Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Anthony George http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137958 In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

By Anthony George
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised byDEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens” – Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform

Key partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Riskshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137954 Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Central American Civil Society Calls for Protection of Local Agriculture at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:12:27 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137946 A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Worried about the effects of global warming on agriculture, water and food security in their communities, social organisations in Central America are demanding that their governments put a priority on these issues in the COP20 climate summit.

In the months leading up to COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – civil society in Central America has met over and over again to reach a consensus position on adaptation and loss and damage.

These, along with mitigation, are the pillars of the negotiations to take place in Lima the first 12 days of December, which are to give rise to a new climate change treaty to be signed a year later at COP21 in Paris.

“Central American organisations working for climate justice, food security and sustainable development are trying to share information and hammer out a common position,” Tania Guillén, who represents Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre environmental group at the talks, told IPS.

That consensus, in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming, will serve “to ask the governments to adopt positions similar to those taken by civil society,” said the representative of the Humboldt Centre, a regional leader in climate change research and activism.

Guillén said the effort to hold a Central American dialogue “is aimed at guaranteeing that adaptation will be a pillar of the new accord, and there is a good climate for that.”

The Nicaraguan activist stressed that the other question of great interest to the region is loss and damage, aimed at addressing and remedying the negative effects of climate change already suffered by the countries of Central America.

“Studies indicate that we have spent 10 percent of GDP to recover from Mitch, which was basically the starting point of risk management in the region,” said Guillén, referring to the hurricane that caused billions of dollars in damages and claimed thousands of lives in Central America in 1998.

These two main thematic areas dominate the agendas of Central American networks seeking solutions to climate change, like the Central American Alliance for Resilience, the Regional Coalition for Risk Management and the Vulnerable Central America Forum.

On Nov. 14 these organisations signed the declaration of the Second Central American Conference on Loss and Damage from Climate Change, where activists from the region studied water stress, food security and the risks facing the population.

One of their demands was that during COP20 the seven governments of the region “promote the declaration of Central America as a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The same thing was demanded by the Fifth Regional Meeting on Vulnerable Central America, United for Life, held in September.

Another gathering in preparation for COP20 will take place Wednesday Nov. 26 in Honduras.

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The demands set forth by civil society are backed by studies highlighting the climate fragility of this region, which is set between two oceans.

In the 2012 report “The economics of climate change in Central America”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that precipitation in the region would decline by at least 11 percent by 2100.

This year, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that forecast.

The effects of climate change on agriculture in this region could also be devastating.

ECLAC estimated that if global warming continues at the current pace, the negative impacts on agricultural production would lead to a loss of nearly 19 percent of GDP in Central America.

For all of these reasons, civil society groups are demanding that governments in the region and the Central American Integration System (SICA) take a firmer stance on climate change adaptation.

In the meantime, they are developing projects to curb the negative effects of global warming in the region.

In Costa Rica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) is working with local authorities to implement a river basin management plan.

The plan includes the Barranca river, which flows into the Pacific ocean after running through an important farming area.

“We are developing a master plan for the basin and we put special importance on future scenarios of climate change and variability,” the coordinator of the CATIE programme, Laura Benegas, told IPS.

The research centre is also carrying out an ambitious seed protection and improvement programme, to guarantee food security in Costa Rica.

SICA, the government counterpart to the regional social organisations, is currently presided over by Belize, whose government ensured that addressing climate change would be among its top priorities.

However, the organisations are sceptical about the possibility of the government delegations taking their positions on board.

“Civil society does not have an influence on the official position to be taken to the talks because there are no mechanisms for that and because many segments of civil society are still having a hard time taking that step,” Alejandra Granados, president of the Costa Rican organisation CO2.cr, told IPS.

With respect to the climate summit in Lima, Central America has the advantage that Costa Rica currently presides over the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, made up of middle-income countries pushing for an adaptation initiative within the UNFCCC.

The group also includes Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the COP20 host country Peru.

During the Sep. 23 climate summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York, the countries of Central America committed themselves to making their economies even greener.

Costa Rica confirmed its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021, Nicaragua promised to continue to invest in renewable energies, and Guatemala pledged to reforest 3.9 million hectares between 2016 and 2020.

Nevertheless, this region shares very little responsibility for global warming.

While China and the United States together account for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Central America is responsible for just 0.8 percent.

By contrast, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by GermanWatch, three nations in this region were among the 10 countries in the world affected the most by climate change between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras is in first place on that list, Nicaragua in fourth place and Guatemala in 10th place. El Salvador is in 13th place, Belize 22nd, Costa Rica 66th and Panama 103rd.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137944

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Nuclear Weapons as Bargaining Chips in Global Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:23:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137941 Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Has the world reached a stage where nuclear weapons may be used as bargaining chips in international politics?

So it seems, judging by the North Korean threat last week to conduct another nuclear test – if and when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution aimed at referring the hermit kingdom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights abuses.

“If North Korea begins a game of nuclear blackmailing,” one anti-nuclear activist predicted, “will Russia not be far behind in what appears to be a new Cold War era?”

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, author of the U.N.-published book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, told IPS the larger danger – exemplified also by some of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons bandied around the crisis in Ukraine – is that nuclear weapons are not useful deterrents but are increasingly seen as bargaining chips, with heightened risks that they may be used to “prove” some weak leader’s “point”, with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

She pointed out North Korea’s recent threat to conduct another nuclear test – its fourth – is unlikely to deter U.N. states from adopting a resolution to charge the regime of Kim Jong-un with crimes against humanity.

“North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling appears to draw from Cold War deterrence theories, but a nuclear test is not a nuclear weapon,” she added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told the Security Council last May North Korea is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

Since 2006, it has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February 2013 – all of them in defiance of the international community and the United Nations.

The resolution on North Korea, which is expected to come up before the U.N.’s highest policy making body in early December, has already been adopted by the U.N. committee dealing with humanitarian issues, known as the Third Committee.

The vote was 111 in favour to 19 against, with 55 abstentions in the 193-member committee. The vote in the General Assembly is only a formality.

Alyn Ware, a member of the World Future Council, told IPS: “Nuclear weapons should not be used as threats or as bargaining chips.”

Their use, after all, would involve massive violations of the right to life and other human rights.

However, he noted, this applies also to the other nuclear-armed states in the region (China, Russia and the United States) and states under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines (South Korea and Japan).

“The nuclear option should be taken off the table by establishing a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” he said.

And the states leading the human rights charges against North Korea should make it crystal clear that such charges are not an attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, he added.

The tensions between countries in the region, and the fact that the Korean War of the 1950s has never officially ended (only an armistice is in place), makes this a very sensitive issue, said Ware. If the General Assembly adopts the resolution, as expected, it is up to the 15-member Security Council to initiate ICC action on North Korea.

But both Russia and China are most likely to veto any attempts to drag North Korea to The Hague.

In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times said North Korea’s human rights abuses warrant action by the Security Council.

“Given what is in the public record, it is impossible to see how any country can defend Mr Kim and his lieutenants or block their referral to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said.

“As confidence in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) continues to erode, has the time come to ban all nuclear weapons?” asked Dr Johnson.

She said “a comprehensive nuclear ban treaty would dramatically reduce nuclear dangers and provide much stronger international tools than we have today for curbing the acquisition, deployment and spread of nuclear weapons.”

The status some nations attach to nuclear weapons would soon be a thing of the past, nuclear sabre-rattling would become pointless, and anyone threatening to use these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would automatically face charges under the International Criminal Court, said Dr. Johnson, who is executive director and co-founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“This might not stop nuclear blackmail overnight, but it would make it much harder for North Korea and any others to imagine they could gain benefits by issuing nuclear threats.”

As North Korea withdrew from the NPT over 10 years ago, and has already conducted three nuclear tests, it is unlikely that a threatened fourth test would be an effective deterrent, said Dr Johnson.

The U.N. resolution has been triggered by a report from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea which recommended that leaders of that country be prosecuted by the ICC for grave human rights violations.

The commission was headed by Michael Kirby, a High Court Judge from Australia.

In a statement before the Third Committee last week, the North Korean delegate said the report of the Commission “was based on fabricated testimonies by a handful of defectors who had fled the country after committing crimes.

“The report was a compilation of groundless political allegations and had no credibility as an official U.N. document,” he added.

Ware told IPS, “I have a lot of respect for my colleague Michael Kirby from Australia, who led a year-long U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses which concluded that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself, should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“I find the response of the North Korean authorities to try to discredit his report due to his sexual orientation to be reprehensible,” he added. “Nor do I find credible the North Korean counter-claims that their human rights violations are non-existent, while the real human rights violator is the U.S. government.”

Ware said there are indeed human rights violations in the United States, but they pale in comparison to those in North Korea.

There is a body of U.S. civil rights law and legal institutions that provide protections for U.S. citizens even if it is not fully perfect nor implemented entirely fairly, he pointed out.

But there is a lack of such protection of civil rights in North Korea, with the result that the North Korean administration inflicts incredibly egregious violations of human rights with total impunity, according to Kirby’s report.

“I do not believe that the threat of a nuclear test by North Korea should deter the United Nations from addressing these human rights violations, including the possibility of referral to the International Criminal Court,” Ware declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137936 Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137932 E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Water and Sanitation Report Card: Slow Progress, Inadequate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:06:32 +0000 Tim Brewer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137930 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Tim Brewer
LONDON, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The Ebola crisis has thrown into sharp relief the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in treating and caring for the sick. Dying patients are being taken to hospitals which never had enough water to maintain hygiene, and the epidemic has pushed the system to the breaking point.

Last week’s World Health Organisation report produced by UN Water, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), has provided a sobering picture of water and sanitation services so necessary to healthcare systems around the world.Half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

The annual analysis is a gold mine of data, covering 94 countries and using information from 23 aid agencies. The story it tells this year is of modest progress alongside inadequate funding, poor monitoring and a desperate need for skilled regulators, administrators and engineers to keep services running effectively.

Among GLAAS’s most important findings are how poorly finances intended to address the water and sanitation crisis are targeted.

Urban areas are prioritised over rural regardless of the level of need – nearly three-quarters of aid spending goes to urban areas and more than 60 percent of aid is in the form of loans, which are rarely targeted to the poor. This suggests rural people and the urban poor are being further marginalised.

Nearly three-quarters of the aid targeted at water, sanitation and hygiene programmes is spend on drinking water supplies. Despite these investments in improved supplies, 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough in containing the waste that contaminates it.

Addressing these issues effectively requires money, training and monitoring, but these, too, are falling short.

The GLAAS report has found that financing for water and sanitation in 70 percent of responding countries covers less than 80 percent of the costs of operation and maintenance for existing services.

Regulators, administrators and engineers are all in short supply in developing countries. All are of critical importance in the safe, sustainable delivery of water and basic sanitation services, fundamental to good public health and economic growth. Yet it’s rare to see plans or investment to address this. Only one third of countries even have a human resources strategy in place.

Monitoring is also seriously lacking. WaterAid is examining the sanitation transformations that took place in East Asia, and has found that responsive monitoring which actually leads to changes in policy and investment is a crucial driver of sanitation improvements. But very few countries have enough personnel to collect or review data, or enough senior political interest to demand it.

Less than half of countries have a formal rural service provider that reports to a regulatory authority, and effectively monitors its services.

What does this mean? It means that half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

But there is progress. Proposals for the U.N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals, now under negotiation, include goals for water and sanitation services that include schools and healthcare facilities along with households.

This is of huge importance, particularly when we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa – where healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular were broken in years of conflict and never properly rebuilt – or this year’s cholera outbreak in Ghana, where 20,900 people were infected and 166 died of preventable infection transmitted by water contaminated with human waste.

The GLAAS reports that less than one-third of countries have a plan for drinking water or sanitation in health care facilities and schools that is implemented, funded and reviewed regularly. These targets are long overdue.

The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with water, sanitation and hygiene education, but it will require strong political will, a comprehensive and accelerated approach, and financing.

As the U.N. negotiates the new Sustainable Development Goals, including a strong, dedicated goal on water and sanitation that incorporates water and sanitation targets into goals on healthcare will address many of these shortfalls.

What the present shortlist does not include, but which the GLAAS report has clearly shown, is the need to find and train people to drive this transformation, and keep services running sustainably.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gated Communities on the Water Aggravate Flooding in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 21:31:28 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137925 Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The construction of gated communities on wetlands and floodplains in Greater Buenos Aires has modified fragile ecosystems and water cycles and has aggravated flooding, especially in poor surrounding neighourhoods.

In the 1990s a high-end property boom led to the construction of private neighbourhoods in vital ecosystems, and the emergence of barriers – actual walls – between social classes in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

In the first week of November, the “sudestada” or strong southeast wind left 19 municipalities in and around Buenos Aires under water.“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade.” -- Martín Gianella

The sudestada is a phenomenon that affects the Rio de la Plata basin. It consists of a sudden rotation of cold southern winds to the southeast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. In the first week of November the wind gusts reached over 70 km an hour and more rain fell in two days than the total forecast for two months. Rivers overflowed their banks, large areas were flooded and cut off, and more than 5,000 people were evacuated.

Jorge Capitanich, President Cristina Fernández’s cabinet chief, attributed the floods to “a combination of sudestada, heavy rains, and the saturation of the water basins.”

But Patricia Pintos of the University de la Plata’s Centre of Geographic Research said this confluence of factors was aggravated by the growing urbanisation and the proliferation of “barrios náuticos” – closed private neighbourhoods built on the water.

These gated communities are built near or on artificial or natural bodies of water, Pintos, a geographer who is co-author of the book ”La privatopía sacrílega. Efectos del urbanismo privado en la cuenca baja del río Luján” (Sacrilegious privatopia: Effects of private urbanism on the lower Luján river basin), told Tierramérica.

Many of these wealthy private neighbourhoods have been built on floodplains and wetlands, ecosystems that are vital to water drainage.

The new urban developments have advanced on areas that play a crucial role in managing floods, she said.

“Wetlands are getting stopped up by housing developments that ironically promote a lifestyle associated with enjoying water and nature,” Laila Robledo, an urban planner at the General Sarmiento National University, told Tierramérica.

Four of the municipalities in the lower stretch of the Luján river basin most affected by the growth of high-end neighbourhoods on floodplains and wetlands are Pilar, Campana, Escobar and Tigre, which cover more than 7,000 hectares.

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“The emergence of 65 housing developments of this kind modified the terrain at the mouth of the river and blocked drainage during weather events like the ones we experienced this month,” Pintos said.

These neighbourhoods, which the expert described as “polderised closed housing developments” – a reference to polders or low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes – “entail major modifications of the natural topographical characteristics, not only to raise the level of the ground in order to build housing but also to create new bodies of water.”

That involves, for example, excavating to build artificial lakes and using the dirt to fill in low-lying areas.

And because these housing developments are in flood-prone areas, embankments six to 10 metres high are built around them to keep water out.

“They protect these developments but they work as dikes that contribute to flooding in surrounding neighbourhoods…What protects them hurts those who are outside,” Pintos said.

Ten percent of the 350,000 inhabitants of Tigre live in gated communities, which cover half of the municipality’s land area, Martín Gianella, the municipal general secretary, told Tierramérica.

“This is what we call a model of socio-territorial segregation,” he said. “Walls are dividing the territory and society.”

Gianella said that Tigre, on the north side of Greater Buenos Aires, has historically suffered from flooding during the sudestadas.

“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade,” he added.

The official urged the municipal government to oversee and regulate the construction of private neighbourhoods “and to levy a special tax on these mega-developments, to invest in the necessary hydrological works.”

Robledo, the urban planner, stressed that changes in the hydrologic regimes don’t only affect the areas near the gated communities, because Buenos Aires was built on a plain crisscrossed by rivers.

“The city is part of an urban metabolism – what happens in one place affects the rest,” she explained. That is why solutions must be “interjurisdictional,” she added.

According to Robledo, the construction of these gated communities “favours the privatisation of the city and real estate speculation, to the detriment of the rest of the population.”

Driven by the profit motive, “the companies buy up historically cheap land prone to flooding, fill it in to make it inhabitable, and earn extraordinary profits,” she said.

Pintos said “this is the result of the growth of a model of urban development followed by municipalities that are prone to favouring big investment flows.”

Pintos and Robledo agreed that while regulations and maps of socio-environmental risks posed by this kind of housing development exist, they are not enforced.

Big real estate entrepreneurs in the province of Buenos Aires, like Gonzalo Monarca, the president of the Grupo Monarca, deny that they are responsible for the problems, which they blame on climate change.

“That’s a fallacious argument,” Robledo said. “Climate change is happening at a global level, but the consequences are stronger or weaker depending on the way cities have been built and inhabited.”

“If we build in a drainage basin that receives overflow when the water level in the river goes up, it’s obvious that the water is going to run off into other areas,” she said.

Robledo stated that if this kind of housing development is not banned or regulated, cities will be flooded more frequently and for longer periods of time, even when the rainfall is not particularly heavy.

Pintos went even further, calling for solutions that are “not very popular” in political terms, and which may be complex and burdensome, but which she said should not be ruled out if the problem continues to grow.

As an example, she cited the relocation of families from the banks of the Mississippi river in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Other intermediate solutions, she said, would be to prohibit the construction of new private neighbourhoods in fragile ecosystems, and a review of the permits already granted.

She also said companies should assume the costs of remediation of environmental problems, although such works would be a “bandaid in the face of a critical situation that could have been avoided if rationality had prevailed.”

Leandro Silva, the head of environment at the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación – Argentina’s ombudsperson’s office – pointed out to Tierramérica that in 2010 his office warned the municipalities of Zárate, Campana, Escobar, Tigre and San Fernando about the risks posed by the expansion of gated communities in the ecosystem of the Paraná river delta, and urged them to respect environmental impact studies and to impose strict controls.

“The recurrent flooding and the impact on the most vulnerable segments of society make it necessary to reinforce these mechanisms and proactively exercise prevention, implementing in the watersheds all of the environmental management instruments required by our legislation: environmental impact assessments, citizen participation, environmental zoning and access to public information,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-how-ebola-could-end-the-cuban-embargo/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:07:08 +0000 Arturo Lopez-Levy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137922 A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

A technician sets up an assay for Ebola within a containment laboratory. Samples are handled in negative-pressure biological safety cabinets to provide an additional layer of protection. Photo by Dr. Randal J. Schoepp/cc by 2.0

By Arturo Lopez-Levy
DENVER, Colorado, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When was the last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century.Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favourably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t squander the opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests.

A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalisation in Cuba.

The whole world has something to gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud.

The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

The author can be contacted at Alopezca@du.edu or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from Jamaica’s Billion-Dollar Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137917 The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

“The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that persons living in poverty, persons living below the poverty line, women heading households with large numbers of children and the elderly are greatly disadvantaged during this period,” Judith Wedderburn, Jamaica project director at the non-profit German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), told IPS."The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices." -- Judith Wedderburn of FES

“The concern is that as the climate change implications are extended for several years that these kinds of situations are going to become more and more extreme, [such as] greater floods with periods of extreme drought.”

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a FES and Panos Caribbean workshop for journalists held here earlier this month, said Caribbean countries – which already have to grapple with a finite amount of space for food production – now have the added challenges of extreme rainfall events or droughts due to climate change.

“In Jamaica, we’ve had several months of drought, which affected the most important food production parishes in the country,” she said, adding that the problem does not end when the drought breaks.

“We are then affected by extremes of rainfall which results in flooding. The farming communities lose their crops during droughts [and] families associated with those farmers are affected. The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices and that contributes to substantial food insecurity – meaning people cannot easily access the food that they need to keep their families well fed.”

One local researcher predicts that things are likely to get even worse. Dale Rankine, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS that climate change modelling suggests that the region will be drier heading towards the middle to the end of the century.

“We are seeing projections that suggest that we could have up to 40 percent decrease in rainfall, particularly in our summer months. This normally coincides with when we have our major rainfall season,” Rankine said.

“This is particularly important because it is going to impact most significantly on food security. We are also seeing suggestions that we could have increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and this high variability is almost certainly going to impact negatively on crop yields.”

He pointed to “an interesting pattern” of increased rainfall over the central regions, but only on the outer extremities, while in the west and east there has been a reduction in rainfall.

“This is quite interesting because the locations that are most important for food security, particularly the parishes of St. Elizabeth [and] Manchester, for example, are seeing on average reduced rainfall and so that has implications for how productive our production areas are going to be,” Rankine said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently that September 2014 was the hottest in 135 years of record keeping. It noted that during September, the globe averaged 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), which was the fourth monthly record set this year, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, the first nine months of 2014 had a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record.

Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s water, land, environment and climate change minister, said more than 18,000 small farmers have been affected by the extreme drought that has been plaguing the country for months.

He said the agricultural sector has lost nearly one billion dollars as a result of drought and brush fires caused by extreme heat waves.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall had significantly limited the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country’s facilities.

“Preliminary rainfall figures for the month of June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 percent), were in receipt of less than half of their normal rainfall. The southern parishes of St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas along with St Mary and Portland were hardest hit,” Pickersgill said.

Clarendon, he said, received only two percent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester with four percent, St. Thomas six percent, St. Mary eight percent, and 12 percent for Kingston and St. Andrew.

Additionally, Pickersgill said that inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro Rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986, while inflows into the Hermitage Dam are currently at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change,” Pickersgill told IPS.

Wedderburn said Jamaica must take immediate steps to adapt to climate change.

“So the challenge for the government is to explore what kinds of adaptation methods can be used to teach farmers how to do more successful water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought their crops can still grow so that they can have food to sell to families at reasonable prices to deal with the food insecurity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Pakistan’s Paraplegics Learning to Stand on their Own Feethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:34:03 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137914 Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When a stray bullet fired by Taliban militants became lodged in her spine last August, 22-year-old Shakira Bibi gave up all hopes of ever leading a normal life.

Though her family rushed her to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, capital city of Pakistan’s northern-most Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, doctors told the young girl that she would be forever bed-ridden.

Bibi fell into a deep depression, convinced that her family would cast her aside due to her disability. Worse, she feared that she would not be able to care for her daughter, particularly since her husband had succumbed to tuberculosis in 2012, making her the sole breadwinner for her family.

“All credit goes to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death." -- 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, a victim of spinal damage
In the end, however, all her worries were for naught.

Today Bibi, a resident of the war-torn North Waziristan Agency, part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a successful seamstress and embroiderer, and is skillfully managing the affairs of her small family.

She says it is all thanks to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), the only one of its kind in Pakistan, where she is currently undergoing intensive physiotherapy. Already Bibi is showing signs of recovery, but this is not the only thing that is making her happy.

“Her real joy is her craft, which she learned here at the Centre,” Bibi’s mother, Zar Lakhta, tells IPS. “We are no longer concerned about her future.”

According to PPC’s chief executive officer, Syed Muhammad Ilyas, the majority of those who suffer injury to their spinal cords remain immobile for life, unable to work and fated to be a burden on loved ones.

“Breaking a bone or two is one thing,” Ilyas tells IPS. “Breaking one’s back or neck is another story altogether.

“Unlike any other bone in our body, the spine, or back bone, not only keeps our body straight and tall, it also protects the delicate nervous tissue called the spinal cord, which serves as a link between our body and the brain,” he asserts.

If this link is severed, a person can literally become a prisoner in their own body, losing bowel and bladder control, as well as the use of their legs. The physical aspect of such an injury alone is enough to plunge a patient into the deepest despair; but there is yet another tragic twist to the story.

“Believe it or not about 80 percent of our patients are the only bread winners of their respective families,” Ilyas explains, “while more then 90 percent live below the poverty line [of less than two dollars a day].”

As a result, finding employment for paraplegics is just as vital as offering physical therapy that might help them regain the use of their lower bodies.

“This is why we have employed experts who teach tailoring, computer sills, dress-making, glass painting and embroidery to our patients,” Ilyas says.

Most families travel between 100 and 400 km to reach the Centre, but their efforts are always rewarded. In addition to skills training, the PPC offers individual and group counseling sessions, all part of a holistic treatment programme aimed at helping patients find dignity and self-worth, to be able to function on their own after being discharged from the PPC.

This has certainly been the case for 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, who suffered a backbone injury in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2008.

“I was sent to the PPC, after surgery in a government-run hospital, where I learnt embroidery,” he tells IPS. “Now I am working in my home and earn about 300 dollars a month, which I use to educate and feed my two sons and daughter.”

“All credit goes to the PPC, which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death,” he tells IPS over the phone from his hometown in the Swat Valley.

The PPC was established in 1979 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide free treatment to those wounded in the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan. Later, the KP government took control of the facility, opening it up to locals in the tribal areas.

The Centre has been a godsend for the thousands who have sustained injuries in crossfire between militants and government forces, who since 2001 have been battling for control of Pakistan’s mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Director-general of health services for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr. Waheed Burki, says more than 40,000 people, including 5,000 security personnel and 3,500 civilians, have been killed since 2005 alone. A further 10,000 have been injured.

Burki says about 90 percent of those who frequent the PPC were injured in war-related incidents.

But Amirzeb Khan, a physiotherapist at the Centre, says that the patients are not all victims of violence. Some have sustained injuries from road traffic accidents and small firearms, while others suffered spinal cord damage as a result of falls from rooftops, trees and electricity poles.

“The majority of the patients are between 20 and 30 years old, which means they fall into the ‘most productive’ age-group,” Khan tells IPS.

Many of these young people come to the Centre fearing the worst; yet almost all leave as productive members of society, armed with the skills necessary to make a living despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Those with minor injuries have even learned how to walk again.

“About 3,000 of our patients are now prospering,” Khan adds. “Of these, roughly 2,000 are women.”

In a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars, according to government data, the cost of treating spinal injuries is far greater than most families can afford. In places like the United States and Europe, experts tell IPS, rehabilitating such a patient could run up a bill touching a million dollars.

By offering their services for free, and developing low-cost technologies and equipment, the PPC has closed a yawning health divide in a vastly unequal country, at least for paraplegics.

An administrator named Ziaur Rehman tells IPS that plans are afoot to turn the PPC into a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for patients with spinal cord injuries from all over the country and the region over the next five years.

The hope is to create a multiplier effect, whereby those who receive training here will take their newly acquired skills and pass them on to their respective communities.

A living example of this is 24-year-old Shaheen Begum, who now runs her own embroidery centre in the Hangu district of KP. Immobilised by a back injury in 2011, she underwent rigorous physical therapy at the Centre, while also learning computer skills and fabric painting.

“Now I am imparting these skills to women in my neighbourhood and my children are in good schools,” she tells IPS happily.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: A Plea for Banning Nuke Tests and Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:19:43 +0000 Lassina Zerbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137905 Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lassina Zerbo
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

December 1938 was a decisive month in human history: In Germany, the scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered that when bombarded with neutrons, the atomic nucleus of uranium would split.

The discovery of nuclear fission laid the basis of nuclear technology with all its manifestations – in the short term, the most destructive weapon ever devised and used a few years later in the Second World War.A nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

But God is fair, He unleashed a force of good at the same time: Back in 1938, nearly the same day that Otto Hahn publicised his discovery, a very special boy was born on the other side of the planet in Sri Lanka. His name: Jayantha Dhanapala. In the town of Pallekelle, which later became home to one of our monitoring stations – but to that later.

Jayantha Dhanapala’s life story is linked closely to that of nuclear arms control, and in particular to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, in short CTBT, that my organisation is tasked with implementing.

Throughout his soaring career, as a diplomat and in the U.N., Jayantha has worked with persistence and eloquence to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.

A critical part of this bargain was the promise that the CTBT, which was still being fiercely negotiated at the time in Geneva, would be finalised no later than 1996, prompting the adoption of the Treaty by the General Assembly on Sep. 10, 1996. So in a way, Jayantha actually fathered the CTBT.

Shortly later, from 1998 to 2003, he served as United Nations under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs. This was a crucial time for nuclear disarmament, particularly for the CTBT as the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan flouted the still young treaty.

Jayantha is active in probably all of the world’s most important advisory boards and international bodies. Notably, he is the president of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and a member of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). For these reasons and more, I invited him to join the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), which I launched in 2013 to ensure an innovative and focused approach to advancing the CTBT’s entry into force.

Although we have not yet reached this goal, the treaty has played an important role in making our planet safer. Although technically labelled a “provisional” secretariat, there is nothing provisional about our work. To paraphrase Hans Blix, another member of the GEM, it is a treaty that has not legally entered into force, with an organisation that is more accomplished in verification than everything else we have seen.

This is in part due to the global network of stations we are building to detect signs of nuclear tests anywhere on the globe. Nearly 90 percent of this system of over 300 stations is complete, including the one in Jayantha’s home town of Pallakelle.

The system, which was recently hailed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “one of the great accomplishments of the modern world,” has the proven capability to detect nuclear tests at a fraction of the yield of the first nuclear weapon test in the desert near Alamogordo in July 1945.

The international community forcefully condemns any violations of this norm today, as has been the case with each of North Korea’s tests – the only ones to be conducted in this millennium.

Consistent progress has also been made in the area of on-site inspections. This is the CTBT’s ultimate verification measure and involved a team of highly specialised experts searching the ground using a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies. In fact, I am just coming from Jordan where I visited our second full-fledged on-site inspection simulation, the Integrated Field Exercise 2014, which is currently being conducted on the banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan.

Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world. One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme.

In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

In Pakistan, for example, where the anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests is officially celebrated each May, we increasingly observe voices questioning the value of a nuclear weapons programme when parts of the country lack basic necessities such as clean water and electricity.

Developing countries also have much to lose from a nuclear conflict, even one far from their borders. A recent study has shown that even a limited nuclear exchange would “disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than two billion people would be in jeopardy”. This would result in unprecedented famine and starvation far beyond the directly affected areas, especially in the developing world.

It is encouraging to see that Jayantha is actively promoting the CTBT, especially in his home region of in South Asia, where India is one of the countries that have yet to sign the CTBT. To me, Jayantha formulated the most eloquent rebuttal ever to India’s criticism of the CTBT:

“Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely.”

In conclusion, the world we live in today would be less safe and less civilised were it not for Jayantha Dhanapala. I would like to thank the Inter Press Service and Ramesh Jaura for organising the International Achievement Award and to Soka Gakkai International for supporting it.

*Excerpts from a speech made at an event marking the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations on Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Double Burden of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-double-burden-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:26:37 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137900 These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The first-ever Global Nutrition Report, a peer-reviewed publication released this month, and figures from the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlight a multifaceted and complex phenomenon behind malnutrition.

“The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition”."The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country. And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition” – Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director

Beside hunger then, governments and development organisations have also been forced to start tackling over-nutrition.

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained in a statement.

The solution does not lie in the realm of science, health or agriculture alone. It requires a cross sectorial and multi dimensional approach that includes education, women’s empowerment, market regulation, technological research and, above all, political commitment.

For this reason, representatives of governments, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector met in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that took place at FAO headquarters on Nov. 19-21. Jointly organised by FAO and WHO, the conference came 22 years after its first edition and, unfortunately, addressed the same unsolved problem.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, has repercussions on the capability of people to live a full life, work, care for their children, be productive, generate a positive cycle and improve their living conditions. Figures from the Global Nutrition Report estimate that the cost of malnutrition is around four to five percent of national GDP, suggesting that prevention would be more cost-effective.

With the goal of improving nutrition through the implementation of evidence-based policies and effective international cooperation, ICN2 produced two documents to help governments and stakeholders head in the right direction: the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a Framework for Action.

The conference also heard a strong call for accountability and for the strengthening of nutrition in the post-2015 development agenda.

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at ICN2, remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children.

According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. He added that Chile currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.

This happens in a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour, according to the permanent representative of Chile at FAO, Luis Fernando Ayala Gonzalez.

In an address to the conference, Queen Letizia of Spain also acknowledged the responsibility of the private sector: “It is necessary to help the economic interests converging towards public health. It is worth remembering that no country in the world has been able to reverse the epidemic of obesity in all age groups. None.”

The outcome of ICN2 brought consensus around a plan of action and some key targets.

Educating children about healthy habits and women who are in charge of feeding the family was recognised as crucial, as was breastfeeding, which should be encouraged (through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace), and the need to empower women working in agriculture.

Supporting small and family farming would also give people better opportunities to eat local, fresh and seasonal produce as well as fruit and vegetables, reducing the consumption of packaged, processed food that is often low in nutrients, vitamins and fibres and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats.

However, teaching people how to eat is not enough, if they cannot easily access quality food – hence the need for relevant policies targeting the food chain and distribution.

Initiatives like the Fruit in Schools programme proposed by New Zealand go in the right direction, especially when implemented within a coordinated policy that promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle that fights consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Down With Sustainable Development! Long Live Convivial Degrowth!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 12:10:14 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137893 Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST/BARCELONA, Nov 22 2014 (IPS)

For anyone who recently attended the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth in Leipzig, Germany, listening in on conference talk, surrounded by the ecologically savvy, one quickly noticed that no one was singing the praises of sustainable development.

Nonetheless, development per se and all that this entails did take centre stage, as a crowd of three thousand participants and speakers debated ongoing trends in the fields of environment, politics, economics and social justice.

Given that it may not be immediately clear why a rallying cry anchored to ecological principles would call for the demise of sustainable development – which in generic terms could be described as the environmentalist programme dating back several decades – it seems that a clarification or two would be in order.

As is the case with social movements, they evolve and go through periods of transformation like anything else does. When the term sustainable development came into use in the 1970s and 1980s, it did support the assumption that general environmental principles and minimum ecological limits should be respected when going about the everyday business of development.From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare

The term sustainable development rapidly gained wide-scale acceptance, with the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development just one of the many (inter)governmental or top-down bodies that have set up in the past three decades to include environmental goals in planning and policy.

However, according to Federico Demaria, author and member of Research & Degrowth in Barcelona, the idea of sustainable development is based on a false consensus. Once this term and its underlying situations are properly deconstructed, Demaria tells IPS, “we discover that sustainable development is still all about development. And that is where the problem lies.”

Development is indeed a dirty word in degrowth circles. From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare.

“Thus we find ourselves at a place where we need to readdress the flaws of sustainable development with a fresh perspective,” says Demaria.

It is with the hopes to do just that in a clear and powerful way that Demaria, along with Giorgos Kallis and Giacomo D’Alisa, have produced the new book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, which has just been released by Routledge.

This volume includes 50 entries that all touch on specific aspects of degrowth and go a long way towards elucidating the distinguishing factors of degrowth, as well as properly defining concepts ranging from conviviality to bioeconomics, societal metabolism and many others.

The historical development of the degrowth movement is also spelled out. Thus we learn that in the 1970s, at the time of the first phase of the degrowth debate, when The Limits to Growth by Dennis and Donella Meadows and others was published, resource limits was the talk of the town. Yet now, in what can be called the second stage, criticism of the hegemonic idea of sustainable development has come to the forefront.

It was Serge Latouche, an economic anthropologist, who defined sustainable development as an oxymoron in A bas le développement durable! Vive la décroissance conviviale!  (‘Down with sustainable development! Long live convivial degrowth!’) at a conference in Paris in 2002, affiliated with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and concerned with the issues of development.

Latouche and others in the French-speaking world began to give shape to the French movement, which called itself décroissance and eventually spread to other countries, entering Italy as decrescita and Spain as decrecimiento. Eventually, by 2010, degrowth emerged as the English-language term, well suited for universal applicability.

For many of the attendees of the degrowth conference in Leipzig, the set of vocabulary of the degrowth movement and even the very name degrowth begged to be dealt with carefully. There were a few proposals to switch to a name carrying positive connotations, instead of defining a movement based on opposition to something – growth in this case.

But Latouche and Demaria both argue that the word degrowth most concisely defines one chief objective of the movement – the abolition of economic growth as a social objective. Referred to as a missile word, it is disturbing for some, exactly because it intends to be provocative; as such, this has borne fruit.

There are certainly positive concepts to highlight in the degrowth movement. These include voluntary simplicity, conviviality and economy of care. Yet none of these terms are broad enough to be inclusive and representative of the breadth of ideas that make up the entirety of degrowth.

Perhaps Francois Schneider, another of the degrowth pioneers, put it best when he defined degrowth as: “equitable downscaling of production and consumption that will reduce societies’ throughput of energy and raw materials.”

The goal in all of this, according to the authors of the new book, is not simply to have a society that can manage with less, but to have different arrangements and a different quality. That is where the idea of societal metabolism (that is, energy and materials within the economy) comes into place, because it explains how a degrowth society will have different activities, rearranged forms or uses of energy, and significantly different allocations of time between paid and non-paid work.

Taking social relations as well as the time-work relationship a step further, the theory of dépense, also described in the new book, comes in handy. Dépense signifies the collective consumption of ‘surplus’ in a society.

Nowadays, surplus time and energy is often re-invested in new production or used in an individualistic manner. This follows the dictum of capitalism whereby there should not be too many wasteful expenses; at the most individuals can employ their own all-too-brief methods to unwind from stressful life in the rat race.

Yet degrowth advocates point to the habits of older civilisations where surplus was dedicated to non-utilitarian purposes, be they festivals or celebrations. Degrowthers prefer to see an application of dépense to community-based uses that place conviviality and happiness-inducing activities above economic factors.

While no one can predict when and how the degrowth transition will take place, Demaria stresses that examples of this transition are already here. “Look no further than the transition town movement in the United Kingdom or Buen Vivir in South America,” says Demaria.

Demaria and others also hope that one specific effect of the Leipzig conference, as well as the brand new volume on degrowth, will be to re-politicise environmentalism. Sustainable development de-politicises real political oppositions and underlying dissonance, contributing to the false imaginary of decoupling: perpetuating development without harming the environment.

“Once we decide that we are not afraid to talk about the full implications of development, be they economic, social or political,” says Demaria, “then we begin to see that it is actually utopian to think that our societies can be based on economic growth for ever. Degrowth, by contrast, really offers the most common sense of all.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Azerbaijan’s Rights Activists on the Brinkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:52:13 +0000 Vugar Gojayev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137890 By Vugar Gojayev
BAKU, Nov 21 2014 (EurasiaNet)

When Azerbaijan served as chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, it scoffed at the spirit and purpose of the organisation and moved vigorously to squash all forms of free speech at home.

Now that Baku no longer holds the top spot, civil society activists are worrying about what Azerbaijani authorities will do next.At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

All civil society actors in Azerbaijan currently are grappling with a daunting dilemma: either stop engaging in rights-related activism or pay a high price, in particular face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

Dozens of activists and independent journalists remain behind bars for no reason other than engaging in rights work or tacitly promoting free speech. At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

Azerbaijan relinquished its Committee of Ministers chairmanship on Nov. 13. Far from softening its repressive behaviour and cleaning up its awful rights record during its six-month tenure, the government stepped up its suppression of internal dissent.

At least 13 activists were arrested and at least 10 others were convicted on politically motivated charges following flawed trials. Authorities rounded up the country’s most senior human rights defenders and other leading activists, including Leyla Yunus, veteran human rights defender and director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband, the political commentator Arif Yunus.

They also detained Rasul Jafarov, chairman of Azerbaijan’s Human Rights Club, Intigam Aliyev, prominent lawyer and chairman of the Legal Education Society, and the famous opposition journalist Seymur Haziyev.

Some of those detained in recent months have serious health conditions. Yet, authorities keep them locked up, even as they fail to provide any information to suggest that pre-trial detention is warranted. They also have not released any credible evidence that would support the charges against these recent detainees.

In addition to politically motivated arrests, dozens of draconian laws regulating the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been adopted. The offices of several local and international NGOs were recently raided, their bank accounts frozen and staff interrogated. As a result of increasing pressure, many groups have felt compelled to cease operations.

While the Azerbaijani government has been ruthless in its clampdown, it remains sensitive about its public image, a fact underscored by Baku’s efforts to lavish money on PR in Washington and the EU. Baku’s PR acumen needs to be kept in mind by those who mine for signs of its intentions. Some Western partners have lauded President Ilham Aliyev’s government for releasing four political prisoners in mid-October.

The truth is the release does not change anything, and it is certainly not indicative of a softening of the Aliyev administration’s stance on dissent. It is important to note that before the four were pardoned, they were coerced into acknowledging in writing their “crime,” begging for forgiveness, praising Aliyev, objecting to being called “political prisoners” and denouncing the “anti-Azerbaijan or pro-Armenian activities” of international organizations.

Aliyev’s administration has a habit of using a “revolving door” tactic, releasing few and arresting new political prisoners. Since the October amnesty, at least three more activists have been jailed on bogus charges.

Police accused two of them on hooliganism for “swearing in public place,” and the other faces “narcotics” charges. They all have rejected the accusations, insisting their arrests are retaliation for their rights-related work.

During the Azerbaijani chairmanship, the Council of Europe chose mostly to avert its eyes to Baku’s violations or make toothless statements and merely symbolic criticisms. This head-in-the-sand approach has prompted activists in Baku to question the point of the Council of Europe.

Sadly, Azerbaijan’s refusal to release people imprisoned on politically motivated charges and end its abuses has not affected its relationships with the United States and European Union. Western diplomats tend to prefer backroom diplomacy to public pressure, but, in Azerbaijan’s case, there is absolutely no indication that private talks have had any positive effect.

The international community’s inaction means that the end of the Azerbaijan’s independent human rights community is nearing soon. Unless Aliyev’s government understands that there are serious consequences for its abuses, Baku’s free pass on human rights abuses will continue.

Editor’s note:  Vugar Gojayev is an Azerbaijani researcher and freelance journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Humanitarian Impact of Nukes Calls For Concerted Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:01:51 +0000 Daisaku Ikeda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137886

Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (www.sgi.org).

By Daisaku Ikeda
TOKYO, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As we approach the 70th anniversary next year of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are growing calls to place the humanitarian consequences of their use at the heart of deliberations about nuclear weapons.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

The Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October was supported by 155 governments, more than 80 percent of all member states.

The view powerfully expressed in the Joint Statement, that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” expresses the deepening consensus of humankind.

The Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna on Dec. 8-9. This conference and its deliberations should provide further impetus to efforts to end the era of nuclear weapons, an era in which these apocalyptic weapons have been seen as the linchpin of national security for a number of states.

This can only happen when the goal of a nuclear-free world is taken up as the shared global enterprise of humanity with the full engagement of civil society.

Within the agenda of the Vienna Conference, there are two items in particular that require us to adopt the perspective of a shared global enterprise.Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target.

The first is the examination of risk drivers for the inadvertent or unpredicted use of nuclear weapons due to human error, technical fault or cyber security.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, people were transfixed in horror as the world teetered on the edge of full-scale nuclear war. It took the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union 13 days of desperate effort to defuse the crisis.

Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target. Escape or evacuation would be impossible, and the targeted city and its inhabitants would be devastated.

Further, if such an inadvertent use of a nuclear weapon were met with retaliation of even the most limited form, the impact on the global climate and ecology would result in a “nuclear famine” that could affect as many as two billion people.

The use of a single nuclear weapon can obliterate and render meaningless generations of patient effort by human beings to create lives of happiness, to create societies rich with culture. It is in this unspeakable outrage, rather than in the numerical calculation of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, that their inhuman nature is most starkly demonstrated.

The second agenda item that will bring into sharp focus the uniquely horrific nature of nuclear weapons—the aspect that makes them fundamentally different from other weapons—is the impact of nuclear weapons testing.

The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only people to have directly experienced the horrendous effects of nuclear weapons. As the shared use of the term “hibakusha” indicates, large numbers of people continue to suffer from the consequences of the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons tests that have been carried out to date.

Further, communities near nuclear weapons development facilities in the nuclear-weapon states have experienced severe radiation contamination, and there are ongoing concerns about the health impacts on those who have worked in or lived near these facilities.

As these examples demonstrate, the decision to maintain nuclear weapons—even if they are not actually used—presents severe threats to people’s lives and dignity.

Annual global expenditures on nuclear weapons are said to total more than 100 billion dollars. If this enormous sum were to be directed not only at improving the lives of the citizens of the nuclear states, but at supporting countries where people continue to struggle against poverty and inadequate healthcare services, the benefit to humankind would be immeasurable.

To continue allocating vast sums of money for the maintenance of a state’s nuclear posture runs clearly counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, which calls for the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources—a call echoed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Further, we must face squarely the inhumanity of perpetuating a distorted global order in which people whose lives could easily be improved are forced to continue living in dangerous and degrading conditions.

By taking up these two crucial themes, the Vienna Conference will place in sharp relief the underlying essence of the threat humankind imposes on itself by maintaining current nuclear postures—through the continuation of this “nuclear age.” At the same time, it will be an important opportunity to interrogate security arrangements that rely on nuclear weapons—and to do so from the perspective of the world’s citizens, each of whom is compelled to live in the shadow of this threat.

In 1957, in the midst of an accelerating nuclear arms race, second Soka Gakkai president and my personal mentor Josei Toda (1900–58) denounced nuclear weapons as a threat to people’s fundamental right to existence. He declared their use inadmissible—under any circumstance, without any exception.

The SGI’s efforts, in collaboration with various NGO partners, find their deepest roots in this declaration. By empowering people to understand and face the realities of nuclear weapons, we have sought to build a solidarity of global citizens dedicated to eliminating needless suffering from the face of the Earth.

The impassioned wish of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and of all the world’s hibakusha—is that no one else will have to suffer what they have endured. This determination finds resonant voice throughout civil society in support for the Joint Statement adopted by 155 of the world’s governments.

Even with governments whose understanding of their security needs prevents open support for the Joint Statement, there are real concerns about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

I trust the Vienna Conference will serve to create an enlarged sphere of shared concern. This should then lead to the kind of shared action that will break the current stalemate surrounding nuclear weapons in the months leading up to the 70th anniversary of the world’s only uses of nuclear weapons in war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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To Fight Inequality, Latin America Needs Transparency…and Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:39:38 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137869 Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As public policy, political transparency and open data need an active ingredient to bring about social change that would reduce inequality in Latin America: citizen participation, said regional experts consulted by IPS.

That is the link that ties together open data and the transformation of society and that democratises access to rights and opportunities, said activists and government representatives working to democratise access to information and public records in the region.

During the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, held Nov. 18-19 in San José, Costa Rica, experts in transparency referred over and over to a central idea: only empowered citizens can leverage information to create a better democracy.

“Simply opening up information never changed anyone’s reality, nor did it reduce the inequality gap,” Fabrizio Scrollini, lead researcher of the Open Data Initiative in Latin America, told IPS. “Just opening up access to information in and of itself doesn’t do that. Miracles don’t exist.”

What does happen, he said, “is that with a specific policy there is a set of parallel actions that can be major facilitators of these processes of empowerment of societies in the region.”

Scrollini said citizen participation makes it possible to turn a simple technological advance, such as a government platform or web site, into a tool for social change. Change is built from the grassroots level up, working with people, he said.

As an example, he cited the Uruguayan project Por mi Barrio (For My Neighbourhood), which enables the residents of the capital, Montevideo, to report problems in their community, from a pothole in the road or piles of garbage to a faulty street light, which are immediately received by the city government.

To that end, the municipal government allowed the developers of the project, a civil society group, access to its computer system for the first time.

“It brings the government closer to all segments of the population,” Fernando Uval told IPS. “We are holding workshops in different neighbourhoods, to inform people about how it works.”

“The emphasis is especially on those who have the least access to technology, so they can report problems in their neighbourhood and improve their living conditions,” said Uval, a Uruguayan who represents Open Data, Transparency and Access to Information (DATA), the organisation behind Por mi Barrio.

The key, experts say, lies in making open data and public policies on transparency a means to achieving social change, and not an end in themselves.

Moreover, if all information were open in real time, public policies and people’s response to social problems could be more effective.

“If government information were in a totally open format that would enable a political scientist to know where the inequality lies – through the GINI index, which measures it, for example – and to combine it with data related to economic or population growth, we could make better decisions,” Iris Palma told IPS.

Palma is the executive director of the non-governmental organisation DatosElSalvador, dedicated to securing the release of public information in that Central American country.

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike – in easily managed formats.

For example, if an economist were to request information from a census, a digital version would be easier, to analyse the data using models and statistical programmes, instead of receiving them only in print.

The concept of open government stipulates that public administration should be transparent, provide easy access to information, be held accountable to the citizens, and integrate them in decision-making.

In the world’s most unequal region, governed by authoritarian regimes for decades, the concept of a participative government is relatively recent.

“We went from states and governments that operated on the basis of secrecy to a radical change, based on openness,” Scrollini said.

“That poses new challenges, because information should be used, and to be used, policies are needed to help people do so, and people need to be empowered,” he added.

Nevertheless, civil society in Latin America is forging ahead. For example, people in Mexico can find out how their tax money is used through the Open Budget programme.

In the region, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency brings together efforts to monitor the activities of the legislatures of nine countries in the region.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, a group of enterprising young people took public data from the Economy Ministry to create a smart phone app called “Ahorre Más”, which helps people make decisions when they’re shopping in the supermarket.

“With respect to the issue of open government, Latin America and the Caribbean are a step ahead, and are in the vanguard around the world,” said Alejandra Naser, an Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) researcher who led a workshop on open government during this week’s regional meeting.

“It is precisely for that reason that we want to reinforce the movement with tools for decision-makers,” she added.

The challenge is how to get citizens involved in these processes.

Scrollini says technology cannot be the only route to achieve open data, and calls for a rethinking of traditional social input tools, such as community workshops or neighbourhood meetings, to figure out how people’s ideas can be incorporated into the design of these policies.

Other methods target key segments of the population, which could later foment greater use by other social sectors – from marathon sessions where the groups are invited to work with data to broader programmes with the users of the future.

“We actively work on ‘hackathons’ (an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects), to get journalists involved, because these reporters then foment the involvement of society at large,” said Cristina Zubillaga, assistant executive director of the National Agency for e-Government and Information Society, a Uruguayan government agency.

At the same time, she said, “we work with academia to train students in data management.”

International development aid, meanwhile, the big source of financing for these programmes in the region, underlines that it is essential to support civil society groups that already have some experience and can serve as spearheads.

“We support organisations that can translate information into easily understood terms, showing people that they can get involved and that the availability of information affects and involves them,” Ana Sofía Ruiz, an official with the Dutch development organisation HIVOS’ Central America programme, told IPS.

“We are trying to draw people in, to get them involved in this,” said the representative of HIVOS, which has financed projects like Ojo al Voto, a Costa Rican initiative that provided independent information during this year’s presidential and legislative elections.

Ojo al Voto wants to help provide oversight of the work of the Costa Rican parliament.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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