to drink from this lake. The present situation is worrisome and if this goes unabated, tourists would cease to come. Who would spend money to see cesspools?” Ahmad said.

Fayaz Ahmad Khanday, a fisherman living on Wullar Lake, says the fish production has fallen drastically in the last three years, affecting both him and hundreds of other fishermen.

“Fish used to be present in abundance in the lake but now the scarcity of the species is taking toll. Every day we see dead fish floating on the lake’s waters. We really are concerned about our livelihood and the fate of the lake as well,” Khanday lamented.

The fisherman holds unplanned construction around the lake responsible for its pollution. Aabid Ahmad, a research scholar in Environmental Studies, says Kashmir has become vulnerable to natural disasters as region’s most of the water bodies have either disappeared or are shrinking.

“The floods of September 2014 wreaked havoc and caused heavy loss to property and human lives. That was the first signal of how vulnerable have we become to natural disasters due to environmental degradation,” Ahmad told IPS.

But, for Shakeel Ramshoo, it is still possible to restore the lakes and water bodies of Kashmir.

“Don’t move the people living on these water bodies out.  You just allow them to stay in the lake. We have to control the haphazard constructions that are taking toll around these water bodies,” he said.

“Hutments in the water bodies should be densified with STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) installed in every household. Land mass can be removed and the area of the water bodies would increase. Also, the sewage treatment mechanism should be better so that the ingress of pollutants is ceased,” Ramshoo said.

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Trump Marks the End of a Cyclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149052 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

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Tax Evasion Lessons From Panamahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:44:28 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149048 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

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

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Unlike Wikileaks and other exposes, the Panama revelations were carefully managed, if not edited, quite selective, and hence targeted, at least initially. Most observers attribute this to the political agendas of its main sponsors. Nevertheless, the revelations have highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, as well as tax evasion and avoidance, including the role of enabling governments, legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

The political tremors generated by the edited release of 1.1 million documents were swift. No one expected Iceland’s prime minister to resign in less than 48 hours, or that the then British prime minister would soon publicly admit that he had benefited from the hidden wealth earned from an opaque offshore company of his late father.

Panama Papers
The Panama Papers help us understand how shell companies and trusts operate. The documents, from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, involved 210,000 legal entities. The Panama-based law firm has worked with some of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank — to set up thousands of offshore companies to circumvent tax and law enforcement authorities worldwide.

The accounts enabled by just one law firm in Panama is the tip of a massive iceberg still hidden from public view as many other such firms in different locations provide similar services. High net-worth individuals and corporations have a far greater ability to evade taxes by paying tax advisers, lawyers and accountants, and by opening undeclared companies and financial accounts in low-tax jurisdictions. The expose shows that the firm aided public officials, their cronies and large corporations to avoid taxes.

Not surprisingly, Mossack Fonseca claims it has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing. This only underscores the fact that Panama’s financial regulators, police, judiciary and political system are very much part of the system. Similarly, many clients believe that they have not violated national and international regulations.

‘Offshore’ tax havens

Total global wealth was estimated, by a 2012 Tax Justice Network (TJN) USA report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited, at US$231 trillion in mid-2011; this was roughly 3.5 times the global GDP of US$65 trillion in 2011. It conservatively estimated that, of this, US$21 to US$32 trillion of hidden and stolen wealth has been stashed secretly, ‘virtually tax-free’, in and ‘through’ more than 80 secret jurisdictions.

According to Oxfam, at least US$18.5 trillion is hidden in undeclared and untaxed tax havens worldwide, with two thirds in the European Union, and a third in UK-linked sites. After the Panama Papers leak, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 US companies have stashed US$1.38 trillion offshore to minimize US tax exposure. The 50 companies are estimated to have earned some US$4 trillion in profits across the world between 2008 and 2014, but have only paid 26.5 per cent of it in US tax.

In a 5 April 2016 speech, following the US Treasury’s crackdown on corporate tax ‘inversions’, US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

It was also estimated that this costs poor countries over US$100 billion in lost tax revenues every year. Oxfam also found that tax dodging by transnational corporations alone costs the developing world between US$100 to US$160 billion yearly. If ‘profit shifting’ is taken into account, about US$250 to US$300 billion is lost. After all, many countries and institutions actively enable—and profit handsomely from—the theft of massive funds from developing countries.

More so now than ever before, the term ‘offshore’ for tax havens refers less to physical locations than to virtual ones, often involving “networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements”. Private banking ‘money managers’ provide all needed services — including financial, economic, legal, accounting and insurance services — to facilitate such practices, making fortunes for themselves by doing so. Thousands of shell banks and insurers, 3.5 million paper companies, more than half the world’s registered commercial ships over 100 tons, and tens of thousands of ‘shell’ subsidiaries of giant global banks, accounting firms and various other companies operate from such locations.

Reforming tax havens?
In recent years, amid increased public scrutiny, the global tax haven landscape has changed. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based club of rich nations, has been developing a global transparency initiative to crack down on tax haven secrecy. But Panama is refusing to participate seriously, with the OECD tax chief calling it a jurisdiction “that welcomes crooks and money launderers”.

To qualify for the OECD’s ‘white list’ of approved jurisdictions, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have agreed, since 2014, to impose new modest disclosure requirements for international customers. Hence, the Swiss government has now relaxed confidentiality-cum-secrecy provisions, allowing information sharing about illegal or unauthorized deposits with other countries, subject to certain conditions. Consequently, the world of illegal and unaccounted cash has moved in response.

Facilitating tax evasion
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. The most prominent is the US. Another is Panama. As Panama has dodged, delayed and diluted compliance with OECD regulations, many accounts moved to Panama from other signatory tax havens. As Bloomberg noted earlier in 2016, “Panama and the U.S. have at least one thing in common: Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.”

Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens subject to the new international disclosure requirements, to Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.

It has acknowledged that the US itself is the world’s single greatest tax haven, while the UK plays a disproportionately greater role as a tax haven, considering the smaller size of its population and economy. A TJN study found that the US continues to facilitate financial secrecy and tax evasion. “Due to lax requirements…, it is far easier to set up an anonymous shell company in the US than it is in well-known tax havens”, according to the Financial Transparency Coalition.

The US does not accept a lot of international standards, and can get away with it because of its economic and political clout, but is probably the only country that can continue to do that. It has taken steps to keep track of American assets abroad, but not of foreign assets in the US.

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Red Tape Snarls Nepal’s Ambitious Poverty-Alleviation Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/red-tape-snarls-nepals-ambitious-poverty-alleviation-plans/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 02:00:02 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149004 Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Juna Bhujel (looking at the camera) at the Mankha VDC office to complain about non-payment of disaster relief funds to reconstruct housing. She lost her home in Nepal’s April 2015 earthquake. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Juna Bhujel of Sindupalchowk District, 85 kilometres northeast of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, lost her daughter-in-law in the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake. Fortunately, she managed to rescue her two-year-old grandson, who was trapped between her mother’s body and the rubble.

Soon after the devastating earthquake, her son, the family’s sole bread-winner, left for Malaysia to seek work, taking out a loan with high interest rates to fund his trip. He has neither returned, nor sent any money back home.“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security." --Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund

Bhujel, a member of the Mankha Village Development Committee (VDC), now lives in a makeshift dwelling with a family of five. Their only source of income is when her husband gets menial work in home construction. To make matters worse, she has not received any money from the government to build a house.

“I was already poor, with a small plot of land that produced enough food for only three months, and now I don’t even have a house,” said Bhujel, 55. “If my government does not support me, then who will?”

Bhujel is just one of tens of thousands of earthquake victims who lost their family members and homes, but are still waiting to be formally identified as “poor” by the government.

Nepal has set a target of reducing poverty to five percent by 2030, per the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this central Himalayan country, 25.2 percent of the population now lives below the national poverty line.

The government is planning to distribute Poor Identity Cards to 395,000 families in 25 districts starting in April, providing social security entitlements and benefits with the aim of achieving the targets.

Hriday Ram Thani, Minister for Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, told IPS that with this new identity card, the government will be able to implement more concentrated programs. The ministry is planning to expand the distribution of identity cards to 50 more districts. Nepal has 75 districts.

But the government’s ambitious plans to alleviate poverty face the challenge of weak programming, planning and coordination between various line ministries to successfully implement the proposed programs.

Nepal already has 44 programs to alleviate poverty run by various ministries. For example, the Poverty Alleviation Constituency Development Program run by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has a budget of Rs one billion (9.29 million dollars), and the 9,290,000.00 USD 9,290,000.00 USDPoverty Alleviation Fund under the Prime Minister’s office has a Rs 3.82 billion (2.6 million) budget for this year.

The Youth Employment Fund under the Finance Ministry has Rs 90 million (836,100 dollars), and the Poor with Bishweswor program under the Ministry of Local Development has Rs 160 million (1.486 million) for this year with the mandate to run programs in 483 VDCs in 75 districts.

While the Youth Council Program aims to provide one industry per 10 youth under the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Rural Independent Fund run by Nepal Rastra Bank under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock also has a similar aim to reduce poverty.

Minister Thani said that in order to achieve the target and make it more results-oriented, he has already asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to integrate all these poverty-related projects so that the outcome can be measured — or else to close down the ministry.

“Apart from results documented in reports from any of these ministries, the impact cannot be observed in any of their target areas,” he said.

He added that there is a need to establish a high-level poverty alleviation board under the chairmanship of the prime minister and the Poverty Alleviation Ministry should be the focal ministry that links all the projects under various ministries. “There is a need for an internal expert team within the ministry with 3-5 subject group experts,” he said.

While the Poverty Ministry is complaining about a lack of programs and projects, high-level officials at National Planning Commission said that since poverty is a cross-cutting issue, all the ministries are running their own programs and discussions are being held with the Poverty Ministry on how to integrate these programs.

Apart from these initiatives, about two to three percent of the government budget is spent on nine categories of Social Security Entitlements each year for 8 percent of the total population.

Janak Raj Joshi, former vice chairman of the Poverty Alleviation Fund, said that it is sad that the government’s programs have been expanding but failed to go deeper and lack sustainability. He also blamed various international organisations for launching time-bound poverty alleviation projects.

“Since 65 percent of the total income of Nepali people goes to food consumption, these programs should be linked with food security,” he said. “The government lacks a vision of proper distribution of resources and the programs have failed to address the core issues. Each program should directly link to the people living under the poverty line.”

Around two-thirds of Nepalis rely on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The National Planning Commission (NPC) aims to introduce various programs to help improve the overall development of agriculture from this year.

Mahesh Kharel, Under-Secretary of the NPC’s Poverty Alleviation Division, said that they have planned an Agriculture Development Strategy from this year. He said that under the prime minister’s chairmanship, the project will focus on agriculture, infrastructure, local development and agricultural roads, livestock and irrigation to promote marketing of agricultural goods.

The government has allotted Rs 58 billion (541 million dollars) for the project. Similarly, the government has also allotted Rs six billion (56 million) to focus on an Agriculture Modernization Project. The program has already started in Kailali, Jhapa and Bara districts, where super zones of wheat, rice and fish have been announced.

Kharel agreed that poverty alleviation needs an integrated approach with some focused programs that directly affect the poor and bring positive changes to their lives. “By making improvements in the agriculture sector, we can help improve the living standards of people living under the poverty line,” he said.

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Palestinian Rejection Underscores Limits of UN Chief’s Powershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/palestinian-rejection-underscores-limits-of-un-chiefs-powers/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:38:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149033 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Pointing out an example of the hierarchy of political power at the United Nations, a former Nigerian ambassador once told a group of reporters of an encounter at an international gathering in Africa when he ran into one of his friends who had returned from a visit to New York.

guterres_300“I met your boss,” he told a perplexed Nigerian envoy. “What boss?”, he asked his friend. “I don’t have a boss in New York.”

When his friend explained that he really meant the UN Secretary-General (SG) whom he had met during his visit to the UN, the envoy shot back: “He is not my boss. I am his boss.”

And the Nigerian envoy was dead on target.

But most outsiders, however, do not realise the limitations and restrictions under which a Secretary-General operates.

A creature of the world body’s 193 member states, the Secretary-General is really the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the United Nations and has to do the bidding of member states— particularly on politically sensitive issues and on senior appointments.

And he rarely, if ever, defies the five veto-wielding permanent members (P-5), namely the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, whose nationals traditionally hold some of the most senior positions in the UN Secretariat— jobs doled out mostly under political pressure.

The current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who took office in January, was a two-time Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002) and the first and only UN chief who was a former head of government.

And Prime Ministers, protocol-wise, are known to exercise vast political powers in their home countries – and rarely known to take orders from others.

Still, one of Guterres’ early appointments – of the former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Libya – was unceremoniously shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian.

A visibly disappointed Guterres told reporters last week: “I think it was a serious mistake. I think that Mr. Fayyad was the right person in the right place at the right time, and I think that those who will lose will be the Libyan people and the Libyan peace process.”

“And I believe that it is essential for everybody to understand that people serving the UN are serving in their personal capacities. They don’t represent a country or a government – they are citizens of the world representing the UN Charter and abiding by the UN Charter,” he said pointedly directing his answer at Haley.

Asked to comment on the issue of limits of power exercised by a Secretary-General, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh, a former UN High Representative and Under-Secretary-General, told IPS that “essentially there are four main constraints to the effectiveness of the Secretary-General”.

Firstly, veto and veto-wielding members of the Security Council, which influences matters in all areas of UN system’s work; secondly, promises and commitments made by the Secretary-General as a candidate to secure his election; thirdly, aspiration to get re-elected for a second term from day one of the first term; and, fourthly, the labyrinthine UN bureaucracy, said Chowdhury, who was one of the senior UN officials in former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s cabinet and management team.

The late Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, who had a running battle with senior US officials, and particularly with US Ambassador Madeleine Albright, was the only Secretary-General who was denied a second five-year term.

At a Security Council meeting, 14 of the 15 members voted to give him a second term. But the US cast the single veto punishing him for his defiance, and making a mockery of the concept of majority rule– and an overwhelming majority in this case– which it preaches to the rest of the world.

The right course of action for the US would have been to abstain on that vote and respect the views of the remaining 14 members. But it never did.

Martin Edwards, Associate Professor in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, told IPS: “I think this is a learning process for Guterres in how to work with the new administration.”

The storm over Fayyad will blow over, and it’s clear that the party that loses most here isn’t Guterres, but the White House, which now looks petulant, said Edwards whose expertise includes International Organizations and International Political Economy.

He pointed out that the more intriguing development lies in the appointments announced last Tuesday.

Both Jeffrey Feltman of the US (renewed mandate as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs) and Jean-Pierre Lacroix of France (Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations) are one-year appointments, setting up potential jockeying with the US and France over these offices next year.

“So these are early days as Guterres seeks to build his team,” he noted.

Asked if the nomination of Fayyad was based on consultations with all of the members of the Security Council, UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters last week: “We do consult broadly in the course of make appointments, and based on the understanding he had at the time, he believed he could go forward.”

Asked if Guterres spoke personally with Ambassador Haley regarding this nomination, he said: “I can’t characterize the full range of discussions he had. Like I said, he did… he and the Secretariat did consult prior to this, and we believed we had the understandings in hand. We… but we did not.”

Clarifying further, Haq said the Security Council is consulted on all appointments having to do with senior officials who report directly to the Security Council or carry out its mandates.

“So, that is part of the standard procedure in which all of the 15 members of the Security Council have a say. Regarding where we go forward from here, the Secretary General will continue his consultations. We’ll let you know of an appointment once something is decided.”

Asked if Guterres’ power or reputation — is diminished by the Fayyad incident, and whether it was embarrassing for him personally and a blow to his credibility, Haq said: “I don’t think it should be a blow to his credibility. I think it’s really suggested there is a problem where people’s perceptions should not blind them to the actual qualifications of a person for the job.”

In a wide-ranging IPS oped piece before the election of Guterres last year Chowdhury said: “Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue.”

As in the case of any new corporate Chief Executive Officer, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or re-elected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?

In that context, he said, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments of Assistant-Secretaries-General (ASG) and Under-Secretaries-General (USG), should be more transparent and open.

The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve, he added.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office, said Chowdhury, a former chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget.

“That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.”

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer, said Chowdury, initiator of Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

“What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

“The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did.”

One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”.

Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports.

This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities, he noted.

“No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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