Inter Press ServiceLatin America & the Caribbean – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:34:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 China Drives Nuclear Expansion in Argentina, but with Strings Attachedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:30:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151073 Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works. But besides the fact that social movements quickly […]

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The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 27 2017 (IPS)

Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works.

But besides the fact that social movements quickly started to organise against the plants, the project appears to face a major hurdle.

The Chinese government has set a condition: it threatens to pull out of the plans for the nuclear plants and from the rest of its investments in Argentina if the contract signed for the construction of two gigantic hydroelectric power plants in Argentina’s southernmost wilderness region, Patagonia, does not move forward. The plans are currently on hold, pending a Supreme Court decision.“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power.“ -- Dante Sica

Together with Brazil and Mexico, Argentina is one of the three Latin American countries that have developed nuclear energy.

The National Commission for Atomic Energy was founded in 1950 by then president Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955 and 1973-1974) and the country inaugurated its first nuclear plant, Atucha I, in 1974. The development of nuclear energy was halted after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, by then-president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), but it was resumed during the administration of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

According to the announcement Macri made during his visit to Beijing in May, construction of Atucha III, with a capacity of 745 MW, is to begin in January 2018, 100 km from the capital, in the town of Lima, within the province of Buenos Aires.

Atucha I and II, two of Argentina’s three nuclear power plants, are located in that area, while the third, known as Embalse, is in the central province of Córdoba.

Construction of a fifth nuclear plant, with a capacity of 1,150 MW, would begin in 2020 in an as-yet unannounced spot in the province of Río Negro, north of Patagonia.

Currently, nuclear energy represents four per cent of Argentina’s electric power, while thermal plants fired by natural gas and oil account for 64 per cent and hydroelectric power plants represent 30 per cent, according to the Energy Ministry. Other renewable sources only amount to two per cent, although the government is seeking to expand them.

Besides diversifying the energy mix, the projected nuclear and hydroelectric plants are part of an ambitious strategy that Argentina set in motion several years ago: to strengthen economic ties with China, which would buy more food from Argentina and boost investment here.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Macri was enthusiastic about the role that the Asian giant could play in this South American country.

“China is an absolutely strategic partner. This will be the beginning of a wonderful era between our countries. There must be few countries in the world that complement each other than Argentina and China,” said Macri in Beijing, speaking to businesspeople from both countries.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

“Argentina produces food for 400 million people and we are aiming at doubling this figure in five to eight years,“ said Macri, who added that he expects from China investments in “roads, bridges, energy, ports, airports.“

Ties between Argentina and China began to grow more than 10 years ago and expanded sharply in 2014, when then president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) received her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, where they signed several agreements.

These ranged from the construction of dams in Patagonia to investments in the upgrading of the Belgrano railway, which transports goods from the north of the country to the western river port of Rosario, where they are shipped to the Atlantic Ocean and overseas.

On Jun. 22, 18 new locomotives from China arrived in Buenos Aires for the Belgrano railroad.

However, relations between China and Argentina are not free of risks for this country, experts warn.

“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power,“ economist Dante Sica, who was secretary of trade and industry in 2002-2003, told IPS.

“They are buyers of food, but they also want to sell their products and they generate tension in Argentina´s industrial structure. In fact, our country for several years now has had a trade deficit with China,“ he added.

Roberto Adaro, an expert on international relations at the Centre for Studies in State Policies and Society, told IPS that “Argentina can benefit from its relations with China if it is clear with regard to its interests. It must insist on complementarity and not let China flood our local market with their products.“

Adaro praised the decision to invest in nuclear energy since it is “important to diversify the energy mix“ and because the construction of nuclear plants “also generates investments and jobs in other sectors of the economy.“

However, there is a thorn in the side of relations between China and Argentina regarding the nuclear issue: the project of the hydroelectric plants. These two giant plants with a projected capacity of 1,290 MW are to be built at a cost of nearly five billion dollar, on the Santa Cruz River, which emerges in the spectacular Glaciers National Park in the southern region of Patagonia, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

In December, when the works seemed about to get underway, the Supreme Court suspended construction of the dams, in response to a lawsuit filed by two environmental organisations.

The three Chinese state banks financing the two projects then said they would invoke a cross-default clause included in the contract for the dams, which said they would cancel the rest of their investments if the dams were not built.

To build the two plants, three Chinese and one Argentine companies formed a consortium, but after winning the tender in 2013, construction has not yet begun.

Under pressure from China, the government released the results of a new environmental impact study on Jun. 15 and now plans to convene a public hearing to discuss it, so that Argentina’s highest court will authorise the beginning of the works.

Added to opposition to the dams by environmentalists is their rejection of the nuclear plants. In the last few weeks, activists from Río Negro have held meetings in different parts of the province, demanding a referendum to allow the public to vote on the plant to be installed there.

They have even generated an unusual conflict with the neighbouring province of Chubut, where the regional parliament unanimously approved a statement against the nuclear plants. The governor of Río Negro, Alberto Weretilnek, asked the people of Chubut to “stop meddling.“

“Argentina must start a serious debate about what these plants mean, at a time when the world is abandoning this kind of energy. We need to know, among other things, how the uranium that is needed as fuel is going to be obtained,“ the director of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, Andrés Nápòli, told IPS.

Argentina now imports the uranium used in the country’s nuclear plants, but environmentalists are worried that local production, which was abandoned more than 20 years ago, will restart.

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Europe Stands by Caribbean on Climate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/europe-stands-caribbean-climate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-stands-caribbean-climate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/europe-stands-caribbean-climate-funding/#respond Mon, 26 Jun 2017 00:01:52 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151043 A senior European Union (EU) official in the Caribbean said Europe is ready to continue the global leadership on the fight against climate change, including helping the poor and vulnerable countries in the region. Underlining the challenges posed by climate change, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, […]

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Europe is ready to continue the global leadership on the fight against climate change, including helping the poor and vulnerable countries in the region.

Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM-CARIFORUM, Ambassador Daniela Tramacere. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jun 26 2017 (IPS)

A senior European Union (EU) official in the Caribbean said Europe is ready to continue the global leadership on the fight against climate change, including helping the poor and vulnerable countries in the region.

Underlining the challenges posed by climate change, Head of the European Union Delegation to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM/CARIFORUM, Ambassador Daniela Tramacere made it clear that the EU has no plan to abandon the extraordinary Agreement reached in Paris in 2015 by nearly 200 countries.“The challenges identified in the Paris Agreement are of unprecedented breadth and scale." --Ambassador Daniela Tramacere

“Climate change is a challenge we can only tackle together and, since the beginning, Europe has been at the forefront of this collective engagement. Today, more than ever, Europe recognises the necessity to lead the way on its implementation, through effective climate policies and strengthened cooperation to build strong partnerships,” Tramacere said.

“Now we must work as partners on its implementation. There can be no complacency. Too much is at stake for our common good. For Europe, dealing with climate change is a matter of political responsibility and multilateral engagement, as well as of security, prevention of conflicts and even radicalisation. In this, the European Union also intends to support the poorest and most vulnerable.

“For all these reasons, the European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement. We have spent 20 years negotiating. Now it is time for action, the world’s priority is implementation,” she added.

The 2015 Paris deal, which seeks to keep global temperature rises “well below” 2 degrees C, entered into force late last year, binding countries that have ratified it to draw up specific climate change plans. The Caribbean countries, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU played a key role in the successful negotiations.

On June 1 this year, President Donald Trump said he will withdraw the United States from the landmark agreement, spurning pleas from U.S. allies and corporate leaders.

The announcement was met with widespread dismay and fears that the decision would put the entire global agreement in peril. But to date, there has been no sign that any other country is preparing to leave the Paris agreement.

Tramacere noted that together with the global 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement has the potential to significantly accelerate the economic and societal transformation needed in order to preserve a common future.

“As we address climate change with an eye on the future, we picture the creation of countless opportunities, with the establishment of new and better ways of production and consumption, investment and trade and the protection of lives, for the benefit of the planet,” she said.

“To accelerate the transition to a climate friendly environment, we have started to strengthen our existing partnerships and to seek and find new alliances, from the world’s largest economies to the most vulnerable island states. From the Arctic to the Sahel, climate change is a reality today, not a remote concept of the future.

“However, to deliver the change that is needed and maintain the political momentum, it is vital that the targets pledged by countries and their adaptation priorities are now translated into concrete, actionable policies and measures that involve all sectors of the economy. This is why the EU has decided to channel 40 percent of development funding towards climate-related projects in an effort to accelerate countries’ commitment to the process,” Tramacere said.

The EU has provided substantial funding to support climate action in partner countries and Tramacere said it will also continue to encourage and back initiatives in vulnerable countries that are climate relevant as well as safe, sustainable energy sources.

For the Caribbean region, grant funding for projects worth 80 million euro is available, Tramacere said, noting that the aim is twofold: to improve resilience to impacts of climate change and natural disasters and to promote energy efficiency and development of renewable energy.

“This funding will be complemented by substantial financing of bankable climate change investment programmes from the European Investment Bank and other regional development banks active in the region. With the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) instrument, the European Union already works with agencies in the Caribbean such as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) or the Caribbean Climate Change Community Center (5C’s),” Tramacere said.

In November this year, countries will gather in Bonn for the next UN climate conference – COP23 – to continue to flesh out the work programme for implementing the Paris Agreement.

Next year, the facilitative dialogue to be held as part of the UN climate process will be the first opportunity since Paris to assess what has been done concretely to deliver on the commitments made. These are key steps for turning the political agreement reached in Paris into reality.

“The challenges identified in the Paris Agreement are of unprecedented breadth and scale. We need enhanced cooperation and coordination between governments, civil society, the private sector and other key actors,” Tramacere said.

“Initiatives undertaken not only by countries but also by regions, cities and businesses under the Global Climate Action Agenda have the potential to transform the impact on the ground. Only together will we be able to live up to the level of ambition we have set ourselves – and the expectations of future generations. The world can continue to count on Europe for global leadership in the fight against climate change.”

Caribbean countries are highly vulnerable and a significant rise in global temperatures could lead to reduced arable land, the loss of low-lying islands and coastal regions, and more extreme weather events in many of these countries. Many urban in the region are situated along coasts, and Caribbean islands are susceptible to rising sea levels that would damage infrastructure and contaminate freshwater wetlands.

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Global Devaluation of Work Drives Up Unemployment in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:04:37 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151034 In addition to driving up the number of unemployed people to 14.2 million, the severe recession of the last two years led Brazil to join the global trend of flexibilisation of labour laws in order to further reduce labour costs. Creating more jobs without affecting rights is the basic argument of the government and advocates […]

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In addition to driving up unemployment to 13.7%, the severe recession led Brazil to the flexibilisation of labour laws to further reduce labour costs

Police officers use tear gas to crack down on a May 24 trade union march heading towards the Brazilian Congress to protest the projected labour and social security reforms which cut social rights. Credit: UGT

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 24 2017 (IPS)

In addition to driving up the number of unemployed people to 14.2 million, the severe recession of the last two years led Brazil to join the global trend of flexibilisation of labour laws in order to further reduce labour costs.

Creating more jobs without affecting rights is the basic argument of the government and advocates of the reform that has made its way through the lower house of Congress but is pending a vote in the Senate, announced for the end of the month.

“Increasing job insecurity will be the consequence of this measure,” said Ricardo Antunes, sociology professor at the University of Campinas, in the southern state of São Paulo.

This process, which “completely undermines labour rights,” according to the academic, also includes a law on outsourcing in force since March, and a social security reform still in the initial stages in parliament, and whose approval is unlikely given the requirement of a special two-thirds majority in both houses.“Outsourcing does away with the employee-employer relationship, with workers frequently moved from one worksite or job to another. Workers lose their identity, no longer knowing if they are steelworkers or service providers, or to which category they belong.” -- Wagnar Santana

“This is a global trend that advances in a country depending on the level of resistance it runs into: slower where the trade union movement is strong, like in Germany and France, and faster where trade unionism is weaker, such as Great Britain and the United States,” Antunes told IPS.

In Brazil, workers are facing this offensive already weakened by unemployment, which is projected to remain high for a long time to come.

According to the state Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), unemployment stood at 13.7 per cent in the first three months of 2017, or 14.2 million people in a country of 207.6 million with a workforce of 103.1 million.

But underemployment amounted to 24.1 per cent, or 26.5 million people who work part-time or just a few hours a week or are considered only “potential” workers, the IBGE reported.

In addition, the lineup of forces in Congress is highly unfavourable to labour rights, with the government of President Michel Temer enjoying a vast majority, although it is vulnerable to allegations of corruption against the president and almost all of the leaders of the ruling coalition, who face possible prosecution in the Supreme Court.

The legislation proposed by the government “de-regulates labour relations, with arguments that reveal ignorance or bad faith,” argued Wagnar Santana, president-elect of the Union of Steelworkers of the ABC region, an industrial region in greater São Paulo that gave rise to the Workers’ Party (PT) and the CUT central union.

“This de-regulation did not increase employment in countries such as Spain, Mexico and Portugal, but instead drove up the rate of informal work. In Mexico, people who work for Volkswagen need another job as well to have a decent standard of living,” said the trade unionist, who works for the German car-maker.

Keeping formal labour rights such as a weekly day off and health coverage on the books means little without the possibility of enforcing them, due to the growth of informal work, employment instability and outsourcing, and the weakness of the trade union movement, he told IPS.

“Outsourcing does away with the employee-employer relationship, with workers frequently moved from one worksite or job to another. Workers lose their identity, no longer knowing if they are steelworkers or service providers, or to which category they belong,” complained Santana.

Trade unions have trouble organising, in the construction industry for example, where job rotation is frequent, he said.

If collective bargaining agreements between workers and employers trump labour laws, as the government’s proposed reform stipulates, the rights of workers would be undermined.

The strongest and best organised trade unions, such as the ones in large industrial cities, could negotiate better agreements and ensure that they are respected, but many others would not be able to. “That would end up weakening all of us, since we are not isolated,” said the trade unionist.

There are other factors that conspire against labour in Brazil, besides the high unemployment and the economic crisis aggravated by political troubles. The process of deindustrialisation weakens even the most combative trade unions, such as the steelworkers union.

The union of ABC, which represented up to 150,000 workers in the 1980s, currently has only 73,000 members, based in the municipalities of São Bernardo do Campo, Diadema, Ribeirão Pires and Rio Grande da Serra, after many ups and downs over the two past decades, Santana noted.

From the steelworkers of São Bernardo do Campo emerged trade unionist and political leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who founded the Workers Party (PT) in 1980, which he led to power the first day of 2003 and with which he governed Brazil until the last day of 2011, when he handed over the presidency to his fellow party member Dilma Rousseff, who was removed from office in August 2016.

The crisis and international competition also contributed to the rise in unemployment and to lower participation by industry in Brazil’s GDP.

But it is the devaluation of work at a global scale which Antunes attributes to the transnationalization of large companies, the new modes of production and the hegemony of finance capital, which has led to the setback in labour standards that is being pushed through in Brazil.

It is a return to “archaic” labour relations that is almost like a return to slavery, according to the expert in the sociology of labour. “Slaves used to be sold, now they are rented” through outsourcing, he said.

In 1995, Antunes published the book “Goodbye to Work?”, in which he discusses the trend towards increasing informality and precariousness of labour, and “21st century slavery”. “Precarious work used to be an exception, now it has become the rule,” he said.

One example is the British “zero-hour contract” where the employer is not required to provide any minimum working hours. One million people in the UK are working under these contracts, which puts them at the disposal of the company, to be called in to work when needed, and earning only for the hours they work, without full labour rights, said Antunes.

In Brazil this modality was included in the labour reform as “intermittent employment”.

The incorporation to the labour market of China’s huge reserves of labour power contributed to the devaluation of work around the world.

“They are qualified workers that the revolution fed and educated. Five years ago China offered poor quality industrial goods, today they have cutting-edge technology,” said the sociologist, adding that Asia has an enormous cheap labour force in countries like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

The reduction of costs is widespread. “In Italy they are closing factories that are reopening in Poland or Hungary, cutting monthly wages from 2,000 to 300 euros,” he said, to illustrate.

“There is a new morphology of labour. In Brazil we have 1.5 million workers in ‘telemarketing’ that did not exist before. Remote work, through on-line connection by cellphone or computer, has become widespread,” he pointed out.

But the working class has grown, although it is “more fragmented and diverse than before, and subjected to online work”. New forms of protest are emerging, including “picketing and roadblocks”, in Argentina for example, instead of strikes, he said.

“The outlook for the future is one of struggle, rebellions, as well as repression, massacres. The 21st century will be one of social upheavals”, concluded Antunes.

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Latin America’s Rural Exodus Undermines Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 22:15:51 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150934 This article forms part of special IPS coverage for the World Day to Combat Desertification, celebrated June 17.

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In Latin America and the Caribbean a number of factors contribute to soil degradation and to a rural exodus that compromises food security

Livestock seek shade on a small farm in the arid centre of the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero, where men are forced to migrate to cities or to seek seasonal work in more fertile regions, fleeing from drought and poverty. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean, which account for 12 per cent of the planet’s arable land, and one-third of its fresh water reserves, a number of factors contribute to soil degradation and to a rural exodus that compromises food security in a not-so-unlikely future.

These figures, and the warning, emerge from studies carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ahead of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, celebrated on June 17. This year’s theme is “Our land. Our home. Our Future,” highlighting the link between desertification and rural migration, which is driven by the loss of productive land to desertification.

Over the past 50 years, the agricultural area in Latin America increased from 561 to 741 million hectares, with a greater expansion in South America, from 441 to 607 million hectares. This growth led to intensive use of inputs, degradation of the soil and water, a reduction of biodiversity, and deforestation.

Fourteen per cent of the world soil degradation occurs in this region, and it is worst in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and Central America), where it affects 26 per cent of the land, compared to 14 per cent in South America.“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office. -- André Saramago

“As the soil degrades, the capacity for food production declines, jeopardising food security,” explained FAO forestry officer Jorge Meza from the organisation’s regional office in Santiago, Chile.

According to Meza, soil degradation depends on factors such as the extent and severity of the degradation, weather conditions, the economic conditions of the affected populations and the country’s level of development.

He told IPS that the first reaction of people trying to survive is intensifying the already excessive exploitation of the most accessible natural resources.

The second step they take, he said, is selling everything they have, such as machinery, to meet monetary needs for education and healthcare, or to put food on the table.

“The third is the fast increase in rural migration: adult men or young people of both sexes migrate seasonally or for several years to other regions in the country (especially to cities) or abroad, looking for work. These survival strategies tend to generate a breakdown of the community and sometimes of the family,” he added.

“The outlook for the future is that as climate change advances and rural populations, particularly vulnerable ones, fail to become more resilient, these figures could significantly increase,” warned the FAO expert.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), some 28.4 million Latin Americans live outside the countries where they were born, nearly 4.8 per cent of the total population of 599 million people.

Central America is the area with the most migration, with nearly 15 million migrants, who represent 9.7 per cent of the total population of 161 million people.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines “environmental migrants” as people or groups who are forced or choose to leave their communities due to sudden or gradual shifts in their environment that affect their livelihoods.

But for André Saramago, a FAO consultant on rural development, rural migration has multiple causes such as poverty, a lack of opportunities and, in some cases, such as the countries that make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – soaring rates of violence crime.

And these elements are now compounded by the vulnerability of homes to phenomena aggravated by climate change, such as increasingly intense and frequent droughts, he told IPS.

“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office.

According to the expert, reverting this phenomenon requires comprehensive responses, to manage land in a sustainable manner, preventing degradation and promoting recovery. He said, however, that this would not be enough to combat rural migration.

“Strategic investment in rural areas is key, in order to generate public assets that enable farmers, particularly small-scale family farmers, to overcome longstanding limitations,” he said.

These are the tools, he said, “to reverse the vicious circle; it is crucial to recover and rethink the concept of rural development, where the joint elaboration of policies and the capacity to tackle the problem in a multidisciplinary and multisectoral manner are key.”

For his part, Meza said that one of these actions is improving the management and distribution of water. Over the last three decades, water use has doubled in the region – a much faster increase than the global rate. The agricultural sector, and particularly irrigation farming, represents 70 per cent of water use.

“From a social perspective, rural poverty is also reflected in a lack of access to water and land. Poor farmers have less access to land and water, they farm land with poor quality soil that are highly vulnerable to degradation. Forty per cent of the world’s most degraded land are in areas with high poverty rates,” he said.

The expert noted that there are numerous experiences that combine production and preservation of biodiversity, particularly indigenous and traditional agrifood systems, as well as management of shared resources and protection of natural resources, which provide a methodology and systematisation of practices and approaches.

Norberto Ovando, president of the Friends of the National Parks of Argentina Association and a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, described some of the experiences in his country, where 70 per cent of the territory is threatened by desertification.

Eighty per cent of Argentina’s territory is dedicated to agricultural, livestock and forestry activities. Erosion is most acute and critical in arid and semi-arid areas that make up two-thirds of the territory, where the fall in productivity translates into a decline in living conditions and displacement of the local population.

“Currently many farmers in the world and in Argentina are using the drip irrigation system, which should be replicated around the world, and governments should adopt it as a state policy, assisting farmers with soft loans for installing it. With this system, up to 50 per cent of water can be saved, compared to the traditional system,” the environmental consultant told IPS.

Novando also said that the system of production of clean, varied and productive food, known as integrated polyculture agricultural-livestock-fish farming, currently widespread in Asia, should be adopted in the region.

“Public policies that promote support for family farming and that promote rural employment are essential,” he added.

“It could be said that in Latin America and the Caribbean hunger is not a problem of production, but of access to food. For this reason, food security is related to overcoming poverty and inequality,” he said.

“Effective management of migration due to environmental causes is indispensable in order to ensure human security, health and wellbeing and to facilitate sustainable development,” he concluded.

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:37:22 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150908 In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her. Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives […]

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.

 Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:12:05 +0000 Madeleine Penman and Marselha Goncalves Margerin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150898 Madeleine Penman, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin
MEXICO CITY, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Today in Miami, the governments of US and Mexico are putting aside their well-publicized tensions of recent months and co-hosting a conference on security and governance in Central America´s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from where thousands of people flee extreme violence to seek asylum in the US and Mexico. 

Seeing the United States and Mexico in front of the cameras as happy co-hosts sparks a number of questions.

Many citizens have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
Why is no one speaking about Trump´s great big wall? Who is talking about their much-aired differences in negotiating a new NAFTA trade agreement?

It remains to be seen whether these impasses between the US and Mexico will be the bargaining chips during discussions in Miami that affect the lives of families, children and entire communities whose lives are being destroyed by powerful gangs known as maras that effectively control the lives of thousands of people in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

Many citizens  have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

Yet rather than looking at humanitarian approaches to the crisis in these countries, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will be largely led by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, whose main job is to patrol US borders. He will be inviting attendants to bunker down together at the United States armed forces Southern Command base to discuss solutions for Central America with a host of government, private sector and international development actors.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

At the same time, the obligations of all these governments under international law to protect people who are fleeing for their lives, must not be forgotten.

While leaders meet to discuss ways of addressing the security crisis in Central America, the United States has already started implementing one of the most ambitious border control programmes in its recent history, directly affecting thousands of Central American asylum seekers.

A report launched by Amnesty International today shows how these measures, currently being rolled out in line with President Trump´s Executive Order on Border Security of 25 January 2017, threaten to repeat the very same failed strategies that US presidents have tried since the 1990s. Rather than promote stability in Central America, hardline border patrol has been proven to cause an increase in the people smuggling industry, lining the pockets of powerful criminal networks in the region and affecting lives of thousands of vulnerable people.

Trump’s measures not only call for the construction of a wall, but allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increasing the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end. The discussions taking place in Miami today must not forget the cycle of migration from beginning to end, and not only look at the security crisis in Central America but also criticize the inhumane responses being devised by the USA for arriving Central Americans, measures that violate international law.

There is no hiding the United States´ desire for Mexico to play a key role in stemming the flow of asylum seekers and migrants arriving on its borders from Central America.

A Mexican government eager to register gains in other negotiations open with the USA may be keen to ramp up its existing efforts as the USA´s chief gatekeeper.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

Amnesty International´s research shows how Mexico plays the role of the chief immigration officer for the USA, deporting thousands of Central Americans to situations of murder or other human rights violations, when the very Mexican government bemoans the same treatment of its own citizens.

Yet it must not be forgotten that both governments are bound to principles under international human rights treaties that prohibit the return of people to life threatening situations. Of 113 people from the Northern Triangle that Amnesty International spoke to in recent months, 86% alleged major threats to their life.

Nevertheless, the US and Mexican governments are complicit in violations of international law that send back thousands of people to their death and rather than tackling a problem, only threaten to make it worse.

This crisis is not likely to go away any time soon. The question now is how much blood governments are willing to have on their hands.

Read more

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers (Report, 15 June 2017)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr01/6426/2017/en/

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Solar Tents Improve Nutrition in Highlands Villages in Boliviahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/solar-tents-improve-nutrition-in-highlands-villages-in-bolivia/#comments Wed, 07 Jun 2017 01:22:56 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150784 In this remote highlands valley community in central Bolivia, a group of Quechua indigenous women have learned how to combat the intense frosts and the shortage of water in solar tents, and to use what they grow to prepare nutritious new meals for their families. In Phuyuwasi, in the central department of Cochabamba, in a […]

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The young Jhaneth Rojas shows radishes planted in a greenhouse-type family garden or solar tent in the village of Phuyuwasi in a highland valley in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The young Jhaneth Rojas shows radishes planted in a greenhouse-type family garden or solar tent in the village of Phuyuwasi in a highland valley in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
PHUYUWASI, Bolivia, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

In this remote highlands valley community in central Bolivia, a group of Quechua indigenous women have learned how to combat the intense frosts and the shortage of water in solar tents, and to use what they grow to prepare nutritious new meals for their families.

In Phuyuwasi, in the central department of Cochabamba, in a landscape dominated by vegetation resistant to low temperatures, Maribel Vallejos told IPS how the project involving family gardens in greenhouses has changed her life and those of other women in the community.

“I used to buy vegetables for 100 Bolivian pesos (about 12 dollars), but now I save that money,” said Vallejos, the only participant in the project who speaks Spanish as well as their mother tongue, Quechua.

This village ino Pocona, one of the 46 municipalities of the department of Cochabamba, is benefiting from a programme run by the Ministry of Rural and Land Development, with the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other U.N. agencies.

After two years of skills training, “there is no more (child) malnutrition. We used to not eat well, now we eat clean and we know what we are eating. We are stronger eating these vegetables,” said Vallejos.

Although the surrounding fields are green, with oats and potatoes growing in the fertile soil, it is not easy to produce crops in these Andean region valleys as temperatures can drop abruptly to four degrees Celsius at night before soaring to 28 degrees, the project coordinator in Cochabamba, agronomist Remmy Crespo, explained to IPS.

Experts from several disciplines arrived at the municipalities of Pocona and the neighbouring Pojo, where the local population lives in scattered villages and hamlets, to provide integral support ranging from food production, transformation or commercialisation to consumption, said Abdón Vásquez, the programme’s national coordinator.

When the extension workers arrived in 2015, the local diet consisted mainly of rice, eggs and occasionally chicken. Today the daily intake of the members of the families involved in the project has increased by about 800 calories in proteins, vitamins and minerals provided by the vegetables they grow, said Crespo.

Two carp freshly netted from one of the family ponds dug with the support of FAO in Conda Baja, in the municipality of Pocona. The introduction of fish farming and vegetables in the production and food intake of rural communities in highlands valleys in Bolivia has changed the lives of local people. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Two carp freshly netted from one of the family ponds dug with the support of FAO in Conda Baja, in the municipality of Pocona. The introduction of fish farming and vegetables in the production and food intake of rural communities in highlands valleys in Bolivia has changed the lives of local people. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Jhaneth Rojas, a young farmer from Phuyuwasi, described to IPS how much her family’s dietary habits changed, as she pulled red radishes from the dirt and showed them to us with a smile.

Local farmers did not used to grow radishes, beets, cucumbers, squash, green beans, broccoli or spinach, but today “my father is interested in expanding the solar tent so that his children grow strong” with the production and intake of vegetables, said Rojas.

The project began in this village of 102 families in February 2016 with six tents, and today the community grows vegetables in 28 solar greenhouse tents.

Communities in Pocona, with a combined total population of 14,000 people, asked for technical support and supervision to build another 36 greenhouse tents, which protect the crops in a temperature-controlled environment.

In the village of Conda Baja, Elvira Salazar shows us her small garden, with lush green lettuce, green beans and beets she grows to feed her family.

Close to her garden, several fish farming ponds appear to be empty, but on closer look, carp (Cyprinus carpio) fry can be seen swimming in the one-metre-deep water diverted from the mountain slopes.

 A farmer from Phuyuwasi examines a green tomato in her greenhouse garden, with Remmy Crespo, FAO coordinator in Bolivia’s central department of Cochabamba.  Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS


A farmer from Phuyuwasi examines a green tomato in her greenhouse garden, with Remmy Crespo, FAO coordinator in Bolivia’s central department of Cochabamba. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The fish have also been incorporated into the diet of the village’s 99 families, said Luis Alberto Morales, who together with his wife Zulma Miranda enjoy the taste of the fish.

Every 100 grams of carp provide 120 protein-rich calories, as well as vitamins A, B2, B6, B12 and E, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Harvesting the fish is a festive event. The fish farmers invested around 150 dollars in each 10 X 10 metre pond, and received intensive training sessions in fertilisation of fish, raising fish fry, water oxygenation, water quality control and feeding.

A total of 224 families from the municipalities of Pocona and Pojo (which has a population of over 10,000), have ponds populated with fish brought from the southern department of Santa Cruz.

In addition to fish, FAO added the production and consumption of the meat of guinea pigs, an Andean rodent smaller than a rabbit, which produce an average of 30 offspring per female annually.

Daly García told IPS that the nutritional quality of guinea pig meat motivated her to build breeding pens.

On her two-hectare family farm near Pojo, the seat of the municipality, 200 km from the city of Cochabamba, she now breeds guinea pigs using the fodder and alfalfa that she herself grows. She also produces apples, peaches and other fruit.

Clemencia Zapata, from Villa Esperanza, proudly holds up the leaves of two cabbages just picked from her small farm 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes, which she plants using organic bio-inputs provided by FAO and the municipality, to replace agrochemicals. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Clemencia Zapata, from Villa Esperanza, proudly holds up the leaves of two cabbages just picked from her small farm 3,000 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes, which she plants using organic bio-inputs provided by FAO and the municipality, to replace agrochemicals. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Farther from Pojo, at 3,300 metres above sea level, on the slopes of the mountains surrounding the village of Villa Esperanza, Clemencia Zapata tends her 1.5-hectare plot. Every morning she climbs a path to her land, where lettuce, cabbage and maize grow in neat rows.

The crops, growing under the bright sun of the Andes highlands, need assistance to combat pests, Zapata explained to IPS. FAO agronomist Miguel Vargas brought containers with “bio inputs” which replace agrochemicals.

Bio inputs have the technical support of FAO, the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the Andes Agrecol organisation, in addition to the Pojo city government.

The products have been widely welcomed by the 150 people who have used them to replace agrochemicals, which they blame for health ailments such as eyesight problems and damage to the nervous system.

The project sells the bio inputs to farmers, at cost price, using the income to expand the production and benefits to other producers.

The last link in the project’s chain is the Healthy Products Processing Plant, inaugurated on Apr. 21 and headed by the Pojo Association of Producers of Nutritious Food. Like the solar tents, the facilities and brand have a female face.

Teacher Cinthya Orellana and producer Zaida Orellana direct the activities, under strict quality and hygiene control. The food must be boiled for 20 minutes and served hot, they recommend.

A nutritious soup of corn, vegetables and jerky or dried meat, or vegetables combined with fava beans, are among the dishes offered at local trade fairs.

“Men are not interested, that’s why all the partners are women,” said Orellana, a young woman who left the textile workshops of Argentina and Brazil to return to her land to look after her husband and children and work in the industrial processing of food products in Pojo.

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Latin America Lacks Clear Policies to Tackle Human Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-america-lacks-clear-policies-to-tackle-human-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-lacks-clear-policies-to-tackle-human-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-america-lacks-clear-policies-to-tackle-human-trafficking/#respond Sat, 03 Jun 2017 00:15:14 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150721 Each year, some three million undocumented immigrants enter the United States, half of them with the help of traffickers, as part of a nearly seven-billion- dollar business, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Although Mexico is still the main source of migrants to the United States, a rise in the […]

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Migrants with tired faces laden with the hardships of the hazardous journey from Central America to the United States rest in a shelter in Mexico, which many reach after being cheated by “coyotes” out of everything they had. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

Migrants with tired faces laden with the hardships of the hazardous journey from Central America to the United States rest in a shelter in Mexico, which many reach after being cheated by “coyotes” out of everything they had. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Jun 3 2017 (IPS)

Each year, some three million undocumented immigrants enter the United States, half of them with the help of traffickers, as part of a nearly seven-billion- dollar business, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Although Mexico is still the main source of migrants to the United States, a rise in the flow of migrants from Central America and South America has been seen in the last few decades, and more recently from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.

Three-quarters of these new migrants cross Mexico and many of them are victims of criminal networks.“When they refer to transnational policies in the U.S., they mean not letting migrants into the country and pursuing the coyotes. But they are not referring to policies to address the problems surrounding the whole phenomenon, and even less to the victims.” -- Ana Lorena Delgadillo

Human trafficking is one of the hidden violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people. But, although the smuggling of migrants is a transnational crime, in the countries involved in this phenomenon there are no transnational policies to address the problem.

“The agreements that exist between countries are aimed at cracking down on people to keep them from crossing borders. But there is not one bilateral or trilateral agreement that really seeks to solve the problem in an integral manner,” Martha Sánchez Soler, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (MMM), said in an interview with IPS.

Every year, the MMM organises a convoy of Central American mothers searching for their missing children in Mexico, which has prompted an effort to build bridges between countries in the region to trace the missing migrants.

“We have reported ‘coyotes’ (people smugglers) a thousand times and they don’t do anything to them because there is no serious intention to stop the problem. Coyotes are good business for governments,” the activist explained.

Human trafficking and people smuggling are crimes that have come into the spotlight in Latin America, and in multilateral bodies, in recent years.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says the phenomenon is fuelled by difficult living conditions in less developed countries, the stiffening of migration policies in industrialised countries, and the fact that it was not previously seen as a structural problem, but as a series of isolated events.

The U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, signed in Palermo, Italy in 2000, was the international community’s response to the rise in human trafficking, considered a modern form of slavery.

The Convention was reinforced by the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

Although many people confuse human trafficking and people smuggling and use them as synonymous terms, they are related but involve different activities: the objective of trafficking is the exploitation of a human being,it is considered a form of modern slavery, and victims do not necessarily cross borders.

Migrants travelling across Mexico on their way to the United States replicate the Way of the Cross to symbolise the ordeal experienced by the victims of human trafficking in the region, which generates some seven billion dollars a year in profits. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

Migrants travelling across Mexico on their way to the United States replicate the Way of the Cross to symbolise the ordeal experienced by the victims of human trafficking in the region, which generates some seven billion dollars a year in profits. Credit: Ximena Natera/ Pie de Página

Smuggling, on the other hand, is a transnational crime, since it involves the facilitating of the illegal entry of a person to a country for economic benefit; it is often done in dangerous or degrading conditions; the victims give their consent; and it generally ends with the arrival of migrants to their destinations.

However, in Mexico, people smuggling has combined with other forms of crime and many migrants fall victim to trafficking networks for sexual exploitation or forced labour for drug cartels.

According to the UNODC, the smuggling of migrants from Mexico to the U.S. generates nearly seven billion dollars a year in profits, which makes it one of the most lucrative transnational organised crimes, since it is less risky than drug trafficking.

Felipe de la Torre, from the UNODC office in Mexico, said this is a “conservative” figure, in a crime “necessarily linked to corruption, which has proliferated“ up to the highest levels of government and public bodies, not to mention private sectors such as railway companies.

“The routes of migrants began to coincide with those of drug trafficking, making the crossing even more violent…It became a business generating outrageous profits for organised crime, in which many lives are lost and the physical and psychological health of many others is put at risk,” said De la Torre.

Mexican lawyer Ana Lorena Delgadillo, head of the Foundation for Justice and Democratic Rule of Law, told IPS that “the Palermo Convention is the key to these issues; there are more general bilateral agreements, but they focus more on research and on coordination between justice systems.”

She added that: “although regulations are in place, there are no real regional policies establishing measures to ensure a comprehensive approach to this phenomenon.”

“When they refer to transnational policies in the U.S., they mean not letting migrants into the country and pursuing the coyotes. But they are not referring to policies to address the problems surrounding the whole phenomenon, and even less to the victims,” she said.

The particular case of Cuba

An example of this lack of policies has been seen in the case of Cuban migration since 2015. In November that year, the government of Costa Rica dismantled a people smuggling network, which triggered a crisis, with several thousands of migrants stranded in different countries in the region, that closed their borders to the transit of undocumented migrants.

Two Cuban migrants rest in a shelter in Costa Rica, when hundreds of them were stranded on their way from Ecuador to the United States, where many fell victim to human smugglers. Credit: Mónica González/Pie de Página

Two Cuban migrants rest in a shelter in Costa Rica, when hundreds of them were stranded on their way from Ecuador to the United States, where many fell victim to human smugglers. Credit: Mónica González/Pie de Página

In Cuba, most of the people cheated by human smugglers suffer the consequences in silence. The most dramatic cases, with tragic human losses, are often depicted in national TV series on crime, based on real life stories. This phenomenon has hit Cuba since migration got trapped in the conflict with the United States, in the 1960s.

Migrant smuggling is punished with harsh sentences that include life imprisonment in aggravated cases. But no clear data exists on the human costs.

“The risks are enormous, because you are at the mercy of the mafias. With them, there is no room for any law or human rights,” a Cuban living in the United States, told IPS. He said smugglers mainly used to come from the U.S. to pick Cubans up on speedboats, as they defected illegally.

In recent years, migrants have left Cuba legally, heading first to South America or Central America on their dangerous journey to the U.S., paying smugglers 7,000 to 13,000 dollars per person and often falling prey to violence, extortion and other crimes at the hands of trafficking networks. The journey of at least 7,700 km takes them across as many as eight national borders.

“One of my best friends paid 4,000 dollars to a man who was supposed to arrange her departure from the country. Her family spent the same amount in the U.S. After a year, she had no choice but to admit that she had been swindled. Since it was an illegal operation, she did not file a complaint,” 40-year-old professional Idalmis Guerrero told IPS.

The woman’s story dates back to before the immigration reform implemented in January 2013, which expanded travel rights for Cuban citizens, revoked the requirements of an exit permit and letters of invitation from hosts abroad – cumbersome procedures that drove up the costs and red tape involved in any trip for personal reasons.

However, obtaining a visa for the United States or other countries is still difficult.

On January 12, 2017, a week before handing over the presidency to Donald Trump, then president Barack Obama terminated the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which basically guaranteed Cuban immigrants residency one year and one day after they set foot on U.S. soil.

He also eliminated the Cuban Medical Parole programme, which enabled Cuban medical professionals stationed in other countries on international missions to defect and obtain visas to the United States.

Although Mexico and Cuba have several agreements for working together against people smuggling, Cubans arrested on their way to the U.S. began to be deported on Jan. 21 after they were denied safe conducts that give foreign nationals 20 days to leave Mexico.

With additional reporting by Patricia Grogg in Havana.

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Why We Need to Save Our Oceans Now—Not Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/why-we-need-to-save-our-oceans-now-not-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-need-to-save-our-oceans-now-not-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/why-we-need-to-save-our-oceans-now-not-later/#respond Thu, 01 Jun 2017 13:02:11 +0000 Jose Vicente Troya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150699 José Vicente Troya is the UN Development Programme (UNDP) expert on Ocean and Water Governance for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Over 10 million residents of Small Island Developing States depend on the Pacific Ocean for survival. Credit: IPS

By José Vicente Troya
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2017 (IPS)

What if the blue fades away as seawaters become brown and coral reefs become white as marine grasslands wither and life below water vanishes?

This is already happening at a staggering rate. It’s a lose-lose for all: people and planet.

Fish stocks are declining. Around 80 percent of fishing is either collapsing or just fully exploited. The ocean is also being polluted at an alarming rate. Fertilizer run-off and 10 to 20 million metric tons of plastic debris enter the oceans each year and destroy biodiversity and ecosystems.

At this rate the number of dead zones will increase, and by the year 2050 the oceans could contain more plastic than fish, measured by weight.

If we don’t take action now this trend may become irreversible. Recognizing this urgency, country representatives will gather at the Ocean Conference, 5 to 9 June at the UN headquarters in New York to address marine pollution, declining fisheries, loss of coastal and marine habitat and the vanishing life below water.

The Conference will focus will be on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. This SDG, along with 16 others, compose the sustainable development agenda globally adopted in 2015.

While several of the goals are to be achieved by the year 2030, most of the ocean-related targets must be attained by 2020 if we are to save our seas. Government commitments are crucial now. They range from sustainably managing marine and coastal ecosystems to effectively regulating harvesting, ending overfishing and unregulated fishing.

Governments also need to conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas and prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies, which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.

We need to act now.

Several innovative and inspiring practices are taking place in the world which could be shared and scaled-up. Latin American and Caribbean countries are cooperating to administrate multi-country marine ecosystems, which require a shared management.

With the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), several countries in the region sharing large marine ecosystems (LMEs) such as the Caribbean Sea and the Humboldt Current System are jointly working towards addressing key aspects of the market forces that drive overfishing and weak governance leading to fisheries overexploitation and degradation of coastal and marine biodiversity.

They are also seeking to ensure the conservation and sustainable delivery of LMEs goods and services, which are essential to the livelihoods of local communities, national economies and life below water.

These efforts are taking place in a region where marine ecosystems are the pillar for domestic economies, particularly in the case of Small Island Development States (SIDS). Latin America and the Caribbean have 746 marine protected areas covering 300,000 km2 and several countries have committed to expand them.

Caribbean countries, recognizing the key role that the seas play for their future, are mainstreaming oceans into their national development planning and now are looking towards adopting the blue economy paradigm.

This is a development framework to foster equity in the access to, development of and sharing of benefits from marine resources, ensuring their conservation and sustainable use, as well as reinvesting in human development. The Caribbean SIDS have pledged to protect 20 percent of their coastal and marine zones.

In preparation to the Ocean Conference, UNDP is supporting 25 national consultations to identify and register contributions made by national governments, civil society and private sector towards the conservation and sustainable use of oceans (SDG 14).

Nine of these consultations are being held in the Latin America and Caribbean region. National stakeholders are sharing their best practices on pollution reduction and support to sustainable fisheries and coastal communities. Conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity, and removal of subsidies harming seas and their resources are also on the agenda.

Now is the time to save our ocean and all lives that depend on it. We need to act now, before the blue fades away.

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Large Landowners Jeopardise Indigenous Revival in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/large-landowners-jeopardise-indigenous-revival-in-brazil/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 23:50:27 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150689 The attack with guns and machetes that left at least 10 Gamela indigenous people wounded, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, highlighted the growing threats against the resurgence and survival of native people in Brazil. On Apr. 30, dozens of armed men attacked indigenous people who were occupying an estate in the municipality of Viana, […]

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Representatives of indigenous peoples in Brazil, who gather every year in April at the Free Land Camp on the Esplanade of the Ministries in Brasilia, in a protest against the legislators who undermine their rights to land, health and education. The National Congress is seen in the background. Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

Representatives of indigenous peoples in Brazil, who gather every year in April at the Free Land Camp on the Esplanade of the Ministries in Brasilia, in a protest against the legislators who undermine their rights to land, health and education. The National Congress is seen in the background. Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The attack with guns and machetes that left at least 10 Gamela indigenous people wounded, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, highlighted the growing threats against the resurgence and survival of native people in Brazil.

On Apr. 30, dozens of armed men attacked indigenous people who were occupying an estate in the municipality of Viana, which they claim as their ancestral land. Two of the injured suffered deep cuts on their hands.
The uneven battle was reminiscent of the massacres that decimated Brazil’s native population over the course of five centuries. But it was merely the most brutal part of an offensive unleashed on multiple fronts by large landowners, who consider the amount of land granted to indigenous people excessive.

“This is the worst moment in terms of government indigenous policy since the (1964-1985) military dictatorship,” said Marcio Santilli, a founding member of the non-governmental Social-Environmental Institute (ISA) and former president (1995-1996) of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government indigenous rights agency.
The government of President Michel Temer, in office since May 2016, is behind “an unprecedented setback in the entire system of protection of the environment, native peoples and farm workers,” the ISA and 59 other non-governmental organisations complained in an “open letter” released on May 9.

The offensive has included a 55 per cent cut in FUNAI’s budget this year, the appointment of an army general, Franklimberg de Freitas, as head of the agency, and legislative measures that seek to revoke the indigenous right to the lands where they have traditionally lived, recognised in Brazil’s constitution.

A constitutional amendment, under discussion since 2000, aims to transfer from the executive to the legislative branches the authority to make the final decision regarding the demarcation of indigenous lands.

Approval of the amendment would block the process of demarcation of native land promoted by the 1988 constitution, since Congress is traditionally conservative and is currently dominated by the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (APF), vehemently opposed to assigning more land to indigenous people.

The multi-party block, also known as the rural caucus, is comprised of 257 lawmakers – half of the lower chamber – and 16 senators – one-fifth of the Senate – according to the Inter-union Department of Parliamentary Advisory.

“President Temer, who is very unpopular, is hostage to the Congress and vulnerable to the pressures of the parliamentarians,” Santilli told IPS, to explain his concern with respect to the initiatives set forth by the current administration, whose term ends the first day of 2019.

Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio was legal coordinator of the APF until February, when he was appointed to head the ministry that is currently responsible for indigenous policy, as FUNAI answers to the Justice Ministry.
The president of the APF, lawmaker Nilson Leitão, as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on FUNAI and Land Reform, is calling for the prosecution of dozens of leaders of non-government organisations (NGO), anthropologists, public prosecutors and government officials for alleged fraud in the demarcation of indigenous lands.

“It is a paradox that he intends to criminalise those who want to comply with the constitution” by ensuring indigenous access to lands that were traditionally theirs, Santilli remarked.

“We are all defending the constitution, from different

A Guaraní family who live precariously on lands not yet demarcated, under the constant threat of expulsion, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay. The largest indigenous population in Brazil is concentrated in this area, where large landowners have taken possession of native lands, leading to the highest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A Guaraní family who live precariously on lands not yet demarcated, under the constant threat of expulsion, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay. The largest indigenous population in Brazil is concentrated in this area, where large landowners have taken possession of native lands, leading to the highest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

viewpoints,” said Leitão, explaining that the parliamentary commission examined several cases and concluded in a 3,385-page report that there are proven illegalities that must be prosecuted.

“There was an improper use of public resources,” the legislator told IPS. “Some NGOs even bought firearms for indigenous people, and in some demarcations the indigenous people did not even want the entire area that was allocated to them.”

His report attacks several NGOs that “received huge sums of money from abroad” and encouraged “invasions of rural properties” claimed as indigenous lands, ignoring the legal property claims of the owners.

“The method of demarcation has defects, everything that has been done lately is being questioned by the justice system,” Leitão said. Also, in his opinion, FUNAI was weakened when it was “taken over by officials with a biased ideology.”

But his main criticism is that the land is “the only focus of FUNAI and indigenous people,” while they ignore issues such as “taking care of the health and education” of native peoples.

As a consequence, the rural bloc lawmaker said that “in the last 10 years the death rate among indigenous people rose 168 percent, not due to war or violent conflicts, but because of diseases,” and 40 per cent of the deaths were of children under five.

It has nothing to do with a shortage of land, he argued, pointing out that there were 817,963 indigenous people – 0.4 per cent of the total population – in Brazil according to the 2010 census, occupying 117 million hectares, or 13.7 per cent of the national territory. In 2010 the population was just over 190 million people, compared to today’s 211 million, according to current projections.

Minimising the importance of the land issue is in the interest of the rural bloc, in permanent conflict with the contenders for land, whether indigenous people or peasant farmers demanding to be settled on land under the government’s land reform programme.

But all experts consider land the key factor for the survival of native peoples.

The current rural bloc offensive, which is favoured by their majority in Congress, threatens to put an end to the indigenous resurgence promoted by Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985 and the constitution approved three years later.

The indigenous population stood at just 294,131 in 1991, when the first official census to incorporate that ethnic identification was carried out. By 2000 the number had more than doubled, to 734,127, and in 2010 it had reached 817,963.

This increase responded to the demarcation of over 80 per cent of the 480 areas already recognised as belonging to indigenous people in Brazil since 1988. There are still 224 areas to be officially demarcated, half of them already identified and the rest still in process.

“The population growth will continue to be reflected in the 2020 census, despite the escalation of violence,” predicted Cleber Buzatto, executive secretary of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic Church organisation.

Many native groups are involved in a revival of their identities and are trying to recover their ancestral lands. This is the case of the Gamela people, who occupied estates seeking to demarcate their territory themselves, in the face of the slow pace of the government’s action, as part of an initiative that triggered the violent reaction by large local landowners, said Buzatto.

The indigenous population, despite the adversities, continue to mobilise for their constitutional rights.

Currently there are 252 native peoples, speaking 150 different languages, of the 1,200 that were spoken when the Portuguese colonialists arrived in 1500, according to ISA. The largest groups are the Guaraní, Tikuna, Terena and Yanomami.

The Free Land Camp, an annual demonstration held in Brasilia, drew nearly 4,000 indigenous people Apr. 24-28, to protest against “violence, setbacks and threats by the Brazilian state,” and defend their rights guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties.

“There is a series of ongoing threats and actions that are related to, and that reinforce, each other,” with a rural bloc representative in the Justice Ministry, and attempts to modify the constitution to invade indigenous lands, disqualify the demarcation system and ensure impunity for the aggressors, said Buzatto.

These actions also affect the environment and human rights, fomenting resistance movements.

Criticism of the positions taken by the Brazilian government, particularly with respect to indigenous questions, were expressed in the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it subjected the country to the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on May 5. “That is something that gives us hope,” said the secretary of CIMI.

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Millions of Homes in Mexico Suffer from “Energy Poverty”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/millions-of-homes-in-mexico-suffer-from-energy-poverty/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 18:23:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150643 Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country. These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment. “Not only is it a problem […]

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A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country.

These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment.

“Not only is it a problem of access, since the population needs other consumables, to cook, take a bath, for family entertainment. Access to energy is a key indicator of well-being and in this respect it is important to know how many families lack this service,” expert Boris Graizbord told IPS.“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation.“ -- Boris Graizbord

The academic from the Centre of Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies at the public College of Mexico pointed out that some groups in small localities, even those who have their own incomes or remittances sent home by relatives in the United States, are unable to access natural gas or other energy sources.

The concept of energy poverty is new in Latin America, although it emerged in the 1990s in Britain, to describe the situation when a poor family spends more than10 percent of their income on energy.

But in countries such as Mexico the concept has been adapted to take into account cultural and social differences. Here the concept includes lack of access to energy, poor quality services, or energy inefficiency.

In a pioneering study, Graizbord and his colleague Roberto García, from the public College of the Northern Frontier, found that nearly 37 per cent of households –about 11 million homes– suffer from a shortage of energy in terms of “economic goods” such as thermal comfort, an efficient refrigerator or a gas or electric stove.

The study “Spatial characterisation of energy poverty in Mexico. An analysis at a subnational level,” published in 2016 in the magazine Economy, Society and Territory, found that the main factors behind the phenomenon are income level, the size of the town and of the house, and the educational level and gender of the head of the household.

This “represents a major social problem, due to the effect that the use of clean, affordable energy has on improving the quality of life and reducing poverty among the local population,” points out this study by Graizbord and García, who has worked on this issue in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca present the highest average levels of energy poverty, as well as the highest overall poverty rates.

In Mexico, 46 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2014, when the latest National Survey of Household Incomes and Expenditures was carried out – a rate that has likely increased since then, according to experts.

The Energy Ministry identifies the most important end uses in the residential sector as water heating, cooking, refrigerator, lighting, air conditioning/heat and entertainment.

In 2015, firewood produced 252,840 petajoules. The joule is the measuring unit for energy which equals one watt per second and estimates how much heat is necessary to carry out an activity. A petajoule represents one quadrillion (10^15) joules.

Gabriela Niño, climate change coordinator for the non-governmental organisation Polea, said there is a close link between energy poverty and its social and environmental impacts, such as the emission of polluting gases, soil degradation and deforestation.

“With biomass there is a big health risk, since people are exposed to local pollutants by burning biomass indoors,” she told IPS.

Since August 2014, Mexico has embarked on a major energy reform that opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

But the question remains whether these changes will result in a reduction of energy poverty, insofar as the government leaves important activities of the electricity sector in private hands, who are profit driven, and not focused on social objectives.

Also, the country has committed to the goals set by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), the programme to be implemented during the United Nations 2014-2024 Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

This global initiative intends to guarantee universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement of global energy efficiency and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Also, like the rest of the international community, it has adopted one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 7, which aims “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” as part of the 2030 Agenda.

Graizbord proposes a response in Mexico differentiated by region, given the variations, including climatic, in different parts of the country.

“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation,” he said.

For Niño, addressing energy poverty poses several challenges.

“We have to research, generate indicators, identify causes and possible solutions, on how energy is generated, how it is used,” she said.

In her opinion, “the democratisation of energy should also be promoted, the government should generate actions that respond to a public policy objective, focused on access to new technologies, such as solar panels, for people who are isolated from the grid or who are not able to produce their own power or meet their needs.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 per cent of the population has access to energy. This means that 23 million people still lack electricity, according to data from late 2016 of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Nevertheless, the IDB predicts that this will be the first developing region to achieve universal energy access.

In Mexico, more than two million people have no electricity. According to the IDB, the countries in the region with the largest proportion of the population lacking energy access are Haiti – where only 40 percent have electricity – Honduras, Peru, and Mexico.

Meanwhile, leading the region in terms of greatest access are Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile, in that order.

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Valuing Water Beyond the Moneyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/valuing-water-beyond-the-money/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=valuing-water-beyond-the-money http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/valuing-water-beyond-the-money/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 11:29:03 +0000 Paula Fray http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150629 Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource. On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of […]

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The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource.

On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a high-level consultation on water called the “Valuing Water Initiative”.“The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.” --Herschelle Milford

The High Level Panel on Water – first convened by the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon – consists of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser, to provide the leadership required to “champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The HLPW’s core focus is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, as well as to contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.

The members of the panel are Heads of State from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Tajikistan.

The South African consultation takes place on May 30, followed by consultations in Mexico, Senegal, Tajikistan and Bangladesh ahead of a global presentation at the Stockholm World Water Week in August 2017.

Global Water Partnership’s (GWP) executive secretary Rudolph Cleveringa explained that, as the first in a series of consultations, the South Africa meeting was expected to “set the tone and pace”.

“South Africa is extremely committed to the water agenda. South Africa went from an Apartheid policy-driven water policy to a human rights approach. We are very keen to see the country lead not only from a South Africa view but also from a southern Africa perspective,” said Cleveringa.

When she presented her budget speech to South Africa’s Parliament on May 26, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – acknowledging her participation on the HLPW –  said “water knows no boundaries and water can be a social, security and economic catalyst, both nationally and internationally”

Announcing that South Africa, in partnership with GWP and working together with the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), was hosting the regional consultations, Mokonyane said the initiative would “support countries to enhance job creation through investments in water infrastructure and industrialisation”.

On the table will be the draft principles that note “making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that are easily overlooked. This is more than a cost-benefit analysis and is necessary to make collective decisions and trade-offs. It is important to lead towards sustainable solutions that overcome inequalities and strengthen institutions and infrastructure.”

The meeting takes place as the Western Cape province of South Africa has been declared a disaster area as a result of the drought which has seen dam levels drop to crisis levels. The City recently said its feeder dam levels were at 20.7 percent, with only 10.7 percent left for consumption.

According to the minister, it is the “worst drought in the last 100 years and the severest for the Western Cape in the last 104 years.

“This drought has not only affected South Africa, but also the rest of the world because of global warming, climate change,” she said, adding that it would take at least two to three years for the Western Cape to recover.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said the city would increase emergency water schemes in the coming months with programmes such as drilling boreholes and exploring desalinisation.

In a recent speech, De Lille emphasised the need for public-private partnerships.

“We need to be innovative and diversify our financing mechanisms and these efforts will require partnership with the private sector,” De Lille was quoted as saying.

The city council has introduced Level 4 restrictions – one level below emergency level.

Western Cape-based Surplus People Project CEO Herschelle Milford, whose organisation works to support agrarian transformation, said that the city had blamed migration as a reason for the water crisis in Cape Town.

“However, the biggest consumers of water is industry, then agriculture and then households,” she noted. This called for dialogue on how water could be shared equitably among all its users, noted Milford.

“The water crisis is a discussion point in the context of large-scale commercial farmers using irrigation with limited recourse amongst land and agrarian activists,” said Milford.

Water was much more than simply about access: “The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.”

Cleveringa said the discussions were being generated from very high international dialogues to discussions at the local level. To this end, the draft principles offer a range of perspectives on how water can be valued.

Not only will the South African dialogue include a host of ministers but regional input will be provided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, as well as various organisations such as Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Global Water Partnership; and Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.

SADC head of water Phera Ramoeli said water valuation was a critical component of water resources management as it allowed “policy and planning across all the developmental spectrum”.

“The SADC region has 15 Shared Watercourses which accounts for over 70 percent of all the available renewable water resources in the region. If they are properly managed and adequately funded they will ensure the continued availability of these resources for the current and future generations for the various needs and uses that water is put to,” he said, noting that water was present in a large number of value chains including agro-processing, mineral processing, pharmaceuticals, energy production, even health.

“Valuing water is important as it will ensure that water resources management, development, conservation and monitoring receives an appropriate share of the national budget,” he added.

The water principles being discussed also emphasise the collaborative process to build water champions and ownership at all levels that allows users to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are moving away from valuing water in its fiscal interpretation only. We’re not just looking at it in terms of how much does water cost but going beyond this utilitarian approach. The Bellagio principles demonstrate that there is more than just a utilitarian approach to water and we hope that these consultations will draw out those discussions,” said Cleveringa.

“The value of water is basically about making choices,” he said, adding that this called for “not just a cross-sectoral approach but also all of society input into valuing water”.

It is in this discussion that the high level panels aim to provide leadership to champion a “comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The dialogues need to generate an open debate on the values of water as well as get regional input to the Bellagio principles.

Over half of the consultations are happening in non-OECD settings that are being led by the global South.

“This sets the right tone for buy-in at multiple levels,” said Cleveringa.

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Brazil Drives New School Feeding Model in the Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/brazil-drives-new-school-feeding-model-in-the-region/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 00:46:12 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150613 “I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil. She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of […]

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A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VITORIA, Brazil, May 29 2017 (IPS)

“I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil.

She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of played by nutritionists, in direct contact with the lunchrooms, training the cooks in hygiene and nutrition, educating everyone while fulfilling a key educational function.”

Montenegro and 22 other visitors from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean met with Brazilian representatives in the city of Vitoria, for a tour through schools and centres of production and distribution of food that supply the municipal schools.

The May 16-18 technical visit was organised by the Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean programme implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of a cooperation agreement signed with the Brazilian government in 2008.“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control.” -- Marcos Rodrigues

The aim was a first-hand look at the implementation in Vitoria of the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE), which has become a model replicated in a number of countries around the world. The programme serves 43 million students in public preschools and primary schools, which are municipal, and secondary schools, which are the responsibility of the states.

The PNAE was first launched in 1955. But the significant impact it has had in terms of food security, nutrition and social participation has been seen since a 2009 law established that at least 30 percent of the funds received by each school had to be devoted to buying food produced by local family farms.

“This decentralisation favours local producers and students gain in better-quality, fresh food at a lower cost. It promotes cooperatives and stimulates the local economy, through small-scale farming, while benefiting the environment by reducing transportation time,” said Najla Veloso, the regional project coordinator for FAO.

“In most of the municipalities, the suppliers are parents of the students,” which help forge closer ties between local families and the schools and improves the quality of the food. All of this constitutes an important help for keeping people in rural areas,” Veloso told IPS.

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Buying local could rekindle the ancestral agricultural knowledge of the Ngäbe and Buglé people, who live in western Panama, said Montenegro. Since 1997, the two ethnic groups have shared an indigenous county with a population of about 155,000.

“They provide 80 per cent of the food for four schools, but they have not been able to expand, because of the system of purchases by tendering process, and are almost limited to producing for their own consumption,” lamented the Panamanian nutritionist. More school purchases could “rescue their traditional methods of harvesting and preserving their typical products,” she said.

The technical visits organised by FAO “show successful experiences for building knowledge in other countries, stimulating innovation,” said Veloso.

A new generation of school feeding programmes is emerging in the region, combining healthy nutrition, public purchases, family agriculture and social integration.

Vitoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, was chosen to receive technicians and authorities from 13 countries because of “its strong implementation of the PNAE, its organised team, and because it has been a pioneer in this area,” explained Veloso.

Before the new law went into effect in 2008, Vitoria already prioritised healthy food produced by small-scale local farmers, said Marcia Moreira Pinto, coordinator of the School Food and Nutrition Sector in the Municipal Secretariat of Education.

It also always surpassed the minimum proportion of purchases set for family agriculture, she said. In 2016, 34 per cent of the purchases were from small-scale farmers.

This aspect has only recently been recognised as key to food security.

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This integration between education and family agriculture benefits society as a whole, it’s fantastic. I will try to do it in my town,” said Mario Chang, director of education in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala.

“The visit gave me new ideas,” said Rosa Cascante, director of Equality Programmes in Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Education.

The challenge, she said, “will be to adapt Brazil’s local purchases system” to her country, where all supplies for public institutions go through the state National Production Council.

A campaign against the waste of food is an innovation created by students in the Eunice Pereira da Silveira Municipal Primary School. In 2015, the losses amounted to 50 kilos a week. This has been reduced to just seven or eight kilos, according to the school’s authorities.

Students are served three meals a day at the full-time school, whose 322 students attend from 7 am to 5 pm.

The campaign started with a few students under the guidance of teachers. They monitored the food wasted in the school kitchen, carried out surveys on nutrition, and talked with other students and the cooks to adapt the meals in order to make them tastier and reduce waste.

Besides cutting economic losses and boosting a healthier diet in schools, with more salads and lower fat, the campaign is helping to improve family habits, said 14-year-old Marcos Rodrigues, one of the campaign’s leaders.

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control,” the teen-ager told IPS.

But it is “in the acceptance of healthy foods where we need more effort, in light of an international scenario of increasingly industrialised products which offer great convenience,” said Moreira Pinto.

Most of the fruits and vegetables served in schools in Vitoria come from Santa Maria de Jetibá, a hilly municipality 90 km away, populated by Pomeranians, a European ethnic group that used to occupy parts of Germany and Poland, who scattered at the end of World War II.

Pomeranian immigration to Brazil occurred mainly in the late 19th century, to Espírito Santo, where they maintained their rural customs and their language in a number of municipalities where there are big communities.

“Santa Maria is the most Pomeranian municipality in Brazil and perhaps in the world,” according to Mayor Hilario Roepke, due to both the number of inhabitants as well as the preservation of a culture that has disappeared or has changed a lot even in their native land.

“Of nearly 40,000 inhabitants, 72 per cent are still rural,” allowing the municipality to occupy first place in agricultural production in the state of Espírito Santo and eleventh in Brazil, and the second leading national producer of eggs: nine million a day, said the mayor.

The 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region (CAF) is the biggest supplier of food to schools.

“The school feeding programme in Vitoria´s metropolitan region is our main market,” said Maicon Koehler, an agricultural technician for CAF. Greater Vitoria has a total population of nearly two million.
With 102 municipal schools, the city buys nearly 20 tons of meat and 6.3 tons of beans a month to feed its almost 500,000 students, estimated the coordinator of the sector, who explained that the amounts of fruits and vegetables vary, depending on the season.

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Q&A: “It’s a Crime” that 35 Million Latin Americans Still Suffer from Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 22:33:10 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150579 Orlando Milesi interviews JULIO BERDEGUÉ, FAO regional representative

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Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 24 2017 (IPS)

The fight against hunger has been “remarkably successful” in Latin America and the Caribbean, but “it is a crime” that 35 million people still go to bed hungry every day, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.

Berdegué, who is also assistant director-general of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), with decades of experience in matters related to rural development, said during his first interview as the new regional representative that the biggest challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is inequality, which “is present in every action and contributes to many other problems.”

In the FAO regional office in Santiago, Berdegué, from Mexico, discussed with IPS issues such as obesity, “in which we are losing the fight,” the weakness of rural institutions, which facilitates corruption, or the weakness of the social fabric, which drug trafficking mafias depend on, as well as the need to address the question of water scarcity which is here to stay due to climate change, and where the key is the transformation of agriculture, which uses 70 per cent of all water consumed.

IPS: What do you consider are the greatest debts of the region in the agri-food sector?

JULIO BERDEGUÉ: We unfortunately still have very high levels of rural poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of the rural population is still living in poverty conditions and almost 30 per cent in extreme poverty. There are 58 million rural poor and 35 million living in conditions of indigence, who are not even able to feed themselves adequately.

IPS: This is happening in the region that has been the most successful in reducing poverty and hunger in this century…

JB: We have a problem with malnutrition and hunger, which even though they have been notably reduced, still stand at 5.5 per cent, which in human terms means that 35 million Latin Americans are still going to bed hungry every day, and six million children are chronically undernourished… Which is a crime. And of these, 700,000 children suffer from acute and chronic undernutrition… that is terrible.

IPS: In that context, which will be the priorities of your administration?

JB: The main thrust has been continuity, and I want to adhere to that. FAO’s mission and strategic objectives are clearly defined in a medium-term work plan discussed and approved in May in Rome (at FAO’s global headquarters).

The first objective has to do with hunger…undernourishment and malnutrition will continue to have a central role in the agenda. The second has to do with greater sustainability of agriculture, contributing to global food security, in a sustainable manner.

The issues of rural poverty, where unfortunately family agriculture is included, beyond what people might think, are not yet lost, but we still have a long way to go. Also the importance of food systems, which have experienced in the past 25 to 30 years a radical shift in their depth and speed, and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change.

IPS: And what are the regional assets available to carry out these tasks?

JB: We must not lose sight of the fact that Latin America is a great contributor to global food security. What our region does in this matter is very important, and we must take advantage of this strength.

This is also a region with enormous biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity the region is a player of global importance and whatever we do well or badly affects each person on this planet.

IPS: Has there been progress in the political and social spheres?

JB: The question of peace in the region is another asset. What has happened in Colombia (with the peace agreements that came into force in late 2016) is exciting for all of us, and is of utmost importance. In the last 20 years there has also been heavy spending in rural areas, on roads, electrification, telecommunications, and access to basic services, education and health. The educational levels of our rural people under 35 are far higher than that of their parents. These are assets that we need to mobilise.

IPS: And what are the weaknesses you perceive in these same fields?
JB: In rural areas, government institutions are very weak, in most countries in the region… The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand… and they are weak because they are outdated, because there is much corruption, patronage, use of public budgets for particular interests, and that weakens the government and public action for the benefit of society as a whole. It makes our job difficult.

IPS: Apart from that difficulty, what other challenges does the region face?

JB: The rural social fabric has been weakening in some countries. The penetration of drug trafficking, of violence, which often goes hand in hand with corruption, makes life very hard for the inhabitants of those rural areas and makes it very difficult to bring political solutions that would increase their opportunities and well-being. The situation in some Central American countries is extremely concerning. In my own country, Mexico, the situation worries all Mexicans. The levels of violence in Venezuela… There are countries where the weakening of the social fabric is a warning sign.

IPS: Latin Americans are facing a new and growing problem, obesity, without yet having solved that of chronic malnutrition…

JB: Malnutrition is a crime. The fact that more than half of the rural children in Guatemala suffer from chronic undernutrition is unacceptable in the 21st century, but obesity is killing us. Not long ago, Mexico’s minister of health, Dr. José Navarro, who until recently was the provost of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reminded us that obesity kills more people than organised crime in Mexico. Obesity is definitely killing us.

IPS: Do malnutrition and obesity have anything in common?

JB: First, let me say in what they differ. We have greatly reduced undernutrition. In this, Latin America has been remarkably successful, even at a global level. We are the only region that has met its Millennium Development Goals. But in terms of obesity we are losing the fight badly. Every day there are more overweight and obese people.

What they have in common, from FAO’s perspective, is a radical change in Latin America’s food systems. The world in which we had local markets and people ate locally produced food, where many people went home to eat, has disappeared forever.

Today our food systems are globalised, the bulk of the distribution of food products is through supermarket chains, most of what we eat are ultra-processed foods. Even our farmers eat mostly purchased food: processed and ultra-processed.

IPS: But this is a global phenomenon, as you say, not only regional…

JB: The point is not the transformation of the agri-food systems. That transformation can also be observed in Norway, Canada or New Zealand. They have the same patterns of urbanisation, of eating outside the home, purchasing in supermarkets, ultra-processed foods, etc. The difference is that in those places there are public policies. Ours is a transformation that responded to market forces without public policies. The market achieves important things… today food products are much cheaper, but with enormous consequences, one being obesity and the erosion of public health in all aspects that have to do with what and how we eat.

IPS: So, what public policies are needed in the region to tackle obesity?

JB: What has to be done is to ‘redirect’ these transformation processes of the food systems, bearing in mind that we have public objectives. Redirecting means setting certain limits. For example, what is being done in Chile and to some extent in Mexico with sugary beverages, and labeling. There are healthy and unhealthy foods, and consumers have to know this.

Redirecting also means putting greater emphasis on public education with regard to healthy eating. It means that if there are places with less access to a more varied diet, to fresh fruit and vegetables, we cannot leave it to be solved by the market.

IPS: Another problem that is creating conflicts is water, its scarcity and its uses. What should be done from the agri-food sector?

JB: We have a terrible problem here, which is that agriculture is consuming 70 per cent of our planet’s fresh water. This is not sustainable and has no future. If I were president of a given country in 30 or 50 years, and they told me: ‘To produce potatoes you are using 70 per cent of the water and people have no water in the cities because of climate change,’ as president I would say: ‘well, we will import potatoes, and stop growing them.’

Between giving water to the people or producing potatoes, lettuce or asparagus… we are going to lose that fight. Our farmers fight, they organise to get more water, and it is good that they do that. We make dams and reservoirs, that’s great. But we have to start thinking how we can practice agriculture using less water, how we can produce the same amount of food without using 70 per cent of the water, and using half of that instead. We cannot talk about ‘zero water’ agriculture, but it should be much less than 70 per cent, and this is something that we are not thinking about.

We are used to using water almost without restrictions, and climate change is putting an end to that. We will not be able to go rapidly from 70 to 35 per cent water use in agriculture, but we better start now because otherwise climate change will win the race.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago. “Many of us who live here are descendants of those who […]

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Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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What does it Take to Solve a Statelessness Crisis?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 19:11:44 +0000 Robin Guittard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150554 Robin Guittard is Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

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Credit: Amnesty International

Credit: Amnesty International

By Robin Guittard
MEXICO CITY, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Three years ago today, authorities in the Dominican Republic passed a law seeking to address a statelessness crisis that has effectively stripped thousands of people off their Dominican nationality and with it,  denied them a range of human rights.

The crisis exploded in 2013, after a ruling by the Dominican Republic’s top Court that retroactively applied to anyone born after 1929 to undocumented foreign parents. In practice, it disproportionately affected Dominicans of Haitian descent in a context of an island shared by two nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The largest statelessness crisis ever seen in the Americas was unleashed, with four generations of people being legally erased from the map and turned into ghost citizens, with no rights and no future – unable to enroll in school, apply for regular jobs or facing difficulty in seeing a doctor. An international outcry followed.

Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

In response, in 2014, Congress passed Law 169-14 that divided people in various categories.

Group A included around 55,000 people born in the Dominican Republic and whose births were registered in the civil registry, but were arbitrarily deprived of their nationality by the Court’s ruling.

According to the latest available data, 12,000 of them have been so far able to re-access their Dominican identity documents. However, there have been reports that the original birth certificates of some of them are being cancelled and their cases moved to a separate civil registry, which is creating chaos and fear of possible discriminatory practices in the future.

Group B includes those born in the Dominican Republic but whose births were never registered. A so-called Naturalization Plan was put in place between July 2014 and February 2015 to give this group a path to naturalization.

According to the government, only 8,755 individuals were able to register out of an official estimate of 53,000 potential people who belong to this group. According to the 2014 Law, they had to wait two years for the naturalization process to start. The deadline is coming to an end soon and we still don’t know how many of them have had their files approved, neither what process will be followed. The ordinary naturalization process as it currently stands requires that a passport and a birth certificate from the origin country to be produced, and it is not clear if and how their nationality will be restored. No need to say that stateless people don’t have such documents and the authorities have failed to provide any solution for this.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.
Today, they have no available avenues to get their Dominican nationality back.

In 2014, President Medina showed courage and great political will by putting forward the Naturalization Law. But the plan fell short of solving this urgent crisis and did not comply with the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international law. Last year Medina was re-elected for a new four-year mandate, which provides a renewed opportunity to put an end to the largest statelessness crisis of this continent.

The roadmap to resolve such a complex situation may not be easy, but every day that authorities continue to turn a blind eye to it, and more children of stateless people are born  into “ghost citizens” in the country, the more intricate the situation becomes.

As a matter of urgency, the authorities in the Dominican Republic must deliver identity documents to all individuals in group A, immediately facilitate the restoration of nationality of the 8,755 people of group B through an expedited process and provide a clear and simple path to restore the nationality of all those who were unable to enroll in the Naturalization Plan and were previously identified with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

An independent mechanism should also be established, with the participation of Dominican human rights organizations, tasked with oversighting this processes. By the end of this year, the mechanism should be able to produce a first independent evaluation of the initiatives carried out since 2013 to address the statelessness crisis, including specific recommendations to the authorities to restore the nationality of those affected and prevent any future arbitrary restrictions to the right to nationality.

The statelessness crisis that has shaken the Dominican Republic since 2013 has shown the tremendous impacts of discriminatory policies on people’s lives and rights. The country that was once seen by many as a tropical paradise has become the home of the largest stateless population of the Americas.

Why are the Dominican Republic’s authorities insisting in denying its youth from going to university and integrate in society, and to deny the right to receive adequate medical care for those in need? Why do they insist in trapping in endless poverty those already excluded and marginalized and for all the stateless to be able to realize themselves as individuals and help their country to advance towards progress?

Three years after Law 169 was passed, much more needs to be done to solve the statelessness crisis that still affects thousands of people in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican political leaders and all sectors of Dominican society must be ready to act now. The above mentioned roadmap can be the first steps towards ending this crisis and ensuring the rights of everyone in the country.

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Ecuador Focuses on New UN Tax Body to Fight Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 19:29:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150523 The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long. Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.

Guillaume Long

Guillaume Long

Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens that often harm developing countries and to create an intergovernmental body to help regulate taxation and financial flows.

In an interview with IPS, Long explains the issues, challenges, and goals in achieving tax justice.

Q: The President of the General Assembly said that SDG financing is going to take 6$ trillion annually and $30 trillion through 2030. Do you think much-needed finances will be made available if the current rate of illicit financial flows is curbed?

A: I think it’s huge what you can get from curbing illicit flows and basically from tax dodging or tax evasion. In the case of Ecuador, we calculated that an approximate amount of $30 billion is held in tax havens. Just so you get a general idea of what that means, Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly around $100 billion so $30 billion means almost 1/3rd of our GDP. Most countries struggle to grow, but here you’ve got 30 percent of GDP literally being robbed from us in tax havens.

That means less investment, less dynamism in the economy, less creation of jobs and also less taxes—it’s those taxes that are used for public policies to reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and create much needed infrastructure.

There are have been estimates that public infrastructure that is needed right now in the developing world is roughly $1.5 trillion. This includes hospitals, schools—the kind of infrastructure that the developing world needs to reduce huge rates of inequality, poverty, and some of the things we are trying to amend through, for example, the SDGs. And that’s only probably about 15% of illegal assets held abroad in tax havens and various offshore accounts.

[Curbing illicit financial flows] could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development which is the big thing. Now that we have come to an agreement on the 2030 Goals and what it is that we want to do, the next question is how do we do this? And we have to do this with resources. Some resources are available to us, but many others aren’t and this is basically through tax dodging.

This is also fundamentally a practice that is carried out by elites and therefore it also means that you get greater rates of inequality. In a continent or a region like Latin America—if you do a per capita average then it is the middle class but we know that averages hide huge disparities and Latin America is actually the most unequal region in the world and a lot of that has to do with elites not being a willing part of the social contract. And a major aspect of the social contract is taxation and not participating in tax dodging.

Q: How much does the developing world, particularly Africa, Asia, and Latin America, lose to illicit financial flows?

A: There are huge numbers that are being reported. Oxfam talks of $7.6 trillion in tax dodging—I’m not even talking about illicit financial flows, not even talking about offshore accounts, I’m talking about $7.6 trillion in tax dodging.

This is why Ecuador has taken this issue so seriously. We’ve been talking about tax havens and tax avoidance for years, particularly in this government in the last ten years with the Presidency of Rafael Correa. But after the Panama Papers scandal last year, President Correa really launched this as his priority and as a major crusade. He even launched what he called an “Ethical Pact” which included a referendum in Ecuador to ban civil servants and elected officials from holding assets in tax havens. If you are found to hold assets in tax havens, you can be removed from office automatically.

I really think Ecuador is one of the countries, if not the country in the world, that’s done the most. This referendum, which was successful in terms of its results, is an example to the world. And I think Ecuador has been the most proactive country in the year that’s transpired since the revelations of the Panama Papers in taking concrete and bold steps.

Another major thing that we have been doing on the international front is from our presidency of the G77 which we currently chair. We have pushed for the creation of an intergovernmental body on tax justice. We had a workshop this morning which was co-chaired by Ecuador, India, and South Africa with huge participation exactly on this issue.

There is an opportunity—now that the issue is back at the forefront of the media, it means that we have to maximize that opportunity to try and create mechanisms, particularly inside the United Nations, that fight tax dodging. [This issue] we can deal with if we have the right tools and institutions to fight that.

Q: What are your thoughts on public disclosures on tax havens like the Panama Papers? Is that something that is needed more in order to increase transparency and action on tax havens?

A: Whistleblowing plays an important role. When information is public and people find out about these things, if their politicians have been hiding money and fog them—most politicians have a very patriotic discourse saying they’re going to create jobs and economic activity and bring foreign investment. But surely there is a paradox and a contradiction if you are saying ‘vote for me because I’ll bring loads of foreign investment into the country’ and then on the other hand you’ve got all your personal assets hidden away somewhere without paying taxes. I think when those contradictions and lies, and I would use the world ‘robbery’ especially if you are dodging taxes, are exposed then that’s a good thing. It creates greater consciousness.

I think this is a time of great opportunity because since the Panama Papers scandal, a lot of countries that could be considered to be tax havens are starting to take measures because they are under increasing pressure by people and by countries like Ecuador and other countries to do something about it. The fact that we are having this debate today and the fact that I am talking to you is not necessarily in the tax havens’ interest because it brings the spotlight onto their activities so generally speaking, those kinds of public disclosures are very important part of creating a general awareness that this must stop.

There are a lot of double standards too. On the one hand, developing countries are under pressure for all sorts of things. They’ve got to grow, they’ve got to be good economically, they’ve got to guarantee human rights—all of these things which we absolutely abide by and are very committed to—but surely there is a contradiction with having to do that and then on the other hand, all of these countries that are kind of sermonizing the rest of the world from their civilizational pedestal are reaping the benefits of all the crony and corrupt elites of the developing countries depositing their money in these bank accounts without paying taxes.

So there’s a hypocrisy there that has to be exposed. And if these public disclosures can help to do that, then so be it.

Q: Has there been any progress since the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) adoption of the ‘UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion’?

A: That was a very important step. It was the first piece of important legislation and regulatory result that came out of the Committee of Experts in a long time. So we are seeing progress, though still not enough, but still progress. And that has to do with [it being] back on the agenda.

Now there is a new step, which I think is very important, that the Secretary-General from June onwards is going to be naming the members of the Committee of Experts. So that’s also a positive development because it obviously raises the stakes and gives it more political clout.

Ecuador’s position is that we celebrate that the Committee of Experts was created with largely the fruit of debate that goes back to Monterrey in 2002. But now we think that the Committee of Experts is insufficient and that we need something else. We need something with more clout, with more accountability, with more relation with the United Nations system itself and the governmental nature of this organization.

You have it in other spheres—if you look at trade, the World Trade Organization is a regulatory body at the highest level for trade while the Intellectual Property Organization is a regulatory body for intellectual property at the highest level.

Those institutions exist because it is in the interest of big capital that they should exist. Big capital is in favor of free trade and if a country stands in the way of free trade, then you get reprimanded. But it’s not necessarily in the interest of big capital to have the equivalent in the field of taxation. This is an important concept that we should bear in mind. A lot of the institutions of global governance that we have inherited respond to specific interests and not always to the interests of the most powerless in society. They respond to the interests of the most powerful in society.

And why should trade be more important than taxation? Probably in terms of redistribution, taxation is more important than trade. Although, nobody is saying that trade isn’t important for the overall accumulation of wealth of different countries, but in terms of redistribution and in terms of capacity of the state to work towards the 2030 Agenda, then surely [taxation] plays a huge role.

It is great that we are getting closer but it is frustrating that we are still talking about a fight in order to create an institution that will then dedicate itself to fighting for a greater outcome which is tax justice. We are not even fighting for tax justice, we are fighting for the right to have the corresponding institutions just like you have them in the fields of trade and intellectual property and others.

Q: Are you proposing for a new UN tax body or are you hoping to transform the Committee of Experts into an intergovernmental body that you have proposed?

A: We are looking to transform the Committee of Experts but we are very open to different kinds of formats. We are trying to create consensus and if you are trying to create consensus—I mean, we preside over the G77 which is 134 nations so creating consensus between 134 nations is already a tall order—but at the end of the day, we are actually trying to create consensus between 193 nations of the United Nations and that includes tax havens, countries that have been a little pro-status quo particularly in the OECD, and a lot of countries that are not in the G77.

So we are open to all sorts of different outcomes. We just want to raise the hierarchy, the political clout, the visibility, the strength of the body. There are a number of initiatives. Some people have talked about keeping it within the ECOSOC while others want to elevate it to the General Assembly—there’s a huge debate within the G77 about it. But there is consensus between 134 nations of the G77 that it should be an intergovernmental body. And that’s something that we are trying to, through our presidency, express the will of the nations that are members of our group.

Q: How feasible is the proposal for an intergovernmental body for approval by the General Assembly?

A: I think multilateralism is a slow process always. I think we are getting closer. And I think that the big conference on financing for development in the next few weeks should make significant progress. I think we will find that there is much more consensus than there was in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Most countries from the Global South have these discussions about tax justice and the right to development. But a number of countries from the G20 or OECD or more industrialized countries have also started to be flexible in their position. We are seeing changes. In the workshop we had today, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, we had loads of tax havens present. Not just tax havens that are blacklisted in the Global South by the Global North but tax havens from Europe and from other parts of the world. And they were there because they want to listen in on the debate which shows that at least they are concerned or interested and some of them actually spoke out and said they are making changes and showing a greater commitment.

There is another major thing which is the securitization of the issue. For some countries, issues of terrorism is a big thing. Where do terrorists hide their money? Well, increasingly in constituencies that enjoy banking secrecy and those tend to be tax havens. If we can all at least agree on the outcome which is greater accountability and greater regulations on that matter, even if it is for different reasons, it’s about consensus building and that’s what multilateralism is about.

Q: So would this proposed UN tax body help bring such international cooperation in tackling illicit financial flows?

A: That’s exactly right. It’s not just about naming and shaming tax havens. If suddenly you have two neighboring countries in a European setting, even if they are developed countries, and they start this kind of taxation war by lowering their taxes in order to try to suck capital and investment out of each other in this kind of race to the bottom, then a [UN tax] body like that should be able to intervene and make at least the right recommendations. Whether those recommendations become compulsory then that’s another debate, but it should be a body like you have in other fields that has the capacity to make clear recommendations.

Q: Have you faced or expect to face opposition for this proposal, especially from the Global North?

A: For sure. The G77 has been facing—basically with the same position I am presenting to you is not a new position, the position has been going on for decades and there has been clear language on behalf of the G77.

It is interesting because within the G77, you actually have tax havens as well. But even those tax havens have accepted that an intergovernmental body, which doesn’t exclude them, is quite a good measure if you want to have a serious debate and discussion between member States on this issue. This has been the position of the G77 which has been resisted for decades. There has been loads of opposition. We saw it in Addis Ababa, particularly members of the G7 or the G20 and lots of opposition from the OECD countries and oppositions from countries that are not always considered to be tax havens in the kind of stereotypical manner.

Countries like the United Kingdom has been opposed to this very much, not only because of its own policies but also because of what is euphemistically called non-autonomous territories. The five biggest tax havens in relative terms of the offshore assets per GDP index are non-autonomous territories and four of the five are British while one is the U.S. They are not sovereign nations and they are not members of the United Nations. That’s an important issue and it’s not surprising that there is opposition when we are trying to move away from this.

The Panama Papers singled out Panama and actually Panama is making quite significant efforts to move away from that image. We are very happy to see them move away from such practices but actually, Panama is not necessarily in the top five in terms of the GDP index. The very people who even write up the black lists are not free of tax malpractice themselves.

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Unique Sandbar Coastal Ecosystem in Cuba Calls for Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 23:03:49 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150493 A battered bridge connects the centre of Baracoa, Cuba´s oldest city, with a singular dark-sand sandbar, known as Tibaracón, that forms on one of the banks of the Macaguaní River where it flows into the Caribbean Sea in northeastern Cuba. Just 13 wooden houses with lightweight roofs shield the few families that still live on […]

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Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, May 19 2017 (IPS)

A battered bridge connects the centre of Baracoa, Cuba´s oldest city, with a singular dark-sand sandbar, known as Tibaracón, that forms on one of the banks of the Macaguaní River where it flows into the Caribbean Sea in northeastern Cuba.

Just 13 wooden houses with lightweight roofs shield the few families that still live on one of the six coastal sandbars exclusive to Baracoa, a mountainous coastal municipality with striking nature reserves, whose First City, as it is locally known, was founded 505 years ago by Spanish colonialists.

These long and narrow sandbars between the river mouths and the sea have a name from the language of the Araucan people, the native people who once populated Cuba. The sandbars are the result of a combination of various rare natural conditions: short, steep rivers, narrow coastal plains, heavy seasonal rainfall and the coral reef crest near the coast.

Local experts are calling for special treatment for these sandbars exclusive to islands in the Caribbean, in the current coastal regulation, which is gaining momentum with Tarea Vida (Life Task), Cuba´s first plan to tackle climate change, approved on April 27 by the Council of Ministers.

Baracoa, with a population of 81,700, is among the municipalities prioritised by the new programme due to its elevation. Authorities point out that the plan, with its 11 specific tasks, has a more far-reaching scope than previous policies focused on climate change, and includes gradually increasing investments up to 2100.
“I was born here. I moved away when I got married, and returned seven years ago after I got divorced,” dentist María Teresa Martín, a local resident who belongs to the Popular Council of La Playa, a peri-urban settlement that includes the Macaguaní tibaracón or sandbar, told IPS.

The sandbar is the smallest in Baracoa, the rainiest municipality in Cuba, while the largest – three km in length – is at the mouth of the Duaba River.

“It’s not easy to live here,” said Martín. “The tide goes out and all day long you smell this stench, because the neighbours throw all their garbage and rubble into the river and the sea, onto the sand,” she lamented, while pointing out at the rubbish that covers the dunes and is caught in the roots of coconut palm trees and on stranded fishing boats.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Macaguaní River runs down from the mountains and across the city, along Baracoa bay, which it flows into. It stinks and is clogged up from the trash and human waste dumped into it, one of the causes of the accelerated shrinking of the tibaracón.

“We even used to have a street, and there were many more houses,” said Martín.

The Greater Caribbean launches a project

The 25 members of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) approved on Mar. 8 in Havana a regional project to curb erosion on the sandy coastlines, promote alternatives to control the phenomenon, and drive sustainable tourism.

The initiative, set forth by Cuba during the first ACS Cooperation Conference, in which governments of the bloc participated along with donor agencies and countries, including the Netherlands and South Korea, was incorporated into the ACS´ 2016-2018 Action Plan, which will extend until 2020.

The project, currently in the dissemination phase to raise funds, already has a commitment from the Netherlands to contribute one billion dollars, while South Korea has initially offered three million dollars.

The initiative will at first focus on 10 island countries, althoug others plan to join in, since the problem of erosion of sandy coastlines affects local economies that depend on tourism and fishing.

“We have lost other communication routes with the city. We have to evacuate whenever there is a cyclone or tsunami warning,” said the local resident, who is waiting to be resettled to a safer place in the city.

Local fisherman Abel Estévez, who lives across from Martín, would also like to move inland, but he is worried that he will be offered a house too far from the city. “I live near the sea and live off it. If they send us far from here, how am I going to support my daughter? How will my wife get to her job at the hospital?” he remarked.

Such as is happening with La Playa, the
Coastal regulations establish that municipal authorities must relocate to safer places 21 communities – including La Playa – along the municipality’s 82.5 km of coastline, of which 13.9 are sandy.

“We have exclusive and very vulnerable natural resources, such as the tibaracones,” explained Ricardo Suárez, municipal representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. “They are a sandy strip between the river and the sea, which makes them fragile ecosystems at risk of being damaged by the river and the sea.”

The disappearance of the tibaracones would change the “coastal dynamics”, explained the geographer. “Where today there is sand, tomorrow there could be a bay, and that brings greater exposure to penetration by the sea, which puts urban areas at risk and salinises the soil and inland waters,” he told IPS.

He said that these sandbars are affected by poor management and human activities, such as sand extraction, pollution and indiscriminate logging, in addition to climate change and the resulting elevation of the sea level. He also pointed out natural causes such as geological changes in the area.

In his opinion, the actions to protect the sandbars are band-aid measures, since they are destined to disappear. He said this can be slowed down unless natural disasters occur, like Hurricane Matthew, which hit the city on Oct. 4-5, 2016.

Suárez is the author of a study that shows the gradual shrinking of the tibaracones located in Baracoa, which serve as “natural barriers protecting the city”. He also showed how the population has been migrating from the sandbars, due to their vulnerability.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In the shrinking community where Martín and Estévez live, between the mouth of the Macaguaní River and the sea, there were 122 houses in 1958. And on the Miel River tibaracón, at the eastern end of the city, there were 45 houses in 1978, while today there are only a few shops and businesses.

The unique Miel River delta used to be 70 metres wide in the middle of the last century, while today the narrowest portion is just 30 metres wide. In Macaguaní, meanwhile, the shrinking has been more abrupt, from 80 metres back then, to just six metres in one segment, the study found.

The expert recommends differentiated treatment for these ecosystems, which are not specifically contemplated under Decree Law 212 for the Management of Coastal Areas, in force since 2000, which is the main legal foundation for the current land-use regulation which requires the removal of buildings that are harmful to the coasts.

Suárez said the removal of structures on sandy soil surrounded by water must be followed with preventive measures to preserve the sand, such as reforestation with native species.

In the study, he notes that the government’s Marine Studies Agency, a subsidiary of the Geocuba company in the neighbouring province of Santiago de Cuba, proposes the construction of a seawall and embankment to protect the Miel River delta. And he emphasised the importance of carrying out similar research in the case of Macaguaní.

Cuba´s Institute of Physical Planning (IPF) inspected the 5,746 km of coastline in the Cuban archipelago, and found 5,167 illegalities committed by individuals, and another 1,482 by legal entities. The institute reported that up to February 2015, 489 of the infractions committed by legal entities had been eradicated.

When the authorities approved the Life Task plan, the IPF assured the official media that the main progress in coastal management has been achieved so far on the 414 Cuban beaches at 36 major tourist areas. Tourism is Cuba´s second-biggest source of foreign exchange, after the export of medical services.

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Agony of Mother Earth (II) World’s Forests Depleted for Fuelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/#respond Fri, 19 May 2017 11:13:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150481 This is the second of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part I dealt with the relentless destruction of forests.

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Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources. Just take the case of forests, the real lungs of Mother Earth, and learn that every 60 seconds humans cut down 15 hectares of trees primarily for food or energy production. And that as much as 45,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared for every million kilos of beef exported from South America.

Should these figures not be enough, Monique Barbut, the executive-secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), also drew world’s attention to the fact that “when we take away the forest it is not just the trees that go… The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart… with dire consequences for us all…”

Barbut, who provided these and other figures on the occasion of this year’s International Day of Forests –marked under the theme “Forestry and Energy”— also reminded that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for over 17 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UNCCD’s chief is far from the only expert to sound the alarm–the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuel-wood and charcoal.

This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuel-wood combustion, according to The Charcoal Transition report published on the Day (March 21).

Right – but the other relevant fact is that for more than two billion people worldwide, wood fuel means a cooked meal, boiled water for safe drinking, and a warm dwelling, as this specialised body’s director-general José Graziano da Silva timely recalled.

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Poor People in Rural Areas

This is especially important for poor people in rural areas of developing countries, where wood is often the only energy source available.

Regions with the greatest incidence of poverty, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and low income households in Asia, are also the most dependent on fuel-wood: “Nearly 90 per cent of all fuel wood and charcoal use takes place in developing countries, where forests are often the only energy source available to the rural poor,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

However, much of the current production of wood fuel is “unsustainable,” contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Graziano da Silva. “In many regions the conversion to charcoal is often done using rudimentary and polluting methods.”

He urged countries to reverse these negative trends in wood energy production and use. “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.” Currently the organisation he leads while is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa.

In conflict and famine-struck South Sudan, the organisation and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves.

For his part, Fiji’s president, Jioji Konousi Konrote, stressed, “We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner.”

The government of Fiji is poised to assume the presidency of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Agreement scheduled to take place in in Bonn, Germany, in November.

1 in 3 People Wood-Fuel Dependent

The challenge is huge knowing that more than 2.4 billion people –about one-third of the world’s population– still rely on the traditional use of wood-fuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuel-wood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking.

Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to The Charcoal Transition report. The point is when charcoal is produced using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gases can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.

The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.

Changing the way wood is sourced and charcoal is made offers a high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it says, adding that a shift from traditional ovens or stoves to highly efficient modern kilns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. At the end-use level, a transition from traditional stoves to improved state-of-the-art stoves could reduce emissions by around 60 per cent.

“Wood based energy accounts for 27 per cent of the total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania,” according to FAO estimates.

Forests continue to be under threat from unsustainable use, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation, population growth, and the impacts of climate change. Between 2010 and 2015, global forest area saw a net decrease of 3.3 million hectares per year.

This is Part II of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the reall lungs of Mother Earth. Read Part I: Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests.

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Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 13:13:36 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150456 This is the first of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part II will deal with forest depletion for wood-fuel.

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The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 18 2017 (IPS)

The world’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.

Asia

Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.

While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action, says the assessment, adding that through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land. And the government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent.

Latin America

Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis–a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”

Believe it or not, these estimates are anything but new or even recent—they were advanced around 9 years ago by a major independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

In fact, Greenpeace had already on 30 January 2008 reported that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests.

Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”

According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Amazon Deforestation Now

Barely six months ago, the very same global campaigning organisation reported that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.

“Brazil is losing control over the destruction of its forests because of poor policy decisions and may now have difficulty reaching its climate agreement targets, “ Greenpeace said on Dec. 1, 2016.

Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.

“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, warned that the increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon.

“In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”

According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”

The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.

Africa

For his part, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.

“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.

In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.

Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.

In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.

The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011.

Part II and last of this series on the Agony of Mother Earth focuses on forests depletion for fuel.

The post Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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