Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:11:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Añelo, from Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina’s Shale Fuel Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:01:56 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137341 The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a “sustainable city of the future” is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: “The future found its place.”

But for now the town’s roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

“Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don’t have a good showcase, to put us on display,” the director of the town’s health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

“We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population,” added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina’s state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country’s development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

“They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future…thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives,” YPF Neuquén’s communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town’s only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

“We are building a city from scratch,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was “a strategic waypoint.”

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but “when their work was done they would leave,” Díaz explained. “This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years.”

“The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission,” the province’s environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. “It’s spectacular.There’s a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing,” construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an “urban footprint” study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, “what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years,” Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that’s not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called “oil route”, to keep the trucks out of the town.

“The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming,” Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

“You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year,” said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

“There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new,” he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she’s earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was “practically a sand dune.”

Development has brought work, “but also bad things,” the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. “There have been armed robberies, which we didn’t see here before.”

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about “the invasion of men.”

“So many men!” she said, laughing. “I’m not interested anymore, but the girls…there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant….that’s bad for the town too.”

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

“We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel,” he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government’s lack of “planning” and “control” over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough,” he said.

The province is preparing a “strategic development plan” for Añelo, along with nearby “oil micro-cities”, which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

“We’re not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city,” the mayor summed up.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

By Emilio Godoy
PANAMA CITY, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For indigenous people in Panama, the rainforest where they live is not only their habitat but also their spiritual home, and their link to nature and their ancestors. The forest holds part of their essence and their identity.

“Forests are valuable to us because they bring us benefits, but not just oxygen,” Emberá chief Cándido Mezúa, the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP), told Tierramérica.

“It is organic matter, minerals in the forest floor, forms of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples,” added Mezúa, the seniormost chief of one of Panama’s seven native communities, who live in five collectively-owned indigenous territories or “comarcas”.

In this tropical Central American country, indigenous people manage the forests in their territories through community forestry companies (EFCs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in setting up the EFCs, which ends up hurting the forests and the welfare of their guardians, the country’s indigenous communities.

Of Panama’s 3.8 million people, 417,000 are indigenous, and they live on 16,634 sq km – 20 percent of the national territory.

According to a map published in April by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), drawn up with the support of United Nations agencies, 62 percent of the national territory – 46,800 sq km – is covered in forest.

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

And this Central American country has 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the national territory of 75,517 sq km.

But each year 200 sq km of forests are lost, warns ANAM.

The EFCs “are an effort that has not been well-developed. They merely extract wood; the value chain has not been developed, and the added value ends up outside the comarca,” said Mezúa, the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan comarca on the border with Colombia, where his ethnic group also lives, as well as in Ecuador.

The indigenous leader said the EFCs help keep the forests standing in the long term, with rotation systems based on the value of the different kinds of wood in the management areas. “But it is the big companies that reap the benefits. The comarcas do not receive credit and can’t put their land up as collateral; they depend on development aid,” he complained.

Only five EFCs are currently operating, whose main activity is processing wood.

In 2010, two indigenous comarcas signed a 10-year trade agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to supply it with raw materials. But they only extract 2,755 cubic metres a year of wood.

The average yield in the comarcas is 25 cubic metres of wood per sq km and a total of around 8,000 cubic metres of wood are extracted annually in the indigenous comarcas, bringing in some 275,000 dollars in revenue.

In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 sq km of managed forests, the indigenous leader explained.

The government’s Programme for Indigenous Business Development (PRODEI) has provided these projects with just over 900,000 dollars.

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

But only a small proportion of forests in indigenous territories is managed. Of the 9,944 forest permits issued by ANAM in 2013, only 732 went to the comarcas.

Looking to U.N. REDD

In Mezúa’s view, the hope for indigenous people is that the EFCs will be bolstered by the U.N. climate change mitigation action plan, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of forests,” the coordinator of REDD+ in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica. “It is of critical importance to find a balance between conservation and development. But REDD+ will not resolve the forest crisis by itself.”

REDD+ Panama is currently preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the platform for making the initiative public, the grievance and redress mechanism, the review of the governance structures, and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.

UN-REDD was launched in 2007 and has 56 developing country partners. Twenty-one of them are drawing up national plans, for which they received a combined total of 67.8 million dollars. The Latin American countries included in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay.

Because forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks and the soil, it is essential to curb deforestation in order to reduce the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

Panama’s indigenous people believe that because of the position that trees occupy in their worldview, they are in a unique position to participate in REDD+, which incorporates elements like conservation, improvement of carbon storage and the sustainable management of forests.

But in February 2013, their representatives withdrew from the pilot programme, arguing that it failed to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation, undermined their collective right to land, and violated the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They only returned in December, after the government promised to correct the problems they had protested about.

In REDD+ there should be a debate on “the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, regulations on carbon management, and legal guarantees in indigenous territories,” Mazúa said.

“We want an indigenous territory climate fund to be established, which would make it possible for indigenous people to decide how to put a value on it from our point of view and how it translates into economic value,” the chief said.

“The idea is for the money to go to the communities, but it is a question of volume and financing,” said Labbate, who is also in charge of the Poverty-Environment Initiative of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Programme.

Poverty and the environment are inextricably linked to Panama’s indigenous people. According to statistics published Sept. 28 by the government and the U.N., Panama’s overall poverty rate is 27.6 percent, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.

Indigenous representatives are asking to be included in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will receive for preserving the country’s forests.

They also argue that the compensation should not only be linked to the protection of forests and carbon capture in the indigenous comarcas, but that it should be part of an environmental policy that would make it possible for them to engage in economic activities and fight poverty.

Indigenous leaders believe that their forests are the tool for reducing the inequality gap between them and the rest of Panamanian society. “But they have to support us for that to happen, REDD is just part of the aid strategy, but the most important thing is the adoption of legislation to guarantee our territorial rights in practice,” Mazúa 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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Protecting Biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Thermal Convection Dome in the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:14:11 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137280 The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

The vast habitat known as the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome in the eastern Pacific Ocean will finally become a protected zone, over 50 years after it was first identified as one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

At the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12), held Oct. 6–17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Dome was declared an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), at Costa Rica’s request.

The measure will boost conservation of and research on the area, which is a key migration and feeding zone for species like the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

“Making the ocean healthy guarantees an improvement in the living standards of the people who depend in one way or another on the country’s marine resources,” the deputy minister of water, oceans, coasts and wetlands, Fernando Mora, told Tierramérica shortly after the Dome was declared an EBSA at COP12.

“It is one of the richest areas on the planet with a food chain that starts with krill (Euphausiacea), which attracts other species, including blue whales and dolphins,” Jorge Jiménez, the director general of the MarViva Foundation, told Tierramérica.

“In that area is one of the greatest concentrations of dolphins in the American Pacific, that come from the west coast of California, to feed and breed,” he said.

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is an area 300 to 500 km wide where ocean and wind currents bring the mineral- and nutrient-rich cold deeper water to the surface, creating the perfect ecosystem for a vast variety of marine life.

The nutrients give rise to a highly developed food chain, ranging from phytoplankton and zooplankton – the productive base of the marine food web – to mammals like dolphins and blue whales, which migrate from the waters off the coast of California.

Because the dome is a mobile phenomenon caused by wind and sea currents, for half of the year it is just off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (in the area of Papagayo, in the northwest of the country) and during the other half of the year it is blown further out to sea. The centre of the dome is 300 km from the coast of this Central American nation.

“It is one of the six biodiversity-rich domes of this kind in the world,” Omar Lizano, a physicist and oceanographer, told Tierramérica. “The Costa Rican dome is the only one that is produced by the force of the wind that comes from the Caribbean and picks up speed over the Pacific, and makes the deeper water rise to the surface, which brings up a lot of rich nutrients.”

In an initiative backed by MarViva and other organisations, the Costa Rican government decided that the “upwelling system of Papagayo and adjacent areas” will be an EBSA in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Some civil society organisations have proposed regional initiatives involving the area, which they sometimes refer to as the Central American dome. But deputy minister Mora said the dome is a Costa Rican phenomenon.

He pointed out that the scientific term for the area is the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, the name it was given by U.S. physical oceanographer Klaus Wyrtki. In 1948 he began to study marine mammal sightings made from boats navigating from California to Panama.

For the local authorities, conservation of the dome and the Papagayo upwelling system is among the priorities in the waters of the Pacific, because protecting the ecosystem brings economic benefits. Approval of the declaration of the dome as an EBSA by the 194 CBD signatory countries now makes protection of the area obligatory, said the deputy minister.

In the case of exploitable species like tuna, the ministry of the environment and energy (MINAE) has drawn up a zoning decree that would make it possible to regulate tuna fishing in the dome. The tourism industry, a pillar of the Costa Rican economy, would also benefit from protection of the dome, because it is a migration route for blue and humpback whales, which draws whale watchers.

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

In September, the sixth annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins, dedicated to whale watching in southeast Costa Rica, brought in 40,000 dollars the first day alone, according to deputy minister Mora, whose office forms part of the MINAE.

Government officials, scientists and members of civil society hope this will make it possible to generate more information on one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

“From our scientific point of view, the first thing that should be done is to carry out research, and it is the last thing that is being done,” said Lizano, an oceanographer with the Marine Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica.

The area has been explored on several occasions. The last time was in January 2014, with the participation of MarViva and Mission Blue, an international organisation focused on the protection of the seas, which is one of the activist groups that pushed for special protection of the dome.

They studied the role played by the protection of the leatherback sea turtle out at sea.

Although the dome is in Costa Rican territorial waters, the fact that it is mobile means it has an influence on the exclusive economic zones of other Central American countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as on international waters.

MarViva estimates that 70 percent of the dome is outside of the jurisdiction of any country, and the organisation’s director general, Jiménez, argues that what is needed is a joint effort and shared responsibility. Mission Blue and other organisations concur.

“It is a regional matter, and all Central American countries should work together, because part of the dome is on the high seas, outside of their jurisdictions. This is like the Wild West. It’s disturbing because there are no controls or protection out there,” Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s director of expeditions and photography, told Tierramérica.

But the government stressed that the nucleus of the dome is under its jurisdiction. “Historically it has been called the Costa Rican Dome and the nucleus is in Costa Rican waters. What we know as the Thermal Convection Dome is off the coast of the north of the country, not Central America,” Mora told Tierramérica.

But the deputy minister and his team do agree with MarViva and other non-governmental organisations on the need for regional cooperation. Costa Rica forms part of the Organisation of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the Isthmus of Central America (OSPESCA), where it works together with bodies like the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific.

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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Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:19:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137275 The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:29 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137238 Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bamboo Could Be a Savior for Climate Change, Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:37:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137221 The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Bamboo Avenue is a two-and-a-half mile stretch of road in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. It is lined with giant bamboo plants which tower above the road and cross in the middle to form a shady tunnel. The avenue was established in the 17th century by the owners of the Holland Estate to provide shade for travelers and to protect the road from erosion.

Bamboo has been part of Jamaica’s culture for thousands of years, but it has never really taken off as a tool or an option to resolve some of the challenges the country faces."The evidence shows that [bamboo] is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment." -- Dr. Hans Friederich

That’s until recently.

Last month, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

It is still in the early stages, but Jamaica is being hailed for the project which the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity and mitigating against climate change.

“The plant bamboo, and there are about 1,250 different species, has a very important role to play in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Bamboos have very strong and very extensive root systems and are therefore amazing tools to combat soil erosion and to help with land degradation restoration,” Friederich told IPS.

“More bamboo will absorb more CO2 and therefore help you with your REDD+ targets, but once you cut that bamboo and you use it, you lock the carbon up, and bamboo as a grass grows so fast you can actually cut it after about four or five years, unlike trees that you have to leave for a long time.

“So by cutting bamboo you have a much faster return on investment, you avoid cutting trees and you provide the raw material for a whole range of uses,” he explained.

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The BSJ is conducting training until the end of November for people to be employed in the industry and is setting up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency is also ensuring that local people can grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo for its various uses.

“It can be planted just like planting cane for sugar. The potential for export is great, and you can get jobs created, and be assured of the creation of industries,” said the special projects director at the BSJ, Gladstone Rose.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friederich told IPS bamboos can contribute directly to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 14 and 15.

Target 14 speaks to the restoration, by 2020, of ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15 speaks to ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks being enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

“We are here to encourage the parties to the convention who are bamboo growers to consider bamboo as one of the tools in achieving some of the Aichi targets and incorporate bamboo in their national biodiversity strategy where appropriate,” Friederich said.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant said bamboo “is an industry whose time has come,” while Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Derrick Kellier has admonished islanders to desist from cutting down bamboo to be used as yam sticks.

“We are collaborating to spread the word: stop destroying the existing bamboo reserves, so that we will have them for use,” he said.

Kellier said bamboo offers enormous potential for farmers and others.

“It is a very fast-growing plant, and as soon as the industry gets going, when persons see the economic value, they will start putting in their own acreages. It grows on marginal lands as we have seen across the country, so we are well poised to take full advantage of the industry,” Kellier said.

On the issue of conservation of biodiversity, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ibrahim Thiaw said there is a lack of understanding among developing countries that biodiversity is the foundation for the development.

As a result, he said, they are not investing enough in biodiversity from their domestic resources, because it is considered a luxury.

“If the Caribbean countries are to continue to benefit from tourism as an activity they will have to invest in protecting biodiversity because tourists are not coming just to see the nice people of the Caribbean, they are coming to see nature,” Thiaw told IPS.

“It is important that developing countries invest their own resources first and foremost to conserve biodiversity. They have the resources. It’s just a matter of priority. If you understand that biodiversity is the foundation for your development, you invest in your capital, you keep your capital. Countries in the Caribbean have a lot of resources that are critical for their economy.”

Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards said it is aiming to tap into the lucrative global market for bamboo products, which is estimated at 10 billion dollars, with the potential to reach 20 billion by next year.

Friederich said while some countries have not yet realised the potential for bamboo, others have taken it forward.

“I was in Vietnam just last week and found that there is a prime ministerial decree to promote the use of bamboo. In Rwanda, there is a law that actually recommends using bamboo on the slopes of rivers and on the banks of lakes for protection against erosion; in the Philippines there is a presidential decree that 25 percent of all school furniture should be made from bamboo,” he explained.

“So there are real policy instruments already in place to promote bamboos, what we are trying to do is to encourage other countries to follow suit and to look at the various options that are available.

“Bamboo has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity. The evidence shows that this is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama’s Coral Reefs Ringed with Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:28:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137217 The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

By Emilio Godoy
TABOGA, Panama, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Fermín Gómez, a 53-year-old Panamanian fisherman, pushes off in his boat, the “Tres Hermanas,” every morning at 06:00 hours to fish in the waters off Taboga island. Five hours later he returns to shore.

Skilfully he removes the heads and scales of his catch of sea bass, snapper, marlin and sawfish. He delivers the cleaned fish to restaurants and hotels, where he is paid four dollars a kilo, a good price for the local area.

“I use baited hooks, because trammel nets drag in everything. That’s why the fishing isn’t so good any more: the nets catch even the young fry,” said this father of three daughters, who spent years working on tuna-fishing vessels.

Gómez lives 200 metres from Taboga island’s only beach, in a town of 1,629 people where the brightly painted houses are roofed with galvanised iron sheets. Located 11.3 nautical miles (21 kilometres) from Panama City, the mainstay of the island is tourism, especially on weekends when dozens of visitors board the ferry that plies between the island and the capital twice a day.

Gómez, who comes from a long line of fishermen, tends to go out fishing at midnight, the best time to catch sea bass. On a good day he might take some 30 kilograms.

“The fishing here is good, but we are dependent on what people on the other islands leave for us,” said Gómez, tanned by the sun and salt water.

The island of Taboga, just 12 square kilometres in area, lies in the Gulf of Panama and is the gateway to the Las Perlas archipelago, one of the most important nodes of coral islands in this Central American country of 3.8 million people.

From the air, they appear as mounds emerging from the turquoise backdrop of the sea, surrounded by what look like dozens of steel sharks, the ships waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal.

The isthmus of Panama possesses 290 square kilometres of coral reefs, mostly located on the Atlantic Caribbean coast, which harbour some 70 species. Coral reefs in the Pacific ocean host some 25 different species.

What the fisherfolk do not know is that their future livelihood depends on the health of the coral reefs, which is threatened by rising sea temperatures, maritime traffic, pollution and illegal fishing.

(2)Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

 Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

In Coiba National Park, in western Panama, and in the Las Perlas islands, “the diversity of the coral and associated species has been sustained in recent years. We have not detected any bleaching, but a troublesome alga has appeared,” academic José Casas, of the state International Maritime University of Panama (UMIP), told IPS.

“It’s threatening the reef,” said the expert, who is taking part in a project for the study and monitoring of reef communities and key fisheries species in Coiba National Park and the marine-coastal Special Management Zone comprising the Las Perlas Archipelago. The study’s final report is due to be published in November.

Algal growth blocks sunlight and smothers the coral, which cannot survive. Experts have also detected the appearance of algae in Colombia and Mexico.

The project is being carried out by UMIP together with Fundación Natura, Conservation International, the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Mexico, and the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP).

Researchers are monitoring the coral in Coiba and Las Perlas in Panama. They took measurements in March and August, and they will repeat their survey in November.

There are differences between the two study zones. Coiba is little disturbed by human activity; it is a designated natural heritage area and a protection plan is in place, although according to the experts it is not enforced. Moreover, Coiba Park is administered by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

A protection programme for Las Perlas, to be managed by ARAP, is currently in the pipeline.

Reefs are essential for the development and feeding of large predators like sharks, whales, pelagic fish such as anchovy and herring, and sea turtles, the experts said.

In Panama’s coral reefs, ARAP has identified species of algae, mangroves, sponges, crustaceans, molluscs, conches, starfish, sea cucumber, sea urchin, as well as groupers, snappers, angelfish and butterflyfish.

Fishing generates some 15,000 jobs in Panama and annual production is 131,000 tonnes, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

An Environmental Agenda for Panama 2014-2019 (Agenda Ambiental Panamá 2014-2019), published by the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON),

Fundación MarViva, Fundación Natura and the Panama Audubon Society, proposes the passage of a law for wetlands protection, emphasising mangroves, mudflats, marshes, swamps, peat bogs, rivers, coral reefs and others.

On the Caribbean coast, coral reefs around the nine islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, 324 nautical miles (600 kilometres) west of Panama City, are experiencing bleaching caused by high water temperatures.

This was a finding of a study titled “Forecasting decadal changes in sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching within a Caribbean coral reef,” published in May by the U.S. journal Coral Reefs.
Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach, of the U.S. University of Virginia, predict that by 2084 nearly all the coral reefs they studied will be vulnerable to bleaching-induced mortality.

They simulated water flow patterns and water surface heating scenarios for the present day and projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080. They concluded that reefs bathed by cooler waters will have the greatest chances of future survival.

Bocas del Toro adjoins the Isla Bastimentos National Park, one of 104 protected areas in Panama covering a total of 36,000 square kilometres, equivalent to 39 percent of the national territory.

“Local communities need education in resource management, sustainable use, fisheries zoning and fisherfolk organisation,” Casas said.

The next phase of the corals project, financed with 48,000 dollars this year and requiring about 70,000 dollars for 2015, will involve quantifying the value of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs.

Gómez has no plans to change his trade, but he can see that his grandchildren will no longer follow the same occupation. “Fishing is going to be more complicated in future. They will have to think of other ways of earning a living,” he told IPS, gazing nostalgically out to sea.

Edited byEstrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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High-Tech, High Yields: Caribbean Farmers Reap Benefits of ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:21:49 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137194 Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Farmers in the Caribbean are being encouraged to make more use of farm apps and other forms of ICT in an effort to increase the knowledge available for making sound, profitable farming decisions.

Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) said Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is being increasingly used to track “localised conditions, pests and disease prevalence. The technology will not only add value to us but to the farmers in giving information that they need.”“The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death." -- Peter Thompson

Thompson spoke to IPS at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held Oct. 6-12 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

A great deal of attention was given to “scaling up” the integration of technology into day-to-day farming practices at CWA 2014, co-sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, showcased apps that students in the Department of Computing and Information Technology had developed as part of the AgriNeTT project, a collaborative effort between the Department, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, and farmers’ representatives.

AgriNeTT’s project leader/coordinator, Dr. Margaret Bernard, said “the main focus…is developing intelligent systems within agriculture. There is a lack of data [and] many of the models being built did not have real data from the field.”

The apps are intended to support agriculture, she told IPS. “A big part of the AgriNeTT project is the development of an Open Data repository, particularly to house agriculture data on a national level… The repository will house different data sets, including farm level production data, commodity prices and volumes, farm land spatial data, soils, weather, and pest and diseases tracking data.”

Dr. Bernard said the aim of the Open Data repository was to build a platform that would be accessible throughout the Caribbean. The project seeks to encourage all in the Caribbean farming community to share in uploading data so that “developer teams can use that data creatively and build apps [for agriculture].”

She added that the creation of apps and tools based on the data would help to modernise Caribbean agriculture. “The collection, aggregation, analysis, visualisation and dissemination of data are key to Caribbean competitiveness,” Dr. Bernard said.

Dr. Bernard holds high hopes for a new app, called AgriExpenseTT, which her team developed for farm record-keeping. The app, now available for download at Google Play, allows farmers to track expenses of more than one crop at a time, track purchases of agricultural products they use on their farms, as well as track how much of the products purchased are actually used for each crop.

She said farmers who opted for the subscription service for this app would then have their data stored which would allow researchers “to verify some of the models for cost production, so we know this is what it costs to produce X amount of [any crop].”

Another reason for encouraging the use of ICT in agriculture is the need to make farming a more attractive career option for young people, CTA’s Director Michael Hailu explained. He said an important dimension to family farming, the theme of this year’s CWA, was the significant role that young people should and could play in the development of the region’s agriculture.

Since the region’s farming population is aging, “we at CTA are making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture—in ways that they can relate to, using new technologies that are far removed from the old image of farming,” he said.

To this end, CTA offered a prize to young app developers in the region who would develop innovative ICT applications to address key Caribbean agricultural challenges and foster agri-enterprise among young people.

Winners of this year's AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Winners of this year’s AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Photo Courtesy of CTA

Many of the apps developed for the CWA 2014 AgriHack Talent competition focused on providing farmers with useful information that is not always readily available.

Jason Scott, part of the Jamaican team that won the agricultural hackathon with their app named Node 420, said, “Collecting the information they need can be a real problem for farmers.” He said he and his colleague Orane Edwards “decided to design some hardware that could gather all sorts of data to help them with their cultivation, including planting, sowing and harvesting.”

RADA’s Thompson said, “The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death…We have these young guys coming in who are just hungry to do things in terms of technology. We have to help them.”

However, Faumuina Tatunai, a media specialist who works with Women and Business Development, an NGO that supports 600 farmers in Samoa, told IPS that excessive focus on attracting youth to farming through ICT may be short-sighted.

“The reality of farming is that we need young people on the farms as part of the family. To do that we need to attract them in quite holistic ways…and ICT is just part of the solution but it is not the only solution.”

She said her organisation seeks to encourage interest in farming among youth by taking a family-centred approach and encouraging all members of the family to learn about agriculture and grow together as farmers through the use of training and other opportunities.

“Everyone in the family is a farmer, whether they are six or 70 years old…our approach is to build capacity with mother, father, and child,” Tatunai said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Biodiversity, Climate Change Solutions Inextricably Linkedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:34:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137165 Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

The remarkable biodiversity of the countries of the Caribbean, already under stress from human impacts like land use, pollution, invasive species, and over-harvesting of commercially valuable species, now faces an additional threat from climate change.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17, Saint Lucia’s Biodiversity Coordinator Terrence Gilliard told IPS that his government understands that biodiversity and ecosystem services underpin sustainable development."Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come." -- Helena Brown

But he said climate change is having an impact on biodiversity of the island nation.

“There have been reports of coral bleaching occasioned by higher sea temperatures and there has been a lengthening in the productive season of some agricultural crops,” said Gilliard, who also serves as sustainable development and environment officer.

“The extreme weather events such as Hurricane Tomas [in 2010] and the [2013] Christmas Eve trough resulted in major landslides within forested areas and there is…loss of animal life during these events. Long periods of droughts limit water availability and affect agricultural production.”

Though less than 616 square kms in area, Saint Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. More than 200 species occur nowhere else, including seven percent of the resident birds and an incredible 53 percent of the reptiles.

The nation’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Saint Lucia amazon parrot. Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and Saint Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the 12-hectare Maria Major Island, is arguably the world’s most threatened snake following recent increases in numbers of its distant relative in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Antiguan racer, a small, harmless, lizard-eating snake, was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. As of 2013, the population size was 1,020.

Helena Brown, technical coordinator in the Environment Division of the Ministry of Health and the Environment, said there are at least two conservation programmes in Antigua where the racer and another critically endangered species, the hawksbill turtle, are being conserved.

“There is a lot of work being done there but that’s just two species out of many. Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come,” Brown told IPS.

According to Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), ecosystems on that island most vulnerable to climate change impacts include coral reefs, highland forests, and coastal wetlands (mangroves).

With more than 8,000 species recorded, Jamaica is ranked fifth globally for endemic species. The Caribbean island has 98.2 percent of the 514 indigenous species of land snails and 100 percent of the 22 indigenous species of amphibians.

Jamaica’s rich marine species diversity include species of fish, sea anemones, black and stony corals, mollusks, turtles, whales, dolphin, and manatee. In addition, nearly 30.1 percent of the country is covered with forests and there are 10 hydrological basins containing over 100 streams and rivers, in addition to several subterranean waterways, ponds, springs, and blue holes.

For Saint Kitts and Nevis, where biodiversity is described as “very important to sustainable development,” the effects of climate change are not highly visible at this point.

“More time will be needed to observe some of the subtle changes that are observed. For instance, in some cases there seems to be longer periods of drought which are impacting on the natural cycles of some plants and also on agricultural crops,” the director of Physical Planning and Environment in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Randolph Edmead, told IPS.

“The rainy season appears to be getting shorter and when there is rain the episodes are more intense thus leading to flash floods.”

Saint Kitts and Nevis is pursuing tourism development as its main economic activity, and many of the country’s tourism-related activities and attractions are based on biodiversity. These include marine biodiversity where coral reefs represent an important component.

Edmead said coral reefs also support fisheries which is an important source of food.

“The income generated from these activities not only supports development but also is important for sustaining livelihoods,” he explained.

Forest biodiversity also forms an important part of the tourism product of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Ecotourism activities which are based on organised hikes along established trails are engaged in regularly by tourists.

“Biodiversity also helps to protect soils from erosion which is not only important for agriculture but also in the protection of vital infrastructure,” he added.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told IPS climate change is a main threat to biodiversity and he urged progress at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP scheduled for Dec. 1-12 in Peru.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“The threats to biodiversity continue. But where do these threats come from? They come from public policies, corporate policies and other factors that come from the socio-economic sector. These are population increase, consumption increase, more pollution, climate change. These are some of the big drivers of loss of biodiversity,” said de Souza Dias.

“So unless we see progress in the negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the loss of biodiversity will probably continue.”

But de Souza Dias is also putting forward biodiversity as part of the solution to the climate change problem. He suggested that better management of forests, wetlands, mangroves and other systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can also enhance adaptation because adaptation is not just about building walls to avoid the sea level rise impacting coastal zones. It is about having more resilient ecosystems that can resist more the different scenarios of climate change,” he told IPS.

“We need to conserve better the ecosystems in our landscape…having more diverse landscape with some forest, some wetlands, some protected catchment areas. Currently we are moving to more simplified landscapes, just big monocultures of crops, large cities, so we are going in the wrong direction.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Corruption, Tax Evasion Fuel Inequality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:34:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137163 (1)	Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

(1) Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Corruption and tax evasion are flagrant violations of human rights in Latin America, where they contribute to inequality and injustice in the countries of the region, according to studies and experts consulted by IPS.

“Tax evasion means that those who are most vulnerable are denied the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights, including health and education,” said Rocío Noriega, an adviser on governance, ethics and transparency for the United Nations Development Programme.

“Corruption has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights,” she added. It also constitutes “a threat to democracy, because it systematically violates the foundation of citizenship by perpetuating inequality based on access by the few to power, wealth and personal connections,” she told IPS.

Corruption, as a way of distributing public resources for purposes other than the common good, is a serious violation of human rights, experts agreed.

Perceptions of corruption

Most Latin Americans view corruption as one of the three main problems in their country, according to the 2013 Latinobarómetro public opinion poll.

In Costa Rica, 20 percent of respondents complained of corruption, 29 percent of economic problems and six percent of crime.

In Honduras the proportions were 11 percent for corruption, 61 percent for economic problems and 28 percent for crime. In Brazil and Colombia, 10 percent of respondents said corruption was their primary concern, in third place behind economic problems and crime.

In Argentina and Peru, eight percent of interviewees named corruption as their main problem: in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic it was seven percent; in Mexico six percent; in Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay five percent; in Guatemala four percent; in Nicaragua three percent; in El Salvador and Venezuela two percent; and in Chile and Uruguay, one percent.

Latinobarómetro said the poll appeared to show that corruption is not as serious a problem as experts and transparency reports would indicate, but this is because – as happened previously with crime – in many countries of the region corruption is a hidden issue, and they cited Mexico as a prime example.

Mexico is the country with the highest proportion of people who are aware of cases of corruption (39 percent), and transparency reports say its level of corruption is high; yet only six percent view corruption as the main problem.

Source: 2013 Latinobarómetro poll

In 2013 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that, since corruption can occur in many different forms and contexts, it is almost impossible to identify all the human rights that are violated.

They added that corruption is an obstacle for the development of societies, but is also a serious problem for strengthening the legitimacy of democracy, because its prevalence and the perception of citizens of its incidence in public affairs and institutions can greatly undermine support for democratic regimes.

The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll indicates that 26 percent of all Latin Americans said they were aware of at least one case of corruption in their country in the past 12 months. A similar percentage said that nearly everyone in their government was corrupt.

Venezuela and Mexico top the ranking for perception of corruption, with 39 percent making these statements, followed by Paraguay (38 percent) and Chile (35 percent). Among the countries with the lowest perception of corruption were Uruguay (19 percent), Nicaragua (17 percent), Honduras Guatemala and Brazil (16 percent), and El Salvador (eight percent).

Francisca Quiroga, a political analyst and expert on public policies at the University of Chile, told IPS that both corruption and tax evasion are directly correlated to inequality and injustice.

She said: “Tax policies are a potential instrument for distributing resources and funding the development of social policies.

“The underlying rationale is the duty to combat inequality and to redistribute resources, as well as to build more sustainable economies,” she said.

“When talking about human rights and social rights, in particular, one of the elements to take into account is taxation policy, and the institutional mechanisms to ensure the legitimacy of the decisions taken,” she said.

High inequality is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Latin America’s social situation.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), income distribution inequality in the region is substantially higher than in other global regions, with an average Gini coefficient of 0.53.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality, expressed as an index between zero and one. Zero represents perfect equality, while a value of one represents complete inequality.

For example, the least unequal country in the region is more unequal than any non-Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), or than any country in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a report titled “Evasión y Equidad en América Latina” (Evasion and Equality in Latin America) by the ECLAC Economic Development Division.

The five Latin American countries with the worst income distribution, according to the report, are Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Chile, in that order.

In Chile, most employed people earn around 500 dollars a month, in a country where bread costs two dollars a kilo, while the richest 4,500 families live on more than 30,000 dollars a month.

“Tax evasion is a form of fraud that undermines equality, there is no doubt about it,” sociologist Marta Lagos, the head of Latinobarómetro, told IPS.

“There is massive empirical evidence that shows that income distribution improves when taxes are paid,” she said.

“The lack of formality of our state agencies allows tax evasion to occur,” and this may happen in powerful and wealthy circles as well as among ordinary citizens, she said.

She calls this phenomenon “social fraud,” pointing to its basis in customs overwhelmingly regarded as acceptable in social practice, so that the state is unable to eradicate it. “It is customary, however wrong, illegal and immoral,” she said.

Lagos stressed that social fraud may be wrong, immoral or illegal. Wrongness refers to offences that are not legally penalised but affect coexistence, such as parking a vehicle badly and paralysing traffic. Immoral acts include situations like eating something while shopping in a supermarket and not paying for it.

Illegal social fraud, in turn, may occur on a mass scale and covers those who avoid paying for a bus ticket, use state subsidies improperly, or evade paying taxes.

In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, it is common practice for retail outlets in outlying neighbourhoods not to issue receipts for every purchase, said Lagos, and this is wholly accepted by the population.

“I don’t really care,” Bernarda, a middle-aged woman who buys bread every day from a small store near her home in La Florida, a mainly middle class suburb southeast of Santiago, but who does not always receive a formal receipt for her purchase.

“I have known this woman (the store owner) for years and I know she is honest,” she said. “It’s all the same to me,” said another neighbour beside her. “What do I want a tax receipt for? Anyway, everybody does it,” she said.

This behaviour is widespread in the region and is reflected daily in the question that retailers and service providers in many countries constantly ask consumers when it is time to pay: “With IVA (value added tax) or without IVA?”

Lagos said that over the past decade tax evasion has come to be seen as increasingly legitimate, since corruption in high places “increases people’s perception that it is acceptable not to pay taxes, because the money is being stolen and misspent.”

Quiroga, however, believes the time has come for citizens to realise that their political and social rights are infringed whenever the system allows tax evasion and corruption to become common practice.

“This is the only way we are going to be able to overcome this scourge,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Uruguay’s Decision Could Come Too Late for Gitmo Detaineeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:36:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137150 Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

Uruguayan President José Mujica bought time for his plan to host six prisoners of Guantánamo, handing over the decision to the winner of the incoming elections. But time is a scarce resource for the inmates of this United States military prison on Cuban soil.

The resettlement of a Palestinian, a Tunisian and four Syrian detainees in Guantánamo is a hot potato for Mujica while his party, the centre-left Broad Front, struggles to pull ahead in the final stretch to general elections set for Oct. 26.“The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.” -- Laura Pitter of HRW

Out of 149 inmates currently in Guantánamo, a prison established by George W. Bush (2001-2009) to function beyond the law, 79 are cleared for release at least since 2010, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has gone to court on behalf of some of the detainees.

Mujica agreed in March to settle six inmates of this group – following a request by U.S. President Barack Obama — some of them suffering from very poor physical and mental health.

Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, a 35-year-old Palestinian, is considered at high risk. Diagnosed with major depression, he has engaged in several hunger strikes in the last few years. Born in the West Bank, he was 23 when Pakistani security services arrested him and rendered him to the U.S. According to one of his attorneys, Lauren Carasik, there is not a single piece of evidence against him.

“The travesty of Guantanamo is that some of the men were rounded up not because of reasonable suspicions, but instead because areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan were blanketed with leaflets offering a bounty for ‘suspected terrorists’, sparking a frenzy of lucrative but wrongful accusations,” said Carasik in an op-ed published by Al Jazeera last year.

The CCR claims that 86 percent of the 789 men and teenagers once jailed in Guantánamo since January 2002 were essentially sold at times when the U.S. military offered bounties of around 5,000 dollars per capture.

Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a married father of four, has also been protesting via an intermittent hunger strike since February 2013. He suffers from extreme weakness and requires a wheelchair. With no charges against him, Washington cleared him for release in 2009.

Dhiab’s case gained notoriety this year when his attorneys challenged the force-feeding method applied by Guantanamo’s jailers against him and other hunger strikers. U.S. judge Gladys Kessler ordered the disclosure of 28 classified videotapes recording the forced cell extraction and forced feeding of Dhiab.

In a statement read by his lawyers in court, Dhiab claimed that he wanted the U.S. public “to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed.” In August, one of his attorneys said he was “just a skeleton”.

Dhiab had lived with his family in Afghanistan, where he ran a business, but had to flee to Pakistan when the war began after 9/11, according to British human rights NGO Reprieve. A few months later, the Pakistani police arrested him and rendered him to the U.S., possibly in exchange for payment.

In a letter urging the U.S. government to proceed with the transfers to Uruguay, the lawyers of the six detainees said in June that a Uruguayan delegation had interviewed the inmates at Guantánamo and extended to them invitations to resettle, “which they gratefully accepted”.

Mujica, a former guerrilla who served 14 years in inhuman conditions, is one of the many critics of Guantánamo. In recent months, he has repeated that the detainees would move to Uruguay as “free men”.

But Washington usually requests that the receiving country monitor the transferred men and ban them from travelling abroad, measures which are beyond Uruguay’s refugee legislation.

In other words, the same fears which have prevented shutting Guantánamo for good, releasing the innocents and bringing evidence-based suspects to U.S. courts have also obstructed the transfers to Uruguay.

The U.S. “needs assistance from other countries in order to close Guantanamo because, as appears to be the case in Uruguay too, irrational fear about transferring detainees to the U.S. is being used for political gain in the U.S. elections,” said Laura Pitter, Human Rights Watch’s senior national security researcher.

“There is no reason whatsoever to fear letting these men come to Uruguay,” she told IPS by email. “The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.”

In an August interview with this reporter, the director of the Presidency’s Human Rights office, Javier Miranda, said Uruguayan society “harbours some fear of Muslims, and this is part of our growth. Some people have shown this assimilation of Islam and terrorism, which is an utterly false assumption.

“Those men who spent 12 years in a hole in Guantánamo, almost as disappeared persons, have the same right to a shelter as the Syrian refugees,” added Miranda, who successfully supervised the Oct. 9 arrival of a first group of 43 civilians who had fled the Syria civil war and were living in hard conditions in Lebanon.

But the Mujica administration’s failure to publicise the details of this second humanitarian operation and the legal plight and health of every one of the six inmates fuelled rather than assuaged public mistrust.

While 66 percent of one survey’s respondents supported the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the number who rejected the arrival of Guantánamo detainees rose from 50 percent in April to 58 percent in September.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Vice President Joe Biden had called Mujica, “pressing him to resettle the men”. Montevideo swiftly denied any pressure, and stated only Mujica had the authority to decide when the inmates should arrive. But the move paved the way for a heated electoral debate on this issue.

The centre-right opposition National Party, which is polling in second place, took advantage of this inconsistency and accused the government of acting “under pressure of imperialism”.

According to Pitter, Uruguay would do a great service “acknowledging that they recognise the human dignity and human rights of these men, and righting a grave injustice that the U.S. has perpetrated upon them for many years.”

The U.S. will hold elections in November. If the governing Democratic Party fails to retain a majority in the Senate, Republican opposition could add further obstacles to closing Guantánamo.

In the face of this political dysfunction, the best hopes to end the humanitarian crisis will continue to rest on the good will of third countries.

In Uruguay, the Broad Front is confronting its most competitive elections since it first came to power in 2004. After repeating that he alone would decide about Guantánamo, Mujica backtracked last week and announced he would hand over the decision to the incoming elected president.

If the Broad Front wins the election, a few inmates can still dream of travelling to South America before the end of the year. But if the winner is the National Party, Washington might have to re-open the agreement with the new government, no earlier than March 2015.

And for some of the prisoners, it could be too late.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Reducing Hunger: More Than Just Access to Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 20:00:33 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137144 A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

“We want healthy food, we want to produce according to our traditions,” farmers and activists demanded during an international forum of experts on agriculture and the environment in this southern Italian city.

It is not necessary to go far to find an illustration of the difficulties facing farmers in achieving that goal, Dario Natale told IPS. He is a young man who lives in the area between the cities of Naples and Caserta known as “Terra dei fuochi” or land of fire, due to the chronic burning of waste, much of it toxic.

“The land is polluted, people get sick and our products are under suspicion. The government has done nothing,” complained the 24-year-old Natale, who belongs to Stop Biocidio, a group that is demanding an end to the illegal dumping or burying of waste in the area, and to the burning of garbage, which began in the 1990s.

That area in the southwest province of Campania is known for the production of vegetables, fruit and mozzarella cheese made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo.

Since the 1990s, the Camorra, the Naples mafia, has taken over the handling and disposal of refuse and toxic waste hauled in from Italy’s industrialised north and dumped in the south, which has caused serious damage to the environment, health and the local economy.“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn't mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one.” -- Marino Niola

This is one of the problems that will be discussed at the Expo Milan, to be held in May 2015 in that northern Italian city, under the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. In the expo, participating countries will present their situation regarding the production of food, the fight against hunger, and measures adopted to guarantee food security.

These are the same issues that were tackled at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples under the theme “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”.

The Forum, organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions, brought together some 200 reporters, academics, activists, students and representatives of governments and multilateral organisations from 47 countries.

During the four days of talks and debates they also discussed issues like the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations, and the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

The nations of the developing South, different experts said, are in an ambiguous situation, because they fight hunger but are only partly successful when it comes to ensuring food security which also involves production and distribution of quality food.

“It’s not just about production of enough food for everyone; it means that every individual must have access to food,” Adriana Opromolla, Caritas International campaign manager, told IPS. “In Latin America, for example, compliance with that right varies. The fact that countries have laws on it does not mean they are necessarily complying.”

Caritas released a report on food security in Guatemala and Nicaragua on Monday during the annual forum of the International Food Security & Nutrition Civil Society Mechanism, held in the Rome headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Oct. 12-19 is the Food Week of Action.

By 2050, demand for food will expand 65 percent, while the world population will reach nine billion.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report released Sept. 16 revealed that the proportion of undernourished people in Latin America went down from 15.3 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

As a result, this region met the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) one year before the 2015 deadline. The MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000, and the first is to cut the proportion of hungry people and people living in extreme poverty around the world by half, from 1990 levels.

Measures taken in the region have varied. For example, nations like Colombia and Mexico included the right to food in the constitution, while other countries, such as Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador adopted legislation on the matter.

“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn’t mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one,” Marino Niola, director of the Centre for Social Research on the Mediterranean Diet, or MedEatResearch, at the private Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, told IPS.

In 2004, FAO adopted the “Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security”, which are being reviewed this year.

The theme for World Food Day, Oct. 16, this year is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

“The right to food is an ethical way to address food production and distribution. It has to be guaranteed for importing countries,” Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS.

In his research, the U.S. expert has found that 13 counties were totally dependent on imported grains in 2013, 51 were dependent on imports for more than 50 percent, and 77 were dependent on imports for over 25 percent.

More than 90 million people in the world are totally dependent on imported grains, 376 million are dependent on imports for more than 50 percent and 882 million are dependent on imports for more than 25 percent.

Opromolla said more budgetary resources are needed, as well as greater transparency in decision-making and more participation by civil society.

“It’s a structural problem,” the Caritas expert said. “Multiple measures are needed, applied in a coherent manner. The commitment by the state is essential, because it must guarantee the right to food.”

Natale is clear on what he wants and does not want for situations like the current one in “Terra dei fuochi”: No more pollution of the soil and water, and government protection of agricultural production. “Our diet is healthy. It doesn’t depend only on pizza and pasta, as the government says. If we don’t produce, where does the food come from?”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Acid Oceans Could Deal Heavy Blow to Fishing-Dependant Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:05:36 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137080 The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Scientists here are warning Caribbean countries, where the fisheries sector is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance, that they should pay close attention to a new international report released Wednesday on ocean acidification.

The report, published by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), coincides with the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.” -- Dr. Carol Turley

“Ocean acidification can have quite specific impacts on certain fisheries, and so actually ocean acidification is especially important for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fishery or some type of organism,” Dr. S. J. Hennige, the lead editor of the report, told IPS.

“There are variable responses with organisms with regard to ocean acidification, but for the ones which are negatively affected by it, if you are reliant on just that one type of fish then it could have very large impacts and you may have to actually switch to a different organism or something like that.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In the report, an international team of 30 experts, led by UK scientists, has concluded that ocean acidification is already underway, and it is now nearly inevitable that it will worsen, causing widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and on the goods and services they provide.

David Obura, director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said food security, in the Caribbean and other regions of the world where there is heavy reliance on the fisheries sector, is threatened.

“Ocean acidification changes the chemistry of the sea water which means that how fish grow is affected and usually negatively,” Obura told IPS. “So productivity will go down or the certainty of knowing what the output is going to be, how much food is produced, is less certain so it undermines the production system.”

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that a lot more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, it has now been established that many marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with consequences for human society.

Hennige said there are already examples, in the U.S., where an oyster fishery is being impacted by ocean acidification. He said the underlying cause of the problem is carbon dioxide.

“The more carbon dioxide is released from all our fossil fuels into the atmosphere, the more will dissolve in the ocean,” he explained.

“There are practices which can be put in place to offset it on a temporary basis, but the underlying problem is there is still more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and this problem is only going to get worse if we continue.

“It’s not a problem that is being caused by the Caribbean, this is a global problem and it’s a global solution that’s needed,” Hennige added.

Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), told IPS that everything in the report applies to the Caribbean situation.

“Ocean acidification is a worrying phenomenon because it means that seawater, as a supporting medium for life, is changing in a very fundamental manner. Since the ocean ecosystem is so complex, it is not possible to predict the impacts with certainty, but it is certain that the impacts will be significant for tropical islands, especially those which have built their economies based on the health and beauty of their local coral reef ecosystems,” she said.

“As coral reefs begin to decline, this will affect many traditional Caribbean fisheries targeting reef fishes, such as snapper, grouper, parrot fish, etc. that depend on the coral reefs for their food, shelter and survival.

“Also, there would likely be declines in the health and survival of animals that grow carbonate shells such as queen conch, which support very important multi-million-dollar commercial fisheries in the Caribbean. With so fundamental a change in seawater chemistry, it is also possible that other forms of ocean life, as we know them today, could be affected ultimately and irreversibly,” Singh-Renton noted.

The report’s authors said the exact magnitude of the ecological and financial costs is still uncertain, due to complex interactions with other human-driven environmental changes.

They said risks to coral reefs are highlighted in the CBD, due in part to the crucial role they have in helping support the livelihoods of around 400 million people.

Hennige said that the by the end of this century, the economic loss caused by ocean acidification would be “a trillion dollars”.

His colleague, Dr. Carol Turley, a contributing author to the report, said the downward spiral could be reversed but urgent action and funding are needed.

“Who can measure acidification? It’s really developed countries that can measure it so we need to start exporting that knowledge to countries like the Caribbean, to countries like the small island developing states,” she told IPS.

“And that’s where financing comes in because as scientists we can collaborate and give you knowledge but we need financing so that we can help you set up monitoring.

“I am worried that we are too slow. We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.”

In 2013, experts warned that the acidity of the world’s oceans may increase by 170 percent by the end of the century, bringing significant economic losses. The scientists said then that marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, with far-reaching consequences for humans.

They also warned that economic losses from declines in shellfish aquaculture and the degradation of tropical coral reefs may be substantial owing to the sensitivity of molluscs and corals to ocean acidification.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Fracking Fractures Argentina’s Energy Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 22:19:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137074 Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Unconventional oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina hold out the promise of energy self-sufficiency and development for the country. But the fracking technique used to extract this treasure from underground rocks could be used at a huge cost.

The landscape begins to change when you get about 100 km from Neuquén, the capital of the province of the same name, in southwest Argentina. In this area, dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of Patagonia”, fruit trees are in bloom and vineyards stretch out green towards the horizon, in the early southern hemisphere springtime.

But along the roads, where there is intense traffic of trucks hauling water, sand, chemicals and metallic structures, oil derricks and pump stations have begun to replace the neat rows of poplars which form windbreaks protecting crops in the southern region of Patagonia.

“Now there’s money, there’s work – we’re better off,” truck driver Jorge Maldonado told Tierramérica. On a daily basis he transports drill pipes to Loma Campana, the shale oil and gas field that has become the second-largest producer in Argentina in just three years.“That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.” -- Carolina García

It is located in Vaca Muerta, a geological formation in the Neuquén basin which is spread out over the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Mendoza. Of the 30,000 sq km area, the state-run YPF oil company has been assigned 12,000 sq km in concession, including some 300 sq km operated together with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

Vaca Muerta has some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale oil and gas, found at depths of up to 3,000 metres.

A new well is drilled here every three days, and the demand for labour power, equipment, inputs, transportation and services is growing fast, changing life in the surrounding towns, the closest of which is Añelo, eight km away.

“Now I can provide better for my children, and pay for my wife’s studies,” said forklift operator Walter Troncoso.

According to YPF, Vaca Muerta increased Argentina’s oil reserves ten-fold and its gas reserves forty-fold, which means this country will become a net exporter of fossil fuels.

But tapping into unconventional shale oil and gas deposits requires the use of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which YPF prefers to refer to as “hydraulic stimulation”.

According to the company, the technique involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and “a small quantity of additives” into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Víctor Bravo, an engineer, says in a study published by the Third Millennium Patagonia Foundation, that some 15 fractures are made in each well, with 20,000 cubic metres of water and some 400 tons of diluted chemicals.

The formula is a trade secret, but the estimate is that it involves “some 500 chemical substances, 17 of which are toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 of which have acute toxic effects, and eight of which are proven to be carcinogenic,” he writes. He adds that fracking fluids and the gas itself can contaminate aquifers.

Neuquén province lawmaker Raúl Dobrusin of the opposition Popular Union bloc told Tierrámerica: “The effect of this contamination won’t be seen now, but in 15 or 20 years.”

During Tierramérica’s visit to Loma Campana, Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional resources, played down these fears, saying the parent-rock formations are 3,000 metres below the surface while the groundwater is 200 to 300 metres down.

“The water would have to leak thousands of metres up. It can’t do that,” he said.

Besides, the “flowback water”, which is separated from the oil or gas, is reused in further “hydraulic stimulation” operations, while the rest is dumped into “perfectly isolated sink wells,” he argued. “The aquifers do not run any risk at all,” he said.

But Dobrusin asked “What will they do with the water once the well is full? No one mentions that.”

According to Bizzotto, the seismic intensity of the hydraulic stimulation does not compromise the aquifers either, because the fissures are produced deep down in the earth. Furthermore, he said, the wells are layered with several coatings of cement and steel.

“We want to draw investment, generate work, but while safeguarding nature at the same time,” Neuquén’s secretary of the environment, Ricardo Esquivel, told Tierramérica.

In his view, “there are many myths” surrounding fracking, such as the claim that so much water is needed that water levels in the rivers would go down.

Neuquén, he said, uses five percent of the water in its rivers for irrigation, human consumption and industry, while the rest flows to the sea. Even if 500 wells a year were drilled, only one percent more of the water would be used, he maintained.

But activist Carolina García with the Multisectorial contra el Fracking group told Tierrámerica: “That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.”

She pointed out that fracking is questioned in the European Union and that in August Germany adopted an eight-year moratorium on fracking for shale gas while it studies the risks posed by the technique.

YPF argues that these concerns do not apply to Vaca Muerta because it is a relatively uninhabited area.

“The theory that this is a desert and can be sacrificed because no one’s here is false,” said Silvia Leanza with the Ecosur Foundation.

“There are people, the water runs, and there is air flowing here,” she commented to Tierramérica. “The emissions of gases and suspended dust particles can reach up to 200 km away.”

Nor does the “desert theory” ring true for Allen, a town of 25,000 people in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, which is suffering the effects of the extraction of another form of unconventional gas, tight gas sands, which refers to low permeability sandstone reservoirs that produce primarily dry natural gas.

In that fruit-growing area, 20 km from the provincial capital, the fruit harvest is shrinking as the number of gas wells grows, drilled by the U.S.-based oil company Apache, whose local operations in Argentina were acquired by YPF in March.

Apache leases farms to drill on, the Permanent Comahue Assembly for Water (APCA) complained.

“Going around the farms it’s easy to see how the wells are occupying what was fruit-growing land until just a few years ago. Allen is known as the ‘pear capital’, but now it is losing that status,” lamented Gabriela Sepúlveda, of APCA Allen-Neuquén.

A well exploded in March, shaking the nearby houses. It wasn’t the first time, and it’s not the only problem the locals have had, Rubén Ibáñez, who takes care of a greenhouse next to the well, told Tierramérica. “Since the wells were drilled, people started feeling dizzy and having sore throats, stomach aches, breathing problems, and nausea,” he said.

“They periodically drill wells, a process that lasts around a month, and then they do open-air flaring. I’m no expert, but I feel sick,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink this water even if I was dying of thirst….when I used it to water the plants in the greenhouse they would die.”

The provincial government says there are constant inspections of the gas and oil deposits.

“In 300 wells we did not find any environmental impact that had created a reason for sanctions,” environment secretary Esquivel said.

“We have a clear objective: for Loma Campana, as the first place that unconventional fossil fuels are being developed in Argentina, to be the model to imitate, not only in terms of cost, production and technique, but in environmental questions as well,” Bizzotto said.

“All technology has uncertain consequences,” Leanza said. “Why deny it? Let’s put it up for debate.”

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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Hotter Caribbean Poses Challenges for Livestock Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:36:57 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137067 These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Livestock farmers in the Caribbean are finding it increasingly difficult and expensive to rear healthy animals because of climate change, a situation that poses a significant threat to a region that is already too dependent on imports to feed its population.

Norman Gibson, a livestock scientist with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), says the effects of climate change mean that farmers must spend more money on feedstock to produce healthy animals, as well as coping with higher mortality rates among their flocks due to heat stress.Once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler.

Gibson was part of a panel discussion at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), being held in Paramaribo, Suriname, Oct. 6–12. The annual event hosted by the CTA focused on promoting policies and practices that will help farmers to adapt to climate change.

Gibson pointed out that decreases in livestock production would have a significant impact on the Caribbean region, where meat forms a major part of the diet. The region imports 40 million dollars worth of meat annually from New Zealand and Australia, he told the audience, and “imports are growing faster than [local] production.”

At the same time, research has shown that climate change is resulting in higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere which “leads to changes in the nutritional status of plants”, he told IPS. He said that tropical grasses are not the most nutritious, and with increases in CO2 they become even less so.

“So animals would have to eat even more to get an acceptable level of nutrition. Because that is often impossible, if you want your animals to produce at a certain level you have to supplement with concentrated feed, which in the Caribbean is imported,” he told IPS, and expensive.

He added that in places like Guyana, that are below sea level and sinking further, salt water intrusion is further compromising the feedstock available for ruminants.

“Once salt water gets into pastures, most of the grass that we currently grow is not adapted to high levels of salts. Most of these grasses have low salt tolerance and therefore will not thrive or grow under those conditions. So scientists will now have to find new breeds of grass that are more tolerant,” he said.

He said a breed of grass from International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia was showing promise in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts.

“A lot of the dairy production in Trinidad and Tobago is based on that particular grass…In St. Kitts, it is now the major grass of choice for small ruminant farmers.”

He also pointed out that temperatures were for a certainty increasing, though there was less certainty about increased precipitation. These higher temperatures lead to heat stress in animals that reduces their ability to reproduce.

Heat stress is leading to levels of mortality of up to 15 per cent among ruminants, the FAO’s Cedric Lazarus told IPS. Lazarus was also at the CWA and spoke of efforts being made around the region to reduce the heat stress being suffered by animals.

He explained that once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler, he said.

“It’s the only way you can keep those high-producing breeds of cattle and ensure they survive.” He said the use of ventilation systems was seen particularly in Barbados.

Planting more trees was also a viable—and simple—way of providing more shade for animals, he added.

He said studies showed heat stress also led to a precipitous decrease in milk yields, sometimes by as much as 33 percent, thus reducing the animal’s profitability.

Gibson added that because of the extreme heat the region has been experiencing and the resulting discomfort felt by animals, there were abnormalities in their sperm and a fall-off in vigour resulting in reduced conception rates.

“A livestock farmer’s success depends on how many animals he can get to the market each year, which is a function of how well his animals reproduce,” he told IPS.

Both Gibson and Lazarus said the impact of climate change meant that farmers would have to rely more on local breeds of ruminants to ensure they have hardy stock that can cope with the region’s increasingly intense heat, though there has been a tendency over the past 15 to 20 years to bring in foreign breeds to “improve” local livestock.

Farmers often see foreign livestock as a chance to improve their herd because it means introducing fresh blood without the problems that traditionally come with inbreeding, said Rommel Parris, a black belly sheep farmer and president of the Barbados Sheep and Goat Farmers Association.

However, Parris said, the benefits of a new genetic pool do not outweigh the disadvantages of the foreign stock in the hot Caribbean climate.

“Your cost goes up because you have to keep them in air-conditioned rooms or use fans to cool them down. You have to feed them with special feeds. You have to adjust to the diet they were receiving before. Caring for these animals is tougher than caring for those animals that are adapted to this region for years,” he told IPS.

He added that foreign stock tend to produce fewer offspring, as well, than the local breeds, and are more susceptible to the parasites in the region.

Though inbreeding of local stocks does bring a somewhat weaker herd, “farmers know how to treat their own animals. A lot of them are proactive and know what the signs are and how to prevent sickness in advance…They can pick up on them fairly quickly,” he said, thus reducing mortality rates and losses.

The majority of ruminants in the region are still the local, creole animals, Lazarus said, but the Caribbean needs to guard against the mistake made in other parts of the world, where the introduction of foreign breeds led to the extinction of local, more sustainable animals.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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When Helping Hands Make a Disaster Worsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/when-helping-hands-make-a-disaster-worse/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 18:35:19 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137058 Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Aerial view of a makeshift camp in Port-au-Prince. Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers following the 2010 earthquake, environmental problems were created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Relief work done by emergency responders during natural disasters may inadvertently exacerbate problems caused by climate change and lead to further disasters, recent reports suggest.

When heavy rains caused nearly 20 million dollars in losses in Diego Martin, western Trinidad, in 2012, emergency responders moved rapidly to provide relief to affected residents, some of whom lost their homes.An estimated 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from Haiti's discarded tents if they were left in landfills.

However, just under two weeks later, Diego Martin was again inundated, this time due to a tropical storm.

A newly released report by the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society (TTRCS) raises the possibility that the second flooding may have partly been due to the relief work done by the emergency responders.

The report states “after the first flooding incident water supplies were distributed in individual disposable, non-biodegradable vessels such as plastic bottles and food supplies were distributed with plastic utensils.

“In addition to the intense rainfall, one of the major contributing factors to the Diego Martin flooding was the clogging of waterways. Waste collection services immediately following the disaster were restricted… Use of [eco-friendly, biodegradable] materials could have helped negate the possibility of flooding.”

The TTRCS’ report, entitled “Green Response: A Country Study”, was presented by the head of Trinidad and Tobago’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to a recent meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

It was prepared following a feasibility study “on how to reduce, in a sustainable way, the environmental impact of the products and technologies used in response to and recovery from disasters.”

Trinidad and Tobago decided to undertake the study following an ACS meeting in 2011 where the issue of greening the region’s responses to natural disasters was raised for consideration.

Greening disaster relief efforts has become a major concern internationally, since as the Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit notes, while “DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) seeks to reduce the risk of harm from disasters… the implementation of activities defined by disaster risk assessments, or by interventions presumed to reduce risk, itself has a risk of doing harm if the activities do not address environmental sustainability.”

Hence, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) report notes that organisations heavily involved in such work are “considering both current and future disaster and climate change risks and including various measures to address them, in recovery programming.”

The need for such considerations was particularly evident in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that took more than 200,000 lives.

Apart from reports of cholera being introduced into Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers who were deployed to help in recovery efforts following the earthquake, there was also the environmental problem created by the distribution of tens of thousands of non-biodegradable tarpaulin tents which needed to be replaced every few months.

The IFRC Practice Note Report on Haiti notes that 50,000 trees would be needed to offset the carbon emissions from the discarded tents if these were left in landfills.

“The key issue,” said ACS’s director of Transport and Disaster Risk Reduction, George Nicholson, “is having to find a way to ensure that regardless of the things we do, whether work activities or specific activities for disaster response, to ensure that the things have the least impact on the environment.”

The Trinidad and Tobago government is committed to incorporating climate change and  environmental considerations into all its programmes. So when the question of a green response to disaster management came up for consideration at the ACS, the country offered to do the feasibility study for what has been dubbed the Green Response.

The ACS has worked with the ODPM, which has lead responsibility for the initiative in the country, the IFRC, and the TTRCS on the study.

Nicholson said that pursuant to the study’s findings, other ACS member countries “may look to see what was done by Trinidad and Tobago and then adapt or adopt their mechanisms.”

TTRCS’ Stephan Kishore said greening disaster relief efforts would involve activities such as locally manufacturing and pre-positioning relief supplies, so as to reduce the carbon footprint involved in shipping items from China, where most of the country’s relief supplies now come from.

It would also involve simple procedures such as using paper, cloth, or buckets rather than plastic to wrap relief supplies, and wrapping items, like soap, in bulk rather than in individual wrappings. Further, green relief efforts would encourage recycling of items and use of solar energy rather than fossil fuels.

However, a major consideration in greening disaster relief efforts is the legislative framework governing disaster relief organisations. Nicholson said the feasibility study looks at Trinidad and Tobago’s “legislative processes, its operational systems to see where you can get benefits out of being more green in your approach.”

But introducing legislation that would green disaster relief efforts will not be easy, Kishore said. “To get legislation passed for any response is very difficult. The whole process of getting legislation is very difficult,” he said.

Further complicating matters, Nicholson said, is that the ACS’ members states operate under several different legislative frameworks since the countries include Dutch, French, Spanish, and English-speaking countries with different legal traditions.

“All of them have totally different legislative environments, so you cannot write one thing and say we can establish best practices. Countries will look at that checklist of best practices [from the study] and see how best they can adopt their own environment to suit.”

With the feasibility study phase complete, the next stage of the Green Response is to identify or develop green disaster response processes and products from the region, which may include encouraging local manufacturers to begin producing recyclable items that can be used during a natural disaster.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Synthetic Biology Could Open a Whole New Can of Wormshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:48:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137042 In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the world’s leading producer of vetiver. In the southwest of the country, vetiver production is hard to ignore.

Driving into Les Cayes, the largest town in the south, one is greeted by fields of vetiver on either side of the road. The same is true if driving from Les Cayes to Port Salut. Steep hillsides of the green grass line many of the ridges between the two towns.Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

“In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

“Evolva is creating synthetic biology flavours and fragrances which could be offered at a much cheaper price and would ultimately remove the need for different farmers of flavours and fragrances.”

Haiti’s vetiver crop is processed by 10 distillers, but it provides jobs for some 27,000 farming families in the southwest. For these farmers, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion, and helping maintain water quality.

The global value of the synthetic biology market reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011and it will further grow to 10.8 billion by 2016, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.8 percent.

Haiti’s share of worldwide vetiver exports grew from 40 percent in 2001 to over 60 percent in 2007. But in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, Haiti has seen a sharp reduction in vetiver exports. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, produces about 50 to 60 tonnes of vetiver annually, about 50 percent of the world’s supply.

An estimated 60,000 people in Haiti’s Les Cayes region depend on vetiver as their primary income source. The crop is grown on 10,000 hectares.

Before 2009, Haiti’s vetiver crop was valued at approximately 15-18 million dollars per year. In recent years, Haiti’s export earnings from vetiver have declined to around 10 million per year.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth International is urging caution and has made several recommendations to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.

“We are recommending a moratorium on the environmental release and the commercial use of synthetic biology, specifically because of the lack of international regulations and virtual lack of environmental and safety assessments anywhere in the world. We are encouraging the CBD to stand behind the precautionary approach which countries have already agreed to by being signatories to the CBD,” Perls said.

“This is a new and emerging issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of the concerns have to do with the environmental, cultural, social impacts of this new technology, including what would happen if a product like ginseng here in Korea were to be produced using synthetic biology. The impact that it would have on small famers across this country could be immense.

“It would also have a large impact on countries like Brazil where the feed stock would be grown in order to produce these synthetic biology organisms, which will churn out whatever you’ve designed it to churn out,” she added.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, Friends of the Earth said the claims that genetically engineered plants and microbes can sequester more carbon in the soil and produce more fuels when processed than conventional methods have yet to be proven.

The group noted that “in the wake of these unfulfilled promises” emerges synthetic biology, a more extreme form of genetic engineering, which has also been touted as the solution to the climate crisis.

But the group said synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coconut oil. Twenty-five million people in a population of 100 million are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods and domestic food security.

Neth Dano, programme manager with the ETC Group, told IPS, “There is a lot at stake for the Philippines” on this issue because synthetic biology could potentially replace coconut oil in the global market.

“In the Philippines, coconut production is not done in a plantation way, it’s small scale. And in the structure of rural economies, in most cases the coconut producers are among the poorest ones,” Dano explained.

Dano said the CBD as the United Nations body responsible for looking at potential impacts of development on biodiversity and also primarily for conservation of biodiversity can do a lot to address the concerns over synthetic biology.

“The CBD is the only body in the United Nations that had taken up synthetic biology so far and addressed the concerns on its potential impacts on biodiversity,” Dano said.

Dano noted also that most of the commercial beginnings of synthetic biology were related to climate change.

“The earlier research and development efforts were focusing on algae that actually would produce biofuels. And biofuels were seen as a solution to address this problem of massive greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. So it was actually presented as a solution to climate change as a mitigation strategy,” she said.

“The big oil companies invested so much in the development of biofuels from synthetically modified algae but the investments did not deliver, so now they’ve shifted their attention to low-volume high-value and this is where the lauric oils come in,” Dano added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Financing for Biodiversity: A Simple Matter of Keeping Promiseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/financing-for-biodiversity-a-simple-matter-of-keeping-promises/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 12:02:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137037 The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The planet has lost an estimated 52 percent of its wildlife in the last four decades. Experts say that more funds are needed to scale-up conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

With governments, activists and scientists tearing their hair out over the world’s impending crisis in biodiversity, the outgoing president of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) delivered a simple message to participants at the 12th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP12) currently underway in the Republic of Korea’s northern Pyeongchang county: honour the promises you made last year.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of the meeting, running from Oct. 6-12, Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India, which has held the presidency of the Conference of the Parties for a year, said finance continues to be a weak link in global efforts to safeguard the earth’s fragile ecosystems, with parties failing to deliver on their pledges.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk." -- Hem Pande, chairman of the Biodiversity Authority of India
Pande recalled that at the 11th meeting of the parties (COP11), held in the South Indian city of Hyderabad in October 2012, states had promised to double funding for conservation by 2015.

However, after two years, this promise remains largely undelivered. Unless countries keep their word, it will be difficult to make significant progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at a meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in 2011, the official added.

“There is a huge requirement for financing resources. The budget for environmental conservation is ever shrinking. It’s time for the parties to walk the talk,” Pande told IPS.

Countless issues are calling out for an injection of monetary resources: from coastal clean-up projects and scientific research to public awareness campaigns and livelihood alternatives, conservation is a costly undertaking.

According to an estimate by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an annual expenditure of 200 billion dollars would be required to meet all 20 of the CBD goals for 2020, including eliminating harmful subsidies, halving the rate of ecosystem destruction, sustainably managing fisheries, increasing protected areas, restoring 15 percent of the world’s degraded ecosystems, and conserving known endangered species.

Thus the agreement to boost funding was one of the most celebrated outcomes of COP11. Using a baseline figure of the average annual national spending on biodiversity between 2006 and 2010, developed countries had said they would double their giving by 2015.

Although no numbers were put on the table, observers expected that a doubling of the resources then would mean around 10-12 billion dollars a year.

Now, as the convention does its mid-term review, it appears that figure is far from becoming a reality.

Paul Leadly, lead author of ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4’ (GBO-4), a progress report on global efforts towards the Aichi Targets released here Monday, acknowledges that finance is “definitely insufficient.”

“The good news is there is a slight increase in the funding. The bad news is, it’s not anywhere near doubling the amount,” he told IPS.

According to him, given the current slowdown in the global economy, it is difficult to say how nations will fulfill their promises in another two years.

“It doesn’t help that a lot of countries are not [doing] very well financially. For example, in Brazil, there is economic stagnation,” Leadly added.

Others believe the global financial climate should not act as a deterrent to swift action on conservation and environmental protection.

Countries like India have allocated substantial amounts of state funding to the conservation effort, in the hopes of leading by example.

“Since 2012, we have been spending two billion rupees [about 32.5 million dollars] each year just on managing and maintaining our biodiversity hubs such as our national parks and sanctuaries […]. We have reported this to the CBD as well,” Pande claimed, adding that all 191 parties to the convention are bound to do the same.

Although the budget allocation to India’s ministry of environment and forests has seen a decline from 24 billion rupees (391 million dollars) in 2012-13 to 20.4 billion rupees (325 million dollars) this year, Pande says the combined total budgets of all ministries involved in the conservation effort – including departments that oversee land restoration, soil conservation, water, fishers and ecological development – represent a sum that is higher than previous years.

Still, India is just one country out of nearly 200. Given that international agreements on biodiversity are not legally binding, no country can be “forced to pay”, so holding parties accountable to their financial commitments is no easy task.

Pande also said that a large number of governments had not submitted their national reports to the CBD in time, resulting in inadequate data in the GBO-4 regarding finances and financial commitments.

Mobilising resources will be a major topic at the meeting currently underway in Korea. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told IPS that an expected outcome of COP12 was a clear resource mobilisation strategy to tackle the dearth of funds.

Another factor to keep in mind is that state parties can increase allocations for biodiversity conservation efforts without necessarily making huge investments.

One of these “non-economic” ways of generating the necessary resources, according to Leadly, is to end subsidies.

“Governments are spending so much money on providing subsidies: in agriculture, fuels, fisheries, fertiliser. Ending those subsidies doesn’t cost money. In fact, [governments] could use that money for other things, like channeling it into conservation of biodiversity,” he asserted.

Leadly pointed to India’s on-going efforts to phase out subsidies of synthetic fertilisers as an example others could follow, adding, “If you look at China, their fertiliser is massively subsidised, which is not matching the needs of their crop plants. But political will is needed.”

Some states do appear to be prioritising the issue: Thailand this year added 150,000 dollars to its annual budget in order to jumpstart forest conservation; Guatemala has earmarked some 291 million dollars for biodiversity efforts, Namibia spends about 100 million dollars a year on similar endeavours, while Bangladesh and Nepal have allocated 360 and 86 million dollars respectively.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Antigua Faces Climate Risks with Ambitious Renewables Targethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/antigua-faces-climate-risks-with-ambitious-renewables-target/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:13:45 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137011 By Desmond Brown
HODGES BAY, Antigua, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Spencer is a pioneer in the field of solar energy. She promotes renewable technologies to communities throughout her homeland of Antigua and Barbuda, playing a small but important part in helping the country achieve its goal of a 20-percent reduction in the use of fossil fuels by 2020.

She also believes that small non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a crucial role to play in the bigger projects aimed at tackling the problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.“We are in a small island so we have to build synergies, we have to network, we have to partner to assist each other." -- Ruth Spencer

Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, has been at the forefront of an initiative to bring representatives of civil society, business owners and NGOs together to educate them about the dangers posed by climate change.

“The GEF/SGP is going to be the delivery mechanism to get to the communities, preparing them well in advance for what is to come,” she told IPS.

The GEF Small Grants Programme in the Eastern Caribbean is administered by the United Nations office in Barbados.

“Since climate change is heavily impacting the twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda, it is important that we bring all the stakeholders together,” said Spencer, a Yale development economist who also coordinates the East Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network funded by the German government.

“The coastal developments are very much at risk and we wanted to share the findings of the IPCC report with them to let them see for themselves what all these scientists are saying,” Spencer told IPS.

“We are in a small island so we have to build synergies, we have to network, we have to partner to assist each other. By providing the information, they can be aware and we are going to continue doing follow up….so together we can tackle the problem in a holistic manner,” she added.

Power lines in Antigua. The Caribbean country is taking steps to achieve energy security through clean technologies. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Power lines in Antigua. The Caribbean country is taking steps to achieve energy security through clean technologies. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which paints a harsh picture of what is causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator for the sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, told IPS there is documented observation of sea level rise which has resulted in coastal erosion and infrastructure destruction on the coastline.

She said there is also evidence of ocean acidification and coral bleaching, an increase in the prevalence of extreme weather events – extreme drought conditions and extreme rainfall events – all of which affect the country’s vital tourism industry.

“The drought and the rainfall events have impacts on the tourism sector because it impacts the ancillary services – the drought affects your productivity of local food products as well as your supply of water to the hotel industry,” she said.

“And then you have the rainfall events impacting the flooding so you have days where you cannot access certain sites and you have flood conditions which affect not only the hotels in terms of the guests but it also affects the staff that work at the hotels. If we get a direct hit from a storm we have significant instant dropoff in the productivity levels in the hotel sector.”

Antigua and Barbuda, which is known for its sandy beaches and luxurious resorts, draws nearly one million visitors each year. Tourism accounts for 60 to 75 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and employs nearly 90 percent of the population.

Like Camacho, Ediniz Norde, an environment officer, believes sea level rise is likely to worsen existing environmental stresses such as a scarcity of freshwater for drinking and other uses.

“Many years ago in St. John’s we had seawater intrusion all the way up to Tanner Street. It cut the street in half. It used to be a whole street and now there is a big gutter running through it, a ship was lodged in Tanner Street,” she recalled.

“Now it only shows if we have these levels of sea water rising that this is going to be a reality here in Antigua and Barbuda,” Norde told IPS. “This is how far the water can get and this is how much of our environment, of our earth space that we can lose in St. John’s. It’s a reality that we won’t be able to shy away from if we don’t act now.”

As the earth’s climate continues to warm, rainfall in Antigua and Barbuda is projected to decrease, and winds and rainfall associated with episodic hurricanes are projected to become more intense. Scientists say these changes would likely amplify the impact of sea level rise on the islands.

But Camacho said climate change presents opportunities for Antigua and Barbuda and the country must do its part to implement mitigation measures.

She explained that early moves towards mitigation and building renewable energy infrastructure can bring long-term economic benefits.

“If we retrain our population early enough in terms of our technical expertise and getting into the renewable market, we can actually lead the way in the Caribbean and we can offer services to other Caribbean countries and that’s a positive economic step,” she said.

“Additionally, the quicker we get into the renewable market, the lower our energy cost will be and if we can get our energy costs down, it opens us for economic productivity in other sectors, not just tourism.

“If we can get our electricity costs down we can have financial resources that would have gone toward your electricity bills freed up for improvement of the [tourism] industry and you can have a better product being offered,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama, a Country and a Canal with Development at Two Speedshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-a-country-and-a-canal-with-development-at-two-speeds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-a-country-and-a-canal-with-development-at-two-speeds http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panama-a-country-and-a-canal-with-development-at-two-speeds/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 22:29:11 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136997 Thanks to the expansion, the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate ships that carry up to 14,000 containers, instead of the current 5,000. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Thanks to the expansion, the Panama Canal will be able to accommodate ships that carry up to 14,000 containers, instead of the current 5,000. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Oct 3 2014 (IPS)

With the expansion of the canal, Panama hopes to see its share of global maritime trade rise threefold. And many Panamanians hope the mega-engineering project will reduce social inequalities in a country where development is moving ahead at two different speeds.

The expansion is happening one hundred years after the inauguration of the canal that links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. At the heart of the project is a third set of locks, larger than the current two, which will accommodate ships with a maximum length of 400 metres, a maximum width of 52 metres and a draught of 15 metres.

Currently the 12,000 ships going through the canal every year have a maximum length of 294 metres, a maximum width of 32 metres and a draught of 12 metres, which means the canal handles only about five percent of global seaborne trade.

The expansion of the canal - in numbers

Work on the expansion of the Panama Canal began in 2007 after the project was approved by 77 percent of voters in a referendum the year before. The initial completion date was this month - October 2014.

But the Grupo Unidos por el Canal SA, which is carrying out the expansion, suffered several delays because of labour strikes and the suspension of the construction work due to disputes over the cost of the project, which have now been worked out. The consortium is headed by the construction companies Sacyr from Spain and Impregilo from Italy, which each hold a 48 percent share.

The huge Post-Panamax ships, which will be able to pass through the canal after it has been expanded, will carry up to 14,000 containers, compared to the current maximum of 5,000 carried by Panamax vessels.

In addition, it will take only two and a half hours to go through the canal, instead of the current eight to ten, and the cost will be reduced by at least 12 percent.

Some 7,000 people are working on the canal expansion, 90 percent of whom are from Panama. The project has also generated around 35,000 indirect jobs, according to the Panama Canal Authority.

The construction work, which began in 2007 and is to be completed in December 2015, is 80 percent done, Ilya de Marotta, the engineer in charge of the expansion works in the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the government agency responsible for the management of the canal, told IPS.

The aim of the expansion is to boost the canal’s share of global shipping traffic to 15 percent, Olmedo García, director of the University of Panama’s Canal Institute, explained in an interview with IPS.

The 5.2-billion-dollar project will mean the 79-km canal will be able to handle larger vessels capable of carrying nearly three times as many containers.

“The canal now contributes 1.1 billion dollars a year to the national budget. Gross revenues are 2.3 billion dollars, but operating the canal absorbs 1.2 billion,” the academic explained.

“As soon as we finish the expansion, we have to think of building a fourth set of locks, which would cost 12 billion dollars,” said García, because the canal “is and will be the country’s main economic and commercial activity.”

De Marotta said “the expansion was indispensable because the canal was reaching the maximum capacity of boats that could go through. The demand for bigger ships is a global tendency, for bulk carriers and liquefied natural gas carriers – a client we don’t have because they are bigger vessels.”

“This is a good business that we’ll be able to attract now,” she said. “The idea is to avoid falling behind in global trade; with the new locks a container ship could carry 12,000 to 14,000 containers,” the engineer said.

According to projections, the country’s canal revenue will have climbed to 2.5 billion dollars by 2019 and to six billion by 2025, García said.

“The big advantage is that we not only have the Panama Canal, but also the logistics centre; together they represent 40 percent of our GDP. We have the best logistics connectivity in Latin America, with ports on each ocean, railways and the free trade zone,” he said.

“We can create multimodal trade with the merchandise distribution ports,” he added.

The neglect of the historic centre of Colón near the Caribbean Sea entrance to the Panama Canal and next to the city’s Free Trade Zone reflects the contrast between the pace of economic growth and social development in this Central American country. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The neglect of the historic centre of Colón near the Caribbean Sea entrance to the Panama Canal and next to the city’s Free Trade Zone reflects the contrast between the pace of economic growth and social development in this Central American country. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Social development at another level

But Panama’s priorities must change in order for the promising economic prospects engendered by the expansion of the canal to translate into benefits for the poorest segments of the population.

Despite annual GDP growth of around seven percent, because of the high levels of inequality, 27.6 percent of the population is poor according to figures from Sept. 28, although García and other academic sources told IPS the poverty rate is actually nine percentage points higher.

In rural areas of this country of 3.8 million people poverty stands at 49.4 percent, compared to 12 percent in urban areas. Worst off are the country’s small indigenous minority, who suffer from a poverty rate of 70 to 90 percent.

And according to official figures from August, 38.6 percent of the economically active population is engaged in the informal sector of the economy.

Thousands of families lack piped water and services such as health care and transportation.

Alfredo Herazo, 29, lives in the capital but takes a bus every day to the city of Colón, where he works in a soldering workshop that he and his father set up. “I don’t like this life but I don’t have any other options,” he told IPS at the end of a long day of work, as he got ready for the 79-km commute back to Panama City.

Colón, the second largest city in Panama, is a port near the Caribbean Sea entrance to the canal and is surrounded by the area that was the Panama Canal Zone when it was under U.S. control.

The canal was fully handed over to Panama on Jan. 1, 2000, as stipulated by the “Torrijos- Carter” treaties signed by the two countries in 1977.

The 450-hectare Colón Free Trade Zone is the world’s second largest free trade area after Hong Kong, with 2,500 companies that import and re-export with a total annual business volume of 30 billion dollars – although business dipped in 2013 because of disputes with Colombia and Venezuela, its biggest clients.

The Colón Free Trade Zone receives 250,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

“Like any Panamanian, I would like to work on the canal or in the duty free zone, because of the salaries paid there. The canal is our pride and joy. If I get the chance, I would be a solderer there,” Herazo said.

The young man said “the problem with the canal, from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, is that we don’t see the profits, which aren’t distributed among the population.”

The neglect of the rundown historic buildings in Colón contrasts sharply with the modern free trade zone, illustrating the gap between the vibrant growth of the canal and the country’s financial and trade centres and the desperation of those included from the boom.

Cesar Santos, 32, has been living in Colón for seven years, making a living selling fruit and vegetables in the Municipal Market in the city centre. He sets up his stand early every morning across from the Municipal Park.

“With this I only have enough to live as a poor man. Life in Colón isn’t good,” he told IPS.

He lists the problems in the city, stressing the lack of sanitation and decent drainage systems. “When it rains, everything floods, the streets are impassable, the city is paralysed. After a downpour, everything is flooded,” he said.

Besides the lack of urban infrastructure, what bothers him the most is the living conditions of most of the people living in the city.

“People here are really poor,” he said. “People live in condemned houses. Besides all the assaults and thefts, this is a city that has been forgotten by the governments; good thing we have the free trade zone, otherwise there would be even worse poverty,” Santos said, while three customers nodded their heads in agreement.

García, in Panama City, said “The financial centres have to transfer part of their wealth. There is a serious social fracture. The canal can’t just be a channel for trade, communication and world peace. Panamanians need the social debts to be repaid, and part of the wealth should be transferred to the people.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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