Inter Press Service » Latin America & the Caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 ACP Aims to Make Voice of the Moral Majority Count in the Global Arenahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140829 Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, May 27 2015 (IPS)

“Four decades of existence is a milestone for the ACP as an international alliance of developing countries,” Dr Patrick I. Gomes of Guyana, newly appointed Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, said at the opening of the 101st Session of the group’s Council of Ministers.

“With the organisation currently repositioning itself for more strategic engagements with regards to its future, this is an opportunity not only to review the past, but also to project to the decades ahead, especially in terms of how to be effective and better respond to the development needs of our member countries in the 21st century,” he added.“From the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player” – Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers

The meeting, which opened May 26, brought together more than 300 officials from the ACP group who are determined to put an emphasis on re-positioning the ACP group as an effective player in a challenging global landscape.

At the group’s 7th Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the group issued the Sipopo Declaration which noted that “at this historic juncture in the existence of our unique intergovernmental and tri-continental organisation, the demands for fundamental renewal and transformation are no longer mere options but unavoidable imperatives for strategic change”.

Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers, told the opening session of this week’s Council meeting that “from the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player.”

A key focus of the 40th anniversary is how to enhance regional and intra-ACP relations in order to better position the ACP group to deliver on development goals in the post-2015 era, starting with playing a decisive role at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as at the U.N. Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York in September.

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

For ACP Secretary-General Gomes, the most critical meeting for the group will be the 8th ACP Summit, which had originally been scheduled to be held in November in Suriname before that country had to withdraw due to multiple commitments.

Inviting member countries to step forward and offer to host the event, Gomes said that the 8th Summit “must be a beacon that refines our strategic policy domains for the next decade and project a powerful political vision to serve the ACP in our engagement with the European Union.”

More importantly, that summit would provide the strategic direction and financial commitment necessary to build the capacity of the ACP group to address the development needs of its populations.

Viwanou Gnassounou of Togo, ACP Assistant Secretary-General for Sustainable Economic Development and Trade, told IPS that the group “will be fully engaged in 2015 in high-level negotiations not only calling for a strategic approach but also trying to raise our common voice in a more holistic manner.”

He said that the ACP is finalising a position paper to be presented in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, as well as at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi in December.

Participants at the Council of Ministers meeting agreed that the plethora of priorities facing the ACP today calls for widening its partnership with the European Union and beyond, embracing the global South as well as emerging economies with greater determination, and promoting South-South and triangular cooperation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement which currently governs relations between the ACP and the European Union expires in 2020 and the ACP Secretariat has commissioned a consultancy exercise to formulate the ACP Group’s position future relations with the European Union.

The ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers, which meets May 28, is expected to place a special focus on migration and discuss recommendations from an ACP-EU experts’ meeting on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants following the unacceptable loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea as people try to reach Europe.

The two sides are also expected to exchange views on the broad range of issues affecting the ACP-EU trade relations at multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as financing for development as a follow up to the ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-Development Agenda approved in June 2014, which called for “an ambitious financing framework to adequately tackle sustainable development issues and challenges.”

In this context, the declaration said that a “coherent response based on a global comprehensive and integrated approach, fuelled by traditional and innovative financing solutions and governed by principles for efficient resource use seems the most appropriate way to finance sustainable development.”

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Laissez Faire Water Laws Threaten Family Farming in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/laissez-faire-water-laws-threaten-family-farming-in-chile/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 07:44:19 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140818 Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 27 2015 (IPS)

Family farmers in Chile are pushing for the reinstatement of water as a public good, to at least partially solve the shortages caused by the privatisation of water rights by the military dictatorship in 1981.

“Why should we pay for water rights if the people who were born and grew up in the countryside always had access to water?” Patricia Mancilla, a rural women’s community organiser in the southern region of Patagonia, remarked to Tierramérica.

That is a question echoed by small farmers throughout Chile.

This long, narrow country is rich in water, but it is unequally distributed: while to the south of Santiago annual freshwater availability per capita is over 10,000 cubic metres, it is less than 800 cubic metres per capita in the north, according to a 2011 World Bank study.

But the 1980 constitution made water private property, and the Water Code gives the state the authority to grant use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. Water use is regulated by the Code, according to the rules of the free market.

The laissez-faire Code allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking into consideration local priorities and needs, such as drinking water.

“Chile is the only country in the world to have privatised its water sources and water management,” activist Rodrigo Mundaca, secretary general of the Movement for the Defence of Water, Land and the Environment (MODATIMA), told Tierramérica.

Mundaca, an agronomist, added that Chile’s legislation “separates ownership of water from ownership of land, giving rise to a market for water,” which means there are people who own land but have no water, and vice versa.“Water is now, without a doubt, the most important environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have gone elsewhere to find work.” -- Rodrigo Mundaca

The 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet created two categories of water use rights: consumptive and non-consumptive.

Consumptive water use refers to water that is removed from available supplies without returning to a water resource system.

In this category, 73 percent of water rights have gone to agriculture, nine percent to the mining industry, 12 percent to industry and six percent to the sanitation system, Mundaca said.

Non-consumptive use refers to water that is used but not consumed. This mainly includes water withdrawn for the purpose of generating hydroelectricity, and since 2009, 81 percent of these water use rights have been in the hands of the Italian-Spanish company Enel-Endesa, the activist said.

As a result, “today the communities of northern Chile are at loggerheads with the mining corporations, over water use; the communities of central Chile with agribusiness and agroexporters; and communities in the south with hydropower plants and forestry companies,” Mundaca said.

“Water is now, without a doubt, the main environmental issue in this country. Small farmers have lost their land, and there are municipalities like Petorca, where more than 3,000 women live on their own because their husbands and partners have had to leave to find work,” he added.

Latin America in general is one of the regions most vulnerable to the crises caused by climate change, according to the World Bank. But in Chile, small farmers are less vulnerable to climate change than to the “theft” of their water by large agroexporters, activists say.

Petorca, a case in point

“The water business reflects the conflicts of interest, influence peddling and corruption in Chile,” Ricardo Sanhueza told Tierramérica. Sanhueza is a small farmer who lives in the municipality of Petorca, 220 km north of Santiago, which illustrates the impact of the water management model put in place 34 years ago.

“I remember that even though we suffered from a major drought between 1987 and 1997, we always had clean drinking water,” he said.

The 70,000 people who live in Petorca, located in the province of the same name, depend on tanker trucks for their water supply.

“The problem here isn’t related to the climate,” he said. “The problem is the over-exploitation of the land and the abusive use of water….Political interests are undermining the foundations of small-scale family farming.”

According to a study by the National Human Rights Institute (INDH), a government body, the province’s water shortages are not only caused by drought but also by “business activities in that area.”

The report also states that the granting of rights to use water sources that have been exhausted has played a part in generating a water crisis that seriously affects the quality of life of the residents of the province of Petorca.

The prioritisation of the use of water for productive activities rather than human consumption has aggravated the problem, the study goes on to say.

Mónica Flores, a psychologist with the municipal Public Health Department, told Tierramérica with nostalgia that the Petorca river had completely dried up, putting an end to social activities and community life surrounding the river.

“The river emerged in the Andes mountains and flowed to the ocean,” she said. “But today you just see a gray line full of dirt and stones.”

“It marked a before and after,” Flores said. “My childhood revolved around the river: I played there with my friends, we would swim, we would flirt with each other. But my daughter’s life isn’t the same, it’s much lonelier.

“Many rituals played out by the river, which was the heart, the spinal column of the province,” she said, stressing the impact on the local population of the drying up of the river.

But Petorca is just one example of the water problem in Chile.

On Mar. 22, World Water Day, the INDH declared that “Chile’s development cannot come at the cost of sacrificing the water of local communities, or at the cost of mortgaging the future of coming generations.”

The hydric resources commission in the lower house of Congress is currently debating a reform of the Water Code, which would represent significant advances, such as giving a priority to water use for essential needs and replacing water use rights in perpetuity with temporary rights.

But the modifications will not be retroactive, and most water use rights have already been granted.

Moreover, the water use privileges enjoyed by the mining industry will not be touched by the reform. Nor has the question of water shortages for essential uses by small farmers and indigenous communities been addressed. And there is no talk of a constitutional amendment to make water a public good once again.

The constitution put in place by the dictatorship “states that all people are free and equal in dignity and rights,” Mundaca said. “However, vast segments of the population, deprived of water, depend on tanker trucks for drinking water, can only do a quick rinse around key areas instead of showering, and go to the bathroom in plastic bags.

“It’s shameful and wrong. People have to regain access to water one way or another,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pineapple Industry Leaves Costa Rican Communities High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pineapple-industry-leaves-costa-rican-communities-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 22:47:12 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140802 An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

An employee of Costa Rica’s water and sanitation utility, AyA, fills the containers of local residents in Milano de Siquirres, who depend on water from tanker trucks because the local tap water has been polluted since August 2007. Credit: Courtesy Semanario Universidad

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 25 2015 (IPS)

Twelve years after finding the first traces of pesticides used by the pineapple industry, in the rural water supply, around 7,000 people from four communities in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region are still unable to consume their tap water.

The communities of Milano, El Cairo, La Francia and Luisiana are located in the municipality of Siquirres, 100 km northeast of the capital, San José, in an agricultural region where transnational corporations grow pineapples on a large scale.

For years the four towns have depended on tanker trucks that bring in clean drinking water.

“It’s hard,” the head of the Milano community water board, Xinia Briceño, told IPS. “And while the truck used to come every day, now it comes every other day. And when it breaks down, or there’s an emergency in some other place, or it’s a holiday, people go without drinking water for up to four days.”

Briceño, the president of the community association that runs the rural water system in Milano which serves some 1,000 families, is frustrated with the delay in resolving the situation. “As of next August we will have been dependent on the tanker truck for eight years.”

Since Aug. 22, 2007, these rural communities have only had access to water that is trucked in. They can’t use the water from the El Cairo aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations in Siquirres, a rural municipality of 60,000 people in the Caribbean coastal province of Limón.

“Chemicals continue to show up in the water,” Briceño said. “During dry periods the degree of contamination goes down. But when it rains again the chemicals are reactivated.”

The failure of the public institutions to guarantee a clean water supply to the residents of these four communities reflects the complications faced by Costa Rica’s state apparatus to enforce citizen rights in areas where transnational companies have been operating for decades.

The technical evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte.

But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities.

As a temporary solution, the public water and sewage utility AyA decided in 2007 to provide the communities with water from tanker trucks. Today, the local residents bring containers three times a week to stock up on clean water.

In nearly eight years, AyA has spent over three million dollars distributing water to the four communities, according to official figures. Briceño said a system to bring in water from another nearby aquifer could have been built with those funds.

“The idea is to build a water system to bring in water from a new source, in San Bosco de Guácimo. But that means piping it in from 11.7 km away,” Briceño explained.

The first evidence of the pollution was discovered in 2003, when the National University’s Regional Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances found traces of pesticides in the local water supply. Studies carried out in 2007 and subsequent years found that the water was unfit for human consumption.

The Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber ruled that the Health Ministry, AyA and several other public institutions should resolve the problem.

But the state has not managed to obtain compensation from pineapple producers for the environmental damage, as it has failed to carry out an assessment of the harm caused, and lawsuits filed in the environmental administrative court since 2010 are still underway.

“That is one of the delays we have had, because part of the process of bringing a complaint before the environmental administrative court is an economic appraisal of the environmental damages,” Lidia Umaña, the vice president of the court, told IPS. “Not all of the different authorities have the capability to conduct appraisals.”

The judge said that without an appraisal it is impossible to determine whether the companies must pay damages or not, and that “in this case like in any other a group of experts must be appointed to appraise the damages.”

After years of waiting for a solution, the case has gone beyond the borders of this Central American country, reaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Mar. 20 Briceño and other representatives of the affected communities, and delegates of the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Centre (CEDARENA), asked the IACHR to intervene.

“The IACHR is currently preparing a report on the human right to water and they told us they would include this case,” said Soledad Castro, with CEDARENA’s integrated water management programme, which is supporting the communities in their complaint before the Washington-based regional human rights body.

In remarks to IPS, Castro complained about the state’s inertia in solving the problem. In her view, “only AyA has made an effort, bringing in water trucks at an extremely high cost. Although it hasn’t been sufficient, at least AyA did something. The rest have been conspicuously absent.”

The case has also drawn the attention of other international bodies and organisations, like the Water Integrity Network (WIN), which criticised the state’s failure to protect the rights of local residents and the slow, non-transparent reaction by the authorities to the pollution of the water.

“(The state) has lacked accountability and transparency in its laboratory tests, the information given to the community, and compliance with rules and regulations,” says the 2014 WIN report “Integrity and the Human Right to Water in Central America”.

According to the Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters (CANAPEP), which represents the industry in Costa Rica, pineapples were grown on 42,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2012 and exports of the fruit brought in 780 million dollars. The United States imported 48 percent of the total, and the rest went to the European market.

Worried about the growth of pineapple production and the possible impact on local communities, the municipalities of Guácimo and Pococí declared a moratorium on an expansion of the industry. But a 2013 court ruling overthrew the ban, after it was challenged by CANAPEP.

In 2014, the annual state of the nation report stated that pineapple production stood out because of the large number of conflicts, and noted that it had mentioned the same problem in earlier reports.

IPS received no response to its request for comment from Corporación Del Monte corporate relations director Luis Enrique Gómez with regard to the water problem.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:31:40 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140778 Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 23 2015 (IPS)

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Looks to France as Key Partner in Climate Financinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-france-as-key-partner-in-climate-financing/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:20:32 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140764 Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Caribbean would be better positioned to respond to climate change if France rejoins the Caribbean Development Bank. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, May 22 2015 (IPS)

By the time leaders of the international community sit down in Paris later this year to discuss climate change, at least two Caribbean leaders are hoping that France can demonstrate its commitment to assisting their adaptation efforts by re-joining the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

The CDB is the premier regional financial institution, established in 1969. It contributes significantly to the harmonious economic growth and development of the Caribbean, promoting economic cooperation and integration among regional countries.“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and [President] Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it." -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

Of the 19 regional member countries that are allowed to borrow funds from the CDB and also have voting rights, 15 are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In addition, Canada, China, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom all enjoy voting rights but, like Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela, they are not entitled to borrow funds from the bank.

France was once a non-regional member, but withdrew its membership about a decade ago, supposedly because of domestic politics.

Now, two Caribbean prime ministers say with the region being among the countries worst affected by climate change and struggling to find the resources to fund adaptation and mitigation efforts, it is time for France to rejoin the CDB.

The lobby began on May 9 in Martinique, when French President François Hollande visited the French overseas territory to chair a one-day Caribbean climate change summit ahead of the world climate change talks in Paris during November and December of this year.

During the plenary, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves raised with Hollande the issue of France’s CDB membership.

Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis Dr. Timothy Harris, who is chair of the CDB’s Board of Governors, the bank’s highest policy making body, told the two-day 45th meeting of the board, which began on May 20, how Gonsalves raised the issue with his French counterpart.

“Caught by Gonsalves flighted googly, the president played just as Gonsalves had predicted and committed to have France returned as a member of the CDB,” Harris said, using an analogy from the Caribbean’s rich cricketing culture.

Harris further said that building resilience to climate change and natural disasters remains among the issues that “need critical attention in the context of reshaping a credible agenda for Caribbean development”.

He told IPS afterwards it would be “a significant win-win for us all” if Hollande follows through on his commitment to rejoin the CDB.

“It think it will enhance France’s own involvement in the region but beyond the region as a major country interested in bringing justice to small island developing states, many of which are found in the Caribbean region,” he said.

When France left the financial institution it raised issues such as the reputation of the bank, because France had been an important member and also had good credit ratings.

“Therefore, it coming back again will signal that it has renewed its confidence in the bank. Given France’s own standing as a member of the G20, that will be a positive in terms of the reputation for the CDB. And, therefore, when the bank wins, the people of the Caribbean, whom it serves, they also win and also all of us in the region,” Harris told IPS.

An economist, Harris said the Paris talks will “only bear fruits for us if in fact it makes special provisions for the vulnerabilities of small island developing states.

“… if a member of the G20 group such as France provide leadership in Europe and beyond, certainly it would be a good signal of that commitment for him to reinter into the CDB as a member,” he said, noting that climate change will continue to be high on the agenda of the CDB during his chairmanship.

“It has already been identified by the president of the bank as one of the areas in which the bank wants to have a forward thrust,” he told IPS.

CDB president Dr. William Warren Smith said that the Caribbean has already begun to experience “the damaging effects and associated economic losses of rising sea levels and an increase in the number and severity of natural hazards”.

He said that to participate effectively in climate change adaptation and mitigation, including exploiting the region’s vast renewable energy resources, the CDB must be able to access climate finance from the various windows emerging worldwide.

Smith, addressing the board of governors meeting, said that institutions from which climate finance can be accessed “understandably, have set the access bar extremely high”.

However, he stressed that the CDB has undergone reforms that will position the institution to gain wider access to climate resources.

“I am pleased to say that by the end of this year, we expect to be accredited to both the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund,” he said, adding that at a recent meeting of Caribbean foreign ministers in Berlin, he proposed the immediate establishment of a “Project Preparation Facility” for Caribbean countries.

This facility, to be managed by CDB, would enable the bank’s borrowing member countries to develop a pipeline of “bankable” projects that would be eligible for climate financing.

“These projects would climate-proof roads and other critical infrastructure. They would also address the vulnerability of our islands and coastal zones in order to protect vital industries, such as tourism, agriculture and fisheries,” Smith said.

Gonsalves told IPS that “there are several consequences, all of them positive, for France coming back to the CDB.”

He said France will be able to bring resources at the level of Germany, which currently holds a 5.73 percent stake in the capital of CDB, making Germany the third-largest non-regional, non-borrowing member.

“In relation to climate change particularly, given the agenda that the CDB has in terms of its strategic plan, and that’s a focal issue, France will bring its immense support resources and its intellectual clout and its political clout as an interlocutor for the Caribbean for the CDB, for developing countries in relation to climate change,” Gonsalves told IPS.

“More broadly, France, of course, as the host for the Paris Summit and what was promised at Fort-de-France as the steps we will take, they again are going to play an important role and to do some things conjoining with us.”

Gonsalves noted that the Caribbean will attend climate change related summits in Brussels, Addis Ababa, and at the United Nations ahead of the Paris Summit.

Gonsalves said he is confident that France is committed to an outcome that will benefit the Caribbean and other small island developing states that suffer the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change.

“The government of France has been taking a lead in relation to this matter in all fora and Hollande has put his own personal prestige behind it and France has had a good history in this matter and has been playing a leading role in the European Union and also at the United Nations on this matter. So I am very happy that they are engaged with us in the manner in which they are engaged,” he said.

He was also confident that France will rejoin the CDB.

“As Harris said, the manner in which I put it, it was very difficult for him to say no,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Chimera in Growing Cooperation Between China and Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 22:31:02 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140757 Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 21 2015 (IPS)

A total of 35 agreements and contracts were signed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, as part of the growing ties between the two countries. But there is one project that drew all the attention: the Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad will stretch over 5,000 km from the port of Açú, 300 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to a port in Peru. The Peruvian port will be selected after feasibility studies are carried out to determine the viability of specific sites, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Brazil, China and Peru.

“It’s crazy,” said Newton Rabello, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in transportation systems. “The 4,000-metre barrier of the Andes mountains and the high costs make the project unviable from the start,” he told IPS.

“Railroads don’t like rugged terrain; all of the ones laid in the Andes mountains were closed down and the so-called bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo didn’t work because of the absurd costs,” explained Rabello, an engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He argued that other railways proposed for creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans won’t work, for the same reasons – including the ones that cross the areas of greatest economic density such as South America’s Southern Cone region, where the only thing needed is to build stretches to complement already existing railways.

Other accords signed by President Dilma Rousseff and Li, or by some of the 120 businesspersons who accompanied the Chinese leader, are more concrete and opportune for the Brazilian government, which is facing a fiscal adjustment and does not have the resources to carry out necessary infrastructure projects and revive the stagnant economy.

The accords involve a total investment by China of 53 billion dollars – a figure mentioned by the Brazilian government without confirmation from China or a detailed breakdown because it covers initiatives in different stages – some still on paper, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, and others which will go out to bid.

But the participation of Chinese companies and capital will make it possible to jumpstart many infrastructure projects that have been delayed or stalled, such as railroads for the exportation of the soy grown in Brazil’s Midwest and Northeast regions.

A 50 billion dollar fund will be established toward that end by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Brazil’s Caixa Econômica Federal.

Industry, meanwhile, will be the prime focus of the government’s Bilateral Productive Cooperation fund. China will provide 20 to 30 billion dollars and Brazil will later decide what its quota will be.

The industrialisation of Latin America is one aim of China’s development finance, Li said in Brasilia, in response to complaints about the asymmetry of trade relations, with Latin America’s exports practically limited to commodities.

Li’s visit to Brazil represented the first part of his first Latin America tour, which is taking him to Colombia, Peru and Chile until his return home on May 26.

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The agreements signed in Brasilia for financial cooperation accentuate the much-criticised asymmetry. Chinese banks granted seven billion dollars in new loans to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras, which come on top of earlier credits that guarantee oil supplies to China.

Another beneficiary of the agreements is Brazil’s mining giant Vale, included in a four billion dollar credit line for the purchase of ships to transport 400,000 tons of iron ore.

Oil and iron ore make up nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China. Hence China’s interest in improving this country’s transport infrastructure, to reduce the cost of Brazil’s exports, besides providing work for China’s construction companies now that domestic demand is waning.

Another agreement opens up the Chinese market to exports of cattle on the hoof from Brazil.

Brazil has exported some industrial products to China, mainly from the aeronautics industry. The sale of 22 planes from the Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) to a Chinese company was finalised during Li’s visit. A prior accord had established the sale of a total of 60.

Bilateral trade amounted to 77.9 billion dollars in 2014, with a trade surplus for Brazil, although it is shrinking due to the fall in commodity prices. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars in trade in the near future, according to the Chinese prime minister.

The stronger relations, especially the increase in Chinese investment, “could be positive for Brazil, but we have to control our enthusiasm over the closer ties,” said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Brazilian Society of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation.

“China may have more to gain than us in this process: they are seeking suppliers (of raw materials) throughout Latin America, but without any urgency because their economy has slowed down; they can think things through strategically, with a view to the long term,” the economist told IPS.

“With more experience built up in their ancient culture, they know what they want – they are seeking more global power, and alliances with emerging countries from other regions, like Brazil, expand their influence,” he said.

With nearly four trillion dollars in foreign reserves, they can finance the development of any country, he said.

Meanwhile, Brazil, “which is in an emergency situation and in need of short-term financing, is merely reacting, without any strategy,” he said. “That is why the enthusiasm over Chinese investment worries me; we could end up frustrated, and worse, it could expose us to manipulation, like what happened with Argentina.”

Lima said Brazil had already been frustrated once: when Brazil officially recognised China as a market economy in 2004, offering it better trade conditions, China failed to live up to its commitment of 10 billion dollars in investment in industry in this country.

Another disappointment was the promise to install in Brazil a 12 billion dollar plant by the Chinese company Foxconn, to produce electronic devices. In the end the investment amounted to less than one-tenth of what was promised when the deal was announced in 2011.

But today’s circumstances favour greater economic complementation between the two countries and more balanced bilateral trade.

“China stopped putting a priority on exports and is stimulating domestic consumption, while Brazil is in the opposite situation, with a reduction in internal demand and a greater export effort, which opens up a possibility of synergy between the two countries,” Lima said.

But clear goals are needed to take advantage of this opportunity, he said, “along with long-term planning with clearly defined priorities, the necessary reforms, and productive investment in manufacturing….but the Brazilian government seems to be lost.”

The Transcontinental Railway is designed “to prioritise exports of soy and minerals” to Asia, mainly China, he said.

“Historically railroads led to a major reduction in costs for land transport, replacing draft animals and carts,” said Rabello. “Costs fell from six to one, and even lower in some cases, and that stuck in the minds of people who still see trains as a solution, because they have no idea of today’s costs.”

As a result, several parallel railroads are being built in Brazil, running towards the centre of the country, where agricultural production, especially of soy, is on the rise. Where there was only one precarious railway for carrying exports they now want to offer three or four alternatives, or even more, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, which is “excessive,” the professor said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Development Threatens Antigua’s Protected Guiana Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:11:17 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140683 Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GUIANA ISLAND, Antigua, May 18 2015 (IPS)

In June 2014, Gaston Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls with a pledge to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.

In their first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Browne’s Cabinet approved a number of private investment projects valued in excess of three billion dollars."We want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but what... are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs?" -- Tahambay Smith

The largest is the Yida Investment Group, Guiana Island Project which will see the development of the largest free trade zone in the country, an off-shore financial centre, a five-star luxury resort, internationally branded villa communities, a casino and gaming complex, a multi-purpose conference centre, a 27-hole golf course, a marina and landing facilities, commercial, retail, sports and other auxillary facilities.

Headquartered in western Beijing, Yida International Investment Group was founded in 2011.

But Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island to start the proposed development has raised the ire of local environmentalists who have launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Browne not to allow the Chinese developers to break laws and to conserve the Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith told IPS.

“Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something?” he said.

“First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic,” he added.

Guiana Island, located off the northeast coast of Antigua between the Parham Peninsula and Crump Island, is the fourth largest island of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a refuge for the Fallow Deer, Antigua’s national animal.

Smith said building a marina in the area would also result in the destruction of reefs and removal of sea grass beds, adding that a few jobs and some investment dollars do no equate to the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” Smith said.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected.”

Ruth Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, agrees with Smith.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected,” she told IPS.

“How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?”

Eli Fuller is the President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS), the group spearheading the petition which outlines that Guiana Island falls within an area protected by the nation’s Fisheries Act and also falls within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), which was designated a Marine Protected Area in 2005.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” Fuller told IPS.

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood,” Fuller said.

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” he added.

But Prime Minister Browne said those who have raised concerns about the mangroves have taken a fundamentalist position.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country,” Browne said.

He added that, “some fauna may have to be destroyed” as government proceeds with various developments.

“My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment,” Browne added.

Fuller maintains that Prime Minister Browne was the man to petition in large numbers so that he could see that it wasn’t a “fundamentalist” minority that was very concerned with this particular development.

“He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas,” he said.

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws.

“We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” Fuller said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Megaprojects” Can Destroy Reputations in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:04:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140652 Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

Megaprojects are high-risk bets. They can shore up the government that brought them to fruition, but they can also ruin its image and undermine its power – and in the case of Brazil the balance is leaning dangerously towards the latter.

As the scandal over kickbacks in the state oil company Petrobras, which broke out in 2014, grows, it is hurting the image of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom belong to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

In its 2014 balance sheet, the company wrote off 6.2 billion reais (2.1 billion dollars) due to alleged graft and another 44.6 billion reais for overvalued assets, including refineries.

But the real magnitude of the losses will never be known. The company lost credibility on an international level, its image has been badly stained, and as a result many of its business plans will be stalled or cancelled.

The numbers involved in the corruption scandal are based on testimony from those accused in the operation codenamed “Lava-jato” (Car Wash) and in investigations by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, which indicated that the bribes represented an estimated three percent of Petrobras’ contracts with 27 companies between 2004 and 2012.

The biggest losses can be blamed on poor decision-making, bad planning and mismanagement. But the corruption had stronger repercussions among the population and the consequences are still incalculable.

It will also be difficult to gauge the influence that corruption had on administrative blunders, which are also political, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the devaluation of the assets was concentrated in Petrobras’ two biggest projects, the Abreu e Lima Refinery in the Northeast, which is almost finished, and the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), both of which began to be built when Lula was president.

Petrobras informed investors that COMPERJ, a 21.6-billion-dollar megaproject, abandoned the petrochemical portion of its activities in 2014 as they were considered unprofitable, after three years of waffling, and was downsized to a refinery to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil.

It will be difficult for Petrobras, now under-capitalised, to invest millions of dollars more to finish the refinery, where the company estimates that the work is 82 percent complete. But failing to finish the project would bring much bigger losses.

Thousands of workers laid off, economic and social depression in Itaboraí, where the complex is located, 60 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro, purchased equipment that is no longer needed, which costs millions of dollars a year to store, and suppliers that have gone broke are some of the effects of the modification and delays in the project.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Petrobras crisis is also a result of the crash in international oil prices and of years of government fuel subsidies that kept prices artificially low to help control inflation.

It also endangers the naval industry, which expanded to address demand from the oil company.

Shipyards may dismiss as many as 40,000 people if the crisis drags on, according to industry statistics.

The industry was revived in Brazil as a result of orders for drills, rigs and other equipment to enable Petrobras to extract the so-called presalt oil reserves that lie below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock and sand, in deep water in the Atlantic ocean.

The Abreu e Lima Refinery, which can process 230,000 barrels a day, has had better luck because the first stage is already complete and it began to operate in late 2014. But the cost was eight times the original estimate.

One of the reasons for that was the projected partnership with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which Lula had agreed with that country’s late president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

PDVSA never made good on its commitment to provide 40 percent of the capital needed to build the plant. But the agreement influenced the design and purchase of equipment suited to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude. The project had to be modified along the way.

Plans to build two other big refineries, in the Northeast states of Ceará and Maranhão, were ruled out by Petrobras as non-cost-effective. But that was after nearly 900,000 dollars had already been invested in purchasing and preparing the terrain.

The disaster in the oil industry has stayed in the headlines because of the scandal and the amounts and sectors involved, which include four refineries, dozens of shipyards and major construction companies that provided services to Petrobras and have been accused of paying bribes.

But many other large energy and logistical infrastructure projects have suffered major delays. These megaprojects mushroomed around the country, impelled by the high economic growth during Lula’s eight years in office and incentives from the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme.

Railways, ports, the expansion and paving of roads and highways, power plants of all kinds, and biofuels – all large-scale projects – put to the test the productive capacity of Brazilians, and especially of the country’s construction firms, which also expanded their activities abroad.

The majority of the projects are several years behind schedule. The diversion of the São Francisco river through the construction of over 700 km of canals, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes, and a number of dams, to increase the supply of water in the semi-arid Northeast, was initially to be completed in 2010, at the end of Lula’s second term.

But while the cost has nearly doubled, it is not even clear that the smaller of the two large canals will be operating by the end of this year, as President Rousseff promised.

Private projects, like the Transnordestina and Oeste-Leste railways, also in the Northeast, have dragged on as well.

Resistance from indigenous communities and some environmental authorities, along with labour strikes and protests – which sometimes involved the destruction of equipment, workers’ housing and installations – aggravated the delays caused by mismanagement and other problems.

The wave of megaprojects that began in the past decade was explained by the lack of investment in infrastructure suffered by Brazil, and Latin America in general, during the two “lost decades” – the 1980s and 1990s.

After 1980, oil refineries were not built in Brazil. The success of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline postponed the need. The country became an exporter of gasoline and importer of diesel fuel, until the skyrocketing number of cars and industrial consumption of fuel made an expansion of refinery capacity urgently necessary.

Nor were major hydropower dams built after 1984, when the country’s two largest plants were inaugurated: Itaipú on the border with Paraguay and Tucuruí in the northern Amazon rainforest.

The energy crisis broke out in 2001, when power rationing measures were put in place for eight months, which hurt the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The return of economic growth during the Lula administration accentuated the deficiencies and the need to make up for lost time. The wishful thinking that sometimes drives developmentalists led to a mushrooming of megaprojects, with the now known consequences, including, probably, the new escalation of corruption.

Not to mention the political impact on the Rousseff administration and the PT and the risk of instability for Latin America’s giant.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Murders of Gays Raise the Question of Hate Crimes in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:16:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140666 “Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

During the events surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, it emerged that a young transsexual had recently been killed in the city of Pinar del Río near the western tip of this Caribbean island nation.

While efforts to combat discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) are stepped up in Cuba, this segment of the population remains vulnerable to harassment and violence – and even death.

The Apr. 26 murder of Yosvani Muñoz, 24, which is under investigation, as the legal advice office of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) confirmed to IPS, raised questions about a sensitive and little-known issue in Cuba: hate crimes.

IPS asked experts and members of the LBGT community about the causes of killings of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), of which no official statistics have been published, but which have been reported periodically since 2013 by word of mouth, or in blogs or alternative media outlets.

Hate crimes include verbal abuse, threats, physical assaults and homicides motivated by prejudice based on questions like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic group or religion.

“We are fighting hate crimes together with the Interior Ministry (which the police answers to),” CENESEX director Mariela Castro said in exclusive comments to IPS. Castro is the most visible face of the national campaign in favour of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A thorough expert analysis is needed to determine what kind of killing it was because not all crimes involving LGBT persons as victims are motivated by hatred,” Castro, a sexologist, explained during the May 5-16 events surrounding the Day Against Homophobia.

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In Havana and the eastern province of Las Tunas, this year’s activities, focused on the right to work, had the support for the first time of Cuba’s trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de Cuba and the blessing of protestant pastors for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples.

The activities involved a festive conga line and demonstration with signs and banners, video clips, and debates on the rights of LGBT persons to information, freedom of thought, access to justice, personal safety, and violence-free lives.

The situation in Latin America

In Latin America only Uruguay specifically mentions hate crimes in its legislation, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have laws against discrimination that take into account aggravating circumstances in certain crimes, and some Brazilian states have anti-discrimination clauses in their local constitutions.

Because of the lack of official figures, non-governmental organisations compile information that is not systematised.

The Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua documented some 300 hate crimes against the LGBT population, especially trans women, in Central America from 2009 to 2013. In Mexico and Brazil the number of crimes targeting this population group is high.

In Cuba, the Ibero-American and African Masculinity Network is the only organisation that has published the results of investigations, without explaining the methods used to compile the information. It reported that in 2013 it heard about “more than 40 murders of homosexuals” killed in the same circumstances as the cultural figures Velázquez and Díaz.

They preceded the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is observed on May 17 because on that date in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) general assembly removed homosexuality from the global body’s list of mental disorders.

Castro said “theft and common crime are more frequent aspects in murders of homosexuals, according to the data presented to us by the DGICO (criminal investigation bureau),” which receives advice from and collaborates with CENESEX.

“There might be a hate crime murder once in a while, but they are very few,” she said.

The sexologist added, however, that “the number of hate crimes is not completely clear because of the lack of a specialised institution dedicated to classifying them….and this classification is important because the old term ‘crime of passion’ hides gender violence, violence between men, and violence between couples.”

Violent crime is generally surrounded by silence in this island nation of 11.2 million people, and killings of LGBT individuals are no exception. The 1987 penal code does not specifically recognise hate crimes, or sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in murders.

The law provides for sentences of 15 to 30 years in cases of homicide, and the death penalty is still on the books, although it has not been applied since 2003.

“MSM are at greater risk of being killed than women,” Castro said, citing the results of DGICO investigations regarding a category of men that includes gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“Part of the gay population does not perceive the danger when they irresponsibly choose sexual partners, without information,” she said. “They seek out young men who work as prostitutes, some of whom are criminals and try to rob them, and even kill when they defend themselves.”

Along with its work raising awareness to prevent HIV/AIDS, CENESEX warns of other risks posed by irresponsible sexual practices in gay meeting and recreational places or community social networks.

Oneida Paz, a 59-year-old manager, has not heard of murders or rapes of lesbians, a population group she belongs to. “Violence among women can exist, but it’s not common,” she said. “I do have friends who have been injured, because they were married to men who beat them when they got into a relationship with another woman.”

CENESEX said the number of murders of MSM in 2013 and 2014 was high. At that time the issue came to the forefront because of the deaths of two high-profile openly gay cultural figures, who died in strange circumstances, according to activists.

The local media, which is entirely state-owned, gave ample coverage to the violent deaths of choreographer Alfredo Velázquez, 44, in September 2013 in the eastern city of Guantánamo, and theatre director Tony Díaz, 69, found dead in his Havana home in January 2014. But they only mentioned their careers in the arts.

“I haven’t seen statistics and I’m no expert, but the murders I know about were ruthless. We’re killed for some reason, like theft or vengeance, but also because we’re gay,” said Leonel Bárzaga, a 33-year-old chemical engineer who told IPS about the murder of his friend Marcel Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, a 28-year-old gay professional, was stabbed 12 times on Jan. 6 in his central Havana home. “The police haven’t shared the results of their investigation yet,” said Bárzaga, who preferred not to discuss the specific motives for the murder.

Veterinarian Manuel Hernández, 41, said “I haven’t heard of murders of gays. But verbal attacks are definitely common in small towns, and in the workplace there’s a lot of discrimination,” above all in the rural town where he lives, Quivicán, 45 km south of Havana.

“It wouldn’t be crazy to talk about ‘hate crimes’ against LGBT persons in Cuba,” said Jorge Carrasco, a journalist who investigated gay gathering places in the capital in 2013. “That’s a term used by the Cuban police, in fact, and it’s not a product of paranoia. But I know as little about them as any other Cuban.”

Based on his interviews conducted in lonely outlying parts of the city, like the Playa del Chivo, a beach frequented by MSM to talk, arrange meetings and have sex with strangers, Carrasco explained by email that “many criminals go to those places to steal, and there have been murders. That’s why the police patrol them.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Poor Land Use Worsens Climate Change in St. Vincenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/poor-land-use-worsens-climate-change-in-st-vincent/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:08:01 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140638 The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The aftermath of a bushfire in southern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, May 14 2015 (IPS)

For 32 years, Joel Poyer, a forest technician, has been tending to the forest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

His job allows him a unique view of what is taking place in the interior of this volcanic east Caribbean nation, where the landscape mostly alternates between deep gorges and high mountains."Sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.” -- Joel Poyer

Poyer, a 54-year-old social and political activist and trade unionist, is hoping that during the 18 months before he retires, he can get the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to focus on how human activities on the nation’s beaches and in its forests are exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

“Right now, it’s like a cancer eating [us] from the inside,” he tells IPS of the actions of persons, many of them illegal marijuana growers, who clear large swaths of land for farming – then abandon them after a few years and start the cycle again.

Over the past few years, extreme weather events have shown the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines how activities happening out of sight in the forest can have a devastating impact on coastal and other residential areas.

Three extreme weather events since 2010 have left total losses and damages of 222 million dollars, about 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

In October 2010, Hurricane Tomas left 24 million dollars in damage, including damage to 1,200 homes that sent scores of persons into emergency shelters.

The hurricane also devastated many farms, including the destruction of 98 per cent almost all of the nation’s banana and plantain trees, cash crops for many families.

In April 2011, heavy rains resulted in landslides and caused rivers to overflow their banks and damage some 60 houses in Georgetown on St. Vincent’s northeastern coast.

In addition to the fact that the extreme weather event occurred during the traditional dry season and left 32 million dollars worth of damage, Vincentians were surprised by the number of logs that the raging waters deposited into the town.

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Forest Technician Joel Poyer says residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must play closer attention to how their own actions are exacerbating the effects of climate change. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

On Dec. 24, 2013, unseasonal heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, resulting in 122 million dollars in damage and loss.

Again, residents were surprised by the number of logs that floodwaters had deposited into towns and villages and the ways in which these logs became battering rams, damaging or destroying houses and public infrastructure.

Not many of the trees, however, were freshly uprooted. They were either dry whole tree trunks or neatly cut logs.

“We have to pay attention to what is happening in the forest,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the media after the extreme weather event of December 2013.

“If we are seeing these logs in the lower end, you can imagine the damage in the upper end,” he said, adding that the Christmas Eve floods had damaged about 10 per cent of the nation’s forest.

“And if those logs are not cleared, and if we don’t deal properly with the river defences in the upper areas of the river, we have a time bomb, a ticking time bomb, because when the rains come again heavily, they will simply wash down what is in the pipeline, so to speak, in addition to new material that is to come,” Gonsalves said.

Almost one and a half years after the Christmas disaster, Gonsalves tells IPS a lot of clearing has been taking place in the forest.

“And I’ll tell you, the job which is required to be done is immense,” he says, adding that there is also a challenge of persons dumping garbage into rivers and streams, although the government collects garbage in every community across the country.

The scope of deforestation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is extensive. In some instances, persons clear up to 10 acres of forest for marijuana cultivation at elevations of over 3,000 feet above sea level, Poyer tells IPS.

“Some of them may cultivate using a method that is compatible, whereby they may leave trees in strategic areas to help to hold the soil together and attract rain. Other will just clear everything, as much as five to ten acres at one time for marijuana,” he explains.

But farmers growing legal produce, such as vegetables and root crops, also use practices that make the soils more susceptible to erosion at a time when the nation is witnessing longer, drier periods and shorter spells of more intense rainfall.

Many farmers use the slash and burn method, which purges the land of many of its nutrients and causes the soil to become loose. Farmers will then turn to fertilisers, which increases production costs.

“When they realise that it is costing them more for input, they will abandon those lands. In abandoning these lands, these lands being left bare, you have erosion taking place. You may have gully erosion, landslides,” Poyer tells IPS.

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

During the Christmas 2013 disaster, flood waters deposited large volumes of neatly cut logs into residential and commercial areas in St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says that sometime access to these lands is so difficult that reforestation is very costly.

“Sometimes we will have to put in check dams to try to reduce the erosion and allow it to come under vegetation naturally and hope and pray that in two years when it begins to come under vegetation that someone doesn’t do the very same thing that had happened two years prior,” he explains.

As climate change continues to affect the Caribbean, countries of the eastern Caribbean are seeing longer dry spells and more droughts, as is the case currently, which has led to a shortage of drinking water in some countries.

Emergency management officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have warned that the rainy season is expected to begin in July, at least four weeks later than is usually the case. Similar warnings have been issued across the region.

This makes conditions rife for bush fires in a country where the entire coastline is a fire zone because of the type of vegetation.

The nation’s fire chief, Superintendent of Police Isaiah Browne, tells IPS that this year fire-fighters have responded to 32 bush fires, compared to 91 in all of 2014.

In May alone, they have responded to 20 bush fires – many of them caused by persons clearing land for agriculture.

Poyer tells IPS that in addition to the type of vegetation along the coast, a lot of trees in those areas have been removed to make way for housing and other developments.

“And that also has an impact on the aquatic life,” he says. “That is why sometimes we hardly see any fish along the coastline, because there are no trees to cool the water for the algae to get food.”

Poyer’s comments echo a warning by Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, who says that as the temperature of the Caribbean Sea rises, species of fish found in the region, important proteins sources, may move further northward.

The effects of bush fires, combined with the severe weather resulting from climate change, have had catastrophic results in St. Vincent.

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Rising sea levels haves resulted in the relocation of houses and erection of this sea defence in Layou, a town in southwestern St. Vincent. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Among the 12 persons who died in the Christmas 2013 floods and landslides were five members of a household in Rose Bank, in north-western St. Vincent, who died when a landslide slammed into their home.

“The three specific areas in Rose Bank where landslides occurred in in the 2013 floods were three of the areas where fires were always being lit,” Community activist Kennard King tells IPS, adding that there were no farms on those hillsides.

“It did affect the soil because as the bush was being burnt out, the soil did get loose, so that when the flood came, those areas were the areas that had the landslide,” says King, who is president of the Rose Bank Development Association.

As temperatures soar and rainfall decreases, the actions of Vincentians along the banks of streams and rivers are resulting in less fresh water in the nation’s waterways.

“The drying out of streams in the dry season is also a result of what is taking place in the hills, in the middle basin and along the stream banks,” Poyer tells IPS.

“Once you remove the vegetation, then you open it up to the sun and the elements that will draw out a lot of the water, causing it to vaporise and some of the rivers become seasonal,” he explains.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to spend millions of dollars to protect coastal areas and relocate persons affected by rising sea, as was the case in Layou, a town on the south-western coast, where boardwalk knows stands where house once stood for generations.

Stina Herberg, principal of Richmond Vale Academy in north-western St. Vincent has seen the impact of climate change on the land- and seascape since she arrived in St. Vincent in 2007.

“Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. … The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign,” she tells IPS.

Richmond Vale Academy runs a Climate Compliance Conference, where new students join for up to six months and take part in a 10-year project to help the people in St. Vincent adapt to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

“We had trough system on the 24th December 2013, and that a took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. … We have been observing this, starting to plant tree, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through,” she says.

The academy recently joined with the Police Cooperative Credit Union to plant 100 trees at Richmond Beach, which has been severely impacted by climate change.

“They will prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes we can do something,” Herberg tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pregnancy and Childbirth Still Kill Too Many Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pregnancy-and-childbirth-still-kill-too-many-women-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 17:01:16 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140632 A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A grandmother with her daughter - a young mother - and other members of their family in Mbya Guaraní Iboty Ocara, an indigenous village in the province of Misiones in the northwest of Argentina. Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable groups in Latin America in terms of maternal mortality. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 14 2015 (IPS)

In spite of strides in social progress, Latin America’s maternal mortality rates remain unacceptable, and many of the deaths are avoidable, occurring partly because of neglect of the prescriptions provided by experts: preventive action and health promotion.

Juan Reichenbach, a regionally renowned Argentine expert on maternal and child health, has hands-on experience of the problem with mothers and their infants, as a paediatrician and the national director of Motherhood and Infancy (2008-2009).

“If I had to formulate a simple maxim, I would say: Tell me where you were born and I’ll tell you whether or not you will survive,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“The main agents of change are prevention and promotion,” said Reichenbach, who is now a professor at Universidad Nacional de La Plata, where he is chief resident and supervises junior resident doctors at a children’s hospital.“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America." -- Juan Reichenbach

“In other words, the health of mothers and their children needs to be treated as a fundamental right,” he said.

“Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013,” a United Nations report published in 2014, revealed that the maternal mortality rate fell by 40 percent in Latin America over the stated period.

In spite of this drop in the maternal mortality rate, 9,300 women lost their lives in the region in 2013 due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the report said.

On average, approximately 16 women die every day in Latin America and the Caribbean from maternity-related complications, according to April 2015 figures from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO).

“When you look at the basic causes of maternal deaths you don’t have to be highly intelligent to see that they are related to lack of access (to the health system) and to abortions, which are the main cause of maternal deaths in Argentina and in Latin America,” Reichenbach said.

According to Bremen De Mucio, of PAHO’s Latin American Centre for Perinatology, Women and Reproductive Health (CLAP), “relevant and valuable” progress has been made, but the maternal mortality ratio remains at an “unacceptable” level.

The fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for improving maternal health calls for reducing the 1990 maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the end of 2015, as well as providing universal access to reproductive health.

“Continuing to promote human development is the key. And this goes beyond the health sector alone. Effective work to improve the social determinants of health has more impact than isolated health interventions,” De Mucio told IPS.

Reichenbach, for his part, said: “We will only make progress towards achieving the MDGs by educating people about human dignity and the right to life, which are not quantifiable aims.”

The main risk factors for maternal fatalities in Latin America could be reduced “almost to zero,” according to De Mucio. These risk factors are hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, haemorrhage and infections.

According to PAHO, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the main cause of death among women aged 20 to 34, and half of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions, in a region where voluntary termination of pregnancy is illegal in the majority of countries.

“About 700,000 babies are born every year in Argentina, and there are an estimated 500,000 abortions. The number of abortions goes unrecognised and unexamined by the health system, and is the tip of the iceberg of maternal mortality,” Reichenbach said.

He said that 35 percent of maternal deaths in his country are preventable with, for instance, proper monitoring during pregnancy.

• Between 1990 and 2013, Latin American countries reduced maternal mortality by an average of 40 percent, much less than the MDG target of 75 percent by 2015. However, 11 countries managed to reduce the rate by more than the regional average: Uruguay (-67 percent), Peru (-64 percent), Bolivia (-61 percent), Chile and Honduras (-60), Dominican Republic (-57), Guatemala (-49), Mexico (-45), Ecuador (-44), and Brazil and Haiti (-43 percent).

• The countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates in the region are Uruguay (14 per 100,000 live births) and Chile (22 per 100,000 live births).

• The highest maternal mortality rate occurs in Haiti, with 380 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Source: Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990-2013. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division.

Argentina’s national guidelines stipulate at least five health clinic check-ups for low-risk pregnancies, but in practice expectant mothers attend on average “less than 2.5 times, and the first visit is usually delayed. Some women arrive at a public hospital in a critical state when they are seven months pregnant,” Reichenbach said.

“Buying a computerised tomography scanner is not the solution; the real answer lies in adequate living conditions, education, employment, decent housing and access to health services,” he said. “Large maternity hospitals generally only intervene as a last resort to fix things after they have gone seriously wrong.”

In his view, the key is to take action at the primary level of health care, including providing an adequate sanitary environment and inclusion in a health system “that pays attention to patients’ daily problems,” reaches remote locations and conducts door-to-door visits in high-risk areas.

Serious cases should be detected promptly and referred to maternity facilities with essential obstetric and neonatal equipment, such as an operating theatre, blood bank, cardiopulmonary resuscitation apparatus and ambulances equipped to deliver emergency care.

Inter-disciplinary teams are needed where doctors are “just another member of the team,” alongside obstetricians, nurses, social workers and community health workers whose work is “much more closely linked to the local area and to people’s health,” he said.

Reichenbach said an “equitable” distribution of doctors is essential to serve marginalised populations, like indigenous peoples, who are “in the first ranks of the dispossessed,” and intra-regional migrants.

In Argentina, for example, there is one doctor per 80 inhabitants in Buenos Aires, while there is only one per 3,000 people in El Impenetrable, a vast forested region in the northern province of Chaco.

“If health is viewed as a right, it follows that every child, mother, teenager and elderly person – including the most impoverished – must be healthy, and that is not so difficult to achieve,” he said.

Health policies should address issues such as geographical remoteness, lack of infrastructure and cultural factors that prevent the spread of sexual and reproductive education.

“We are talking about pregnancy, but we also have to look at whether the pregnancy is wanted within the family, or whether it is an accident, caused by lack of information or by cultural factors, so that a 30-year-old mother ends up having seven or eight children,” he said.

Ariel Karolinski, a consultant for PAHO in Argentina, told IPS that for the past 20 years “the maternal mortality ratio has remained constant at about 40 per 100,000 live births,” although there are wide internal disparities.

However, between 2010 and 2012, for the first time Argentina achieved a fall in the maternal mortality rate with a “relative reduction of 22 percent,” he said.

Karolinski attributed this to programmes like Plan Nacer and Sumar, which expanded public health coverage for mothers and children and targeted the provinces with the worst health indicators, and to cash transfer schemes for pregnant women that are conditional on attending for prenatal check-ups and getting their children vaccinated.

Within Latin America, similar policies have allowed countries like Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay to reduce their maternal mortality rates by over 60 percent.

De Mucio stressed that in Bolivia and Peru there were “favourable repercussions from a pluricultural focus applied during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.” In Peru, additionally, large numbers of maternity waiting homes for women living far away from health centres have been set up.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, changes in “the law on abortion (available up to the 12th week of gestation since 2012) have contributed to virtually eradicating deaths from this cause,” he said.

However, “it should not be forgotten that the economic boom” has contributed to improving living conditions, a change which is “directly related to the reduction of maternal mortality,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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IACHR Tackles Violence Against Native Peoples in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 23:24:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140563 Members of the Bribri indigenous community during a February meeting with deputy minister of the presidency Ana Gabriel Zuñiga in the community of Salitre in southeastern Costa Rica, held to inform them of the government’s proposals for combating the violence they suffer at the hands of landowners who invade and occupy their land. Credit: Courtesy of the office of the Costa Rican president

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 11 2015 (IPS)

After years of violence against two indigenous groups in Costa Rica, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded that the government adopt measures by May 15 to protect the life and physical integrity of the members of the two communities.

The IACHR granted precautionary measures in favour of the Bribri community living in the 11,700-hectare Salitre indigenous territory, who have been fighting for years to reclaim land that has been illegally occupied by landowners.

“The law gives us the right to defend our claim to our territory, and one of the things it allows us to do is take back the land that is in the hands of non-indigenous people who are not living on it,” the leader of the community, Roxana Figueroa, told IPS.

Besides seeking to protect the community of Salitre, the resolution is aimed at safeguarding the Teribe or Bröran community in Térraba, also in the southeast. Around 85 percent of the Teribe community’s land is occupied by non-indigenous people, which violates their collective title to their ancestral territory.

Salitre, Térraba and the other 22 indigenous territories established in this Central American nation all share the same problem: the occupation of their land by non-indigenous landowners, in violation of international conventions and local legislation.

Costa Rica’s indigenous law, in effect since 1977, declared native territories inalienable, indivisible, non-transferable and exclusive to the indigenous communities living there.

Non-indigenous people “have come here to exploit nature and have occupied our lands or acquired them through fraudulent means from indigenous people,” said Figueroa, who spoke to IPS from a farm that the Bribri people managed to reclaim from a group of outsiders who had invaded it.

Figueroa, 36, says that while the level of violence has gone down in the community, “it’s still there, looming. They have identified those of us who took part in recovering this land, and they know who are participating in the struggle.”

There are very real reasons to be afraid. The violent incidents documented by the IACHR include a Jan. 5, 2013 machete attack on three unarmed indigenous men. One was also tortured with a hot iron rod; another was shot; and the third man nearly lost two fingers.

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

In one of the latest incidents, a group of non-indigenous men sowed terror in Salitre, where they burnt down a house before fleeing – a common modus operandi of the thugs.

The precautionary measures granted by the IACHR came in response to complaints filed since 2012 by two lawyers with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international organisation that works with forest peoples in South America, Africa, and Asia, to help them secure their rights.

It represents a crucial step in order for the case to eventually to make it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in the Costa Rican capital, San José.

The Court and the Washington-based IACHR are the Organisation of American States (OAS) human rights system.

The IACHR resolution, issued Apr. 30, stressed that the situation is grave and urgent, and that the damage caused is irreparable. It gives the Costa Rican government 15 days to deliver a report on the implementation of the measures it called for.

Besides demanding guarantees for the lives and personal integrity of the members of the Bribri and Teribe communities, the IACHR ordered the government to reach agreement on the measures with the beneficiaries and their representatives, and to investigate the violent incidents.

“This is a preliminary stage that would precede an eventual trial; the IACHR issues precautionary measures while it decides whether the case has merits to be taken to the Inter-American Court,” Professor Rubén Chacón, a lawyer who is an expert on indigenous law at the University of Costa Rica, explained to IPS.

According to Chacón, either the resolution will have a real impact on domestic policies, or the status quo will remain unchanged, and “if the Court asks, the state will respond that the country has an efficient judicial system.”

In his view, the violence against indigenous people has waned, but the authorities are failing to take advantage of this period of relative calm to tackle the roots of the problem.

However Chacón, who represents Sergio Rojas, one of the leaders of the indigenous peoples’ effort to recover their ancestral territory, acknowledged that things have changed. “If it weren’t for the willingness that the government is currently showing to some extent, the threats would be worse now than they were two years ago,” said Chacón.

The IACHR precautionary measures have come on top of international calls for a solution to the violence plaguing the indigenous people in Salitre, Térraba and other communities in Costa Rica, where 2.6 percent of the population of 4.5 million are indigenous people.

During a July 2014 visit to the country, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met with 36 leaders of different indigenous peoples, who described the hardships they suffer due to the authorities’ failure to enforce the laws that protect them and to take a hand in the matter.

In March 2012, then U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya visited the country, and Térraba in particular, drawing attention to the violence against Costa Rica’s indigenous communities.

According to Chacón, the visit played a crucial role because “in his report, Anaya outlined the extent of the confrontation between indigenous and non-indigenous people and the threats” in Térraba and Salitre.

The government of Luis Guillermo Solís has taken up the challenge of solving the conflict over land in Salitre and assigned the president’s deputy minister of political affairs, Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, as an intermediary in the conflict in Salitre.

Zúñiga told IPS that the government sees the IACHR’s precautionary measures as an endorsement of the work done since Solis took office in May 2014, which has included the launch of talks with the indigenous communities in the south of the country.

“They pointed out the positive things we have been working on,” said the deputy minister, who added that “the conflict has dragged on because the integral solution required is structural and has to counteract 30 years of institutional inertia.”

Although the IACHR specifically mentioned the violent incidents of the second half of 2014, Zuñiga argued that they were the result of a long-seated problem that cannot be solved in a few months.

“The conflict that broke out in July is due to a historical problem that has not been resolved. When we assess the situation, the most serious events occurred in 2012, like the branding with a hot iron rod,” she said.

The roughly 100,000 indigenous people in Costa Rica belong to the Bruca, Ngäbe, Brirbi, Cabécar, Maleku, Chorotega, Térraba and Teribe ethnic groups, according to the 2011 census, living in 24 indigenous territories scattered around the country, covering a total of nearly 350,000 hectares – around seven percent of the national territory.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Caribbean Looks to Paris Climate Summit for Its Very Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/caribbean-looks-to-paris-climate-summit-for-its-very-survival/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 20:50:22 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140534 French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

French President François Hollande and President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, May 9 2015 (IPS)

Caribbean leaders on Saturday further advanced their policy position on climate change ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties, also known as COP 21, scheduled for Paris during November and December of this year.

The position of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), 14 independent countries, was put forward by the group’s chairman, Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, during a meeting here with French President François Hollande.“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat." -- Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie

“The evidence of the impact of climate change within our region is very evident. Grenada saw a 300 percent loss of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as a result of one storm,” Christie told IPS

“We see across CARICOM, an average of two to five percent loss of growth due to hurricanes and tropical process which occur annually.

“For the Bahamas, which has 80 percent of its land mass within one metre of mean sea level, climate change is an existential threat to our land mass. Indeed, that is the story across the region. And as I have said from place to place, if the sea level rises some five feet in the Bahamas, 80 percent of the Bahamas as we know it will disappear. The stark reality of that means, we are here to talk about survival,” Christie added.

The Caribbean Community comprises the Bahamas, Belize, Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the member states of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Saturday’s summit gathered more than 40 heads of state, governments and Caribbean organisations to discuss the impact of climate change on the nations of the region.

The president of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy, said the summit goal is to give a voice to Caribbean nations on climate change through a joint statement, to be called “The Martinique Appeal”, to be heard at COP 21.

“Caribbean Climate 2015 is a push,” said Letchimy, “to vigorously encourage the international community to reach an agreement at COP21 to keep global warming below 2 degrees C. This is a crucial goal for Caribbean island nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change and which only contribute 0.3 percent of global greenhouse emissions.”

Letchimy said Martinique is addressing the climate issue by aggressively implementing the Climate, Air and Energy Master Plan developed in cooperation with the French government.

In order to promote a more circular economy that consumes less non-renewable resources, the Regional Council of Martinique has also decided to go beyond the Master Plan with a programme called “Martinique – Sustainable Island.” The goal is to achieve a 100 percent renewable energy mix by 2030.

Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said climate change is having a huge impact on the environment of his country, which in turn impacts on agriculture and the country’s eco-system.

“As you know we promote heavily ecotourism, and if action is not taken by the international community to halt greenhouse gas emissions we’re going to have a serious challenge,” Skerrit told IPS.

“We’re a coastal country and as the years go by you are seeing an erosion of the coastal landscape. You have a lot of degradation taking place. That has resulted in us spending tremendous sums of money to mitigate against that.

“Clearly, small countries like Dominica, and indeed the entire OECS do not have the kind of resources required to mitigate against climate change. We are the least contributors but we are the most affected,” Skerrit explained.

He said that out of this summit, Caribbean countries are hoping for a partnership with France to drum up support for the concerns of small island states like those in the OECS.

For the director general of the OECS, Dr. Didicus Jules, the impacts of climate change can be seen everywhere across the region, ranging from the rapid onslaught events like floods in St. Lucia, to the severity of hurricanes and erosion of beaches.

“It’s beginning to pose a huge threat as we saw in the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The last event there, the damage was equivalent of about more than 20 percent of their GDP,” he told IPS.

“So just a simple event can set us back so drastically and that is why the member states are so concerned because these events have all kinds of downstream impacts on the economy, not just the damage and loss caused by the events themselves.”

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

OECS Director General Dr. Didicus Jules. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The trough on Dec. 24, 2013 brought torrential rains, death and destruction not only to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but to St. Lucia and Dominica as well.

In the last three years, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been forced to spend more than 600 million dollars to rebuild its battered infrastructure. Landslides in April 2011, followed by the December 2013 floods left 13 people dead.

Jules said today’s meeting is unprecedented because France will be the chair of the COP meeting in Paris and it is perhaps the largest international event that the French president himself will personally chair.

COP21 will seek a new international agreement on the climate with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C. France and the European Union will play key roles in securing a consensus by the United Nations in these critical climate negotiations.

“He (President Hollande) wants this to be a success and use the opportunity to champion the voices of small island states given the French Republic’s presence in the OECS we felt that it was really a useful forum for having the voice of the Caribbean in this wider sense heard,” Jules said.

“That’s one of the reasons that we are now pressing hard with the French authorities to champion the cause of small island states so that the larger countries, those who are the biggest causes of the impacts on the environment take heed to what the scientists are saying.”

The CARICOM chairman said a satisfactory and binding agreement in Paris must include five essential elements.

These are, clarity on ambitious targets for developed countries, including a long-term goal for significant emission reductions; clarity on the adaptation measures and resources required to facilitate and enhance the sustainable development plans and programmes in small developing countries and thereby significantly reduce the level of poverty in these countries; and clarity on measures and mechanisms to address the development challenges associated with climate change, sea level rise and loss and damage for small island and low-lying coastal developing states.

Christie said it must also include clarity on how the financial and technological support both for mitigation and adaptation will be generated and disbursed to small developing countries.

“Further, it must be recognised that the existing widespread practice of using Gross Domestic Product per capita as the primary basis for access to resources simply does not address the reality of the vulnerability of our countries,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America’s Social Policies Have Given Women a Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-social-policies-have-given-women-a-boost/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 23:41:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140512 The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first day of the “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015” global conference, Wednesday May 6, in the Palacio San Martín, the seat of Argentina’s Foreign Ministry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Although they do not specifically target women, social policies like family allowances and pensions have improved the lives of women in Latin America, the region that has made the biggest strides so far this century in terms of gender equality, although there is still a long way to go.

Luiza Carvalho of Brazil, U.N. Women’s regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, said that can be seen in each report by her agency.

“It’s interesting to note that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America has in fact shown the greatest progress,” Carvalho said in an interview with IPS during the global conference “Women and Social Inclusion: From Beijing to Post-2015”, held in the Argentine capital from Wednesday May 6 to Friday May 8.

The advances made in Latin America, Carvalho said, “were not so much a result of economic policies; on the contrary, they were the result of social policies, which although not necessarily specifically aimed at women, ended up benefiting them a great deal, directly and indirectly.”“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality. -- Luiza Carvalho

Latin America’s successful cash transfer programmes include Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance, Ecuador’s Human Development Bonus and Mexico’s Prospera.

Other measures that have had a positive impact were the improvement of the minimum wage, which did not include a gender perspective but benefited women, who are disproportionately paid low wages. That bolstered their purchasing power and as a result their decision-making capacity and “their control over some domestic matters,” Carvalho said.

The same was true of initiatives aimed at protecting informal sector workers, and the creation of non-contributory pensions, among which Carvalho mentioned those of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico.

As a result of the various cash transfer programmes, “there is no doubt that extreme poverty was reduced throughout Latin America,” she said. “With improved buying power, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of non-contributory pensions there was also a significant modification in gender inequality.”

But she argued that these programmes have a handicap: they put an emphasis on the responsibility of women as mothers.

“The conditions set are for women,” she said. “Women have to help children stay in school, women have to get their children vaccinated. And those conditions do not reinforce a more responsible role for men in child-rearing.”

“If we want to go beyond these achievements, policies should be focalised,” said Jessica Faieta, the U.N. Development Programme’s regional director, referring to what she called “second-generation social policies.”

“These should be policies directly targeting the inclusion of women in development gains, which have not reached everyone,” Faieta told IPS.

She said women – especially rural, indigenous and black women – stood out among the “excluded groups”.

Faieta stressed that inclusion of women has a positive impact on poverty eradication.

For her part, Carvalho described it as a “virtuous circle” of development.

Faieta said: “It has been proven that including women brings broader returns. Employing more women and paying them more equal wages has benefits that go beyond women, to their families.”

“Latin America understands that clearly. So much that we are seeing the expansion of these programmes in Africa and their introduction in Asia, which are replicating Latin America’s positive experiences,” said Carvalho. To shore up that process, the UNDP and Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) are currently working on systematising the regional initiatives.

“There is a very significant possibility of South-South cooperation,” Faieta said.

Prominent participants at the opening day of the global conference in Buenos Aires included U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark of New Zealand.

The meeting organised by the UNDP, U.N. Women and the Argentine government drew delegates from different regions, to reflect on persistent and new challenges facing girls and women living in poverty around the world, 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Among the challenges seen at a regional level, Carvalho mentioned the still-high maternal mortality rates, violence against women, and its most serious expression: femicide or misogynist or gender-related murders.

“Of the 28 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are in our region,” she pointed out.

She attributed that phenomenon to “the failure of governments to respond with prevention measures, an entrenched ‘machista’ culture, a view of women as property or as part of a man’s private collection, and legal questions that block women’s access to land or credit.”

“Economic empowerment of women” is another pending challenge in Latin America, Faieta said. Despite the advances made in the region, “women still suffer the most from unemployment. And women are still paid less for the same work,” she pointed out.

Nevertheless, the report “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights”, launched Apr. 27 by U.N. Women, reflects the progress made, stating that between 1990 and 2013, the biggest increase in women’s participation in the labour market occurred in Latin America.

During that period, their participation rose from 40 to 54 percent – although it remained far below men’s participation, which stood at 80 percent.

With respect to the persistent gender pay gap: the report adds that while women earn on average 24 percent less than men globally, in Latin America and the Caribbean the figure is 19 percent.

And in all Latin American countries that carry out time use surveys, women dedicate two to five times as much time as men to unremunerated work.

Other achievements were the political inclusion of women, in the region with the largest number of female heads of state and government.

Eleven countries passed laws establishing quotas for women’s political participation; 26.4 percent of lawmakers are women; and on average 22.4 percent of government ministers are women – the highest proportion of all regions, although still not high enough for an inclusive democracy, Faieta said.

“It is clear that conditional cash transfers won’t fix everything,” Carvalho clarified. “For that reason other policies must also be implemented.”

That includes specific gender policies as well as macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies.

Carvalho criticised cuts in social programmes “that affect society as a whole but especially women because they undermine education and health policies, and others that increase their domestic burden.”

“Women depend on a web of social and economic policies…All policies, on the various levels, influence women and can improve or aggravate gender inequality,” she said.

“There can be no gender equality without justice, inclusion, growth and social development,” said Argentina’s minister of social development, Alicia Kirchner, during the conference opening ceremony.

Clark, the UNDP chief, said that in the global Post-2015 development agenda, to be defined in December, it is essential to guarantee that all policies contain a gender perspective.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Costa Rica’s Energy Nearly 100 Percent Cleanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/costa-ricas-energy-nearly-100-percent-clean/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 17:01:30 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140463 Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Seven percent of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from wind power, thanks to wind farms such as the ones operating in the mountains of La Paz and Casamata, 50 km from San José. But the automotive industry remains a hurdle to the country’s dream of achieving a totally clean energy mix. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Costa Rica has almost reached its goal of an energy mix based solely on renewable sources, harnessing solar, wind and geothermal power, as well as the energy of the country’s rivers.

In April, the state electricity company, ICE, announced that in 2015, 97 percent of the country’s energy supply would come from clean sources.

“The country as such, along with its energy and environmental policies, has decided that it wants its energy development to be based on renewable sources,” Javier Orozco, the head of ICE’s System Expansion Process, told Tierramérica.

But this Central American country of 4.5 million people still depends partially on fossil fuels. The official said “we use thermal energy generation as a complement because renewables depend on the climate and you can’t guarantee that there will always be wind or water.”

The country’s energy supply is based almost totally on clean sources. In March ICE announced that in the first 75 days of the year, not a single litre of oil nor kilo of coal were burnt to generate electricity in the country.

“In our country, we build thermal plants to keep them turned off. Our aim is to have thermal plants that are turned off most of the time,” Orozco said.

That objective is not always met, principally because hydroelectric power varies with seasonal stream flows. The year 2014 was dry and the country’s fossil fuel use hit a record level, generating 10.3 percent of the total electricity supply.

Since the mid-20th century, Costa Rica’s energy mix has been largely based on hydroelectricity. But the country has gradually reduced its dependence on that energy source, and in 2014 hydropower accounted for only 63 percent of the total demand of 2,800 MW, while geothermal energy supplied 15 percent and wind power seven percent.

Last year’s large petroleum bill was caused by the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world, which hit Central America hard and triggered one of the worst droughts in over half a century.

Projections of the future impact of climate change play a double role: while the world has to seek cleaner sources of energy to curb global warming, Costa Rica must diversify its energy mix because of the changes in hydrological patterns.

The country is thus exploring the limits of renewable energies and the possibility of generating 100 percent clean energy is on the table, as part of a strategy based especially on geothermal power.

This source of energy is hidden under the volcanoes of northwest Costa Rica. Local scientists and engineers are perfecting the technique of using the earth’s heat to generate electricity.

“We are planning the construction of the new geothermal plant, Pailas II, and we are at the stage of feasibility studies for a new field. Geothermal power is important because it isn’t subject to climate change, but is constant,” Orozco explained.
The plant will have 50 MW of installed capacity and it will join the ones already in operation: Pailas (35 MW), and Miralles (165 MW). That means that only 23 percent of the country’s geothermal potential of 865 MW is being used, according to ICE figures.

But the problem with respect to developing this source of energy is that the rest of the potential lies in national parks, where exploiting it is banned by law.

That raises the question of what definition of green energy the country will accept.

Experts like former minister of environment and energy René Castro (2011-2014) see the development of geothermal energy as viable.

“It is possible,” Castro told Tierramérica. “Two changes are needed: ICE would need to expand geothermal energy production, and the extraction of this source of energy in national parks would need to be authorised, while paying royalties to the parks and replacing the land used, twice over: if 50 hectares are used (in a park), the equivalent of 100 percent of its ecological value would be replaced.”

The other measure proposed by Castro is “to authorise the private sector to generate electricity with biomass from pineapple or banana plant waste, or sawdust,” and later sell it to ICE, which administers the energy supply and is the biggest producer of electricity.

Private operators represent 14.5 percent of total energy generation and one-fourth of installed capacity. But they face legal restrictions when it comes to expanding their share.

The investment needed would be similar to what is projected by ICE, which is close to one percent of GDP, the former minister said. “What would change is that instead of one single investor, ICE, it would be the dominant one, accompanied by around 30 other companies and cooperatives,” he said.

The country is in urgent need of holding this debate.

In July 2014, the legislature approved a loan from the European Investment Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to build the Pailas II geothermal project.

ICE is building plants that will expand its current installed capacity of 2,800 MW by an additional 800 MW.

At the same time, the government is holding a national dialogue on electrical energy, to discuss these issues, and a national dialogue on transportation and fuels, which will address the hurdle to Costa Rica’s dream of green energy: the fuel used in transportation.

Transport, the weakest link

“The transportation sector is the biggest energy consumer at a national level and is responsible for 67 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions,” said the current minister of environment and energy, Édgar Gutiérrez, at the start of the national dialogue talks.

That is why “addressing the challenges in this sector is a priority” for the government, he said.

No matter how clean Costa Rica’s energy mix becomes, the country will still produce emissions and will still have a “dirty” development model because of land transport.

One possible solution could come from Costa Rican-born scientist and former astronaut Franklin Chang, who is working on a hydrogen-based renewable energy system.

“The problem doesn’t lie in electricity but in transportation,” he told Tierramérica. “That’s where we have to distance ourselves from the use of petroleum, introduce our own fuel in our own country with hydrogen-based technologies.”

From his laboratory in Guancaste, in western Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean, Chang has partnered with Costa Rica’s state oil refinery, RECOPE, to create a pilot plan with several hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and has reached the test stage. But a technicality has stalled the 2.3 million dollar project.

In October, his company, Ad Astra, announced that it was ready to launch the final phase.

“It was the final flourish – we were going to install and create a small ecosystem of hydrogen vehicles,” said Chang. But RECOPE was unable to overcome the legal obstacle to operate using that energy source. “In March I announced that I was totally fed up.”

The legislature is currently studying a solution to enable RECOPE to invest in clean energy sources, but until then the project will be stalled.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Blue Amazon, Brazil’s New Natural Resources Frontierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 06:49:52 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140417 An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 2 2015 (IPS)

The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil.

The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both biodiversity and energy resources, is similar in extension to the country’s rainforest – nearly half the size of the national territory.

And 95 percent of the exports of Latin America’s giant leave from that coast, according to official figures.

Brazil’s continental shelf holds 90 and 77 percent of the country’s proven oil and gas reserves, respectively. But the big challenge is to protect the wealth of the Blue Amazon along 8,500 km of shoreline.

“We haven’t fully grasped just how immense that territory is,” Eurico de Lima Figueiredo, the director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Fluminense Federal University, told Tierramérica. “To give you an idea, the Blue Amazon is comparable in size to India.”

“But we aren’t prepared to take care of it; it isn’t yet considered a political and economic priority for the country,” the political scientist said.

Figueiredo, who presided over the Brazilian Association of Defence Studies (ABED) from 2008 to 2010, said the Blue Amazon is a term referring to the territories covered by new treaties on international maritime law.

Brazil is one of the 10 countries in the world with the largest continental shelves, in an ocean like the Atlantic which conceals untold natural wealth that offers enormous economic, scientific and technological potential.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprises an area which extends to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast.

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Brazil’s EEZ was originally 3.5 million sq km. But it later claimed another 963,000 sq km, which according to different national institutions – including scientific bodies – represents the natural extension of the continental shelf.

The U.N. Convention’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), made up of 148 countries, has so far sided with Brazil, adding 771,000 sq km to its EEZ. The decision on the rest is still pending.

Brazil’s demand, at least with respect to the expansion of the continental shelf granted so far, meets the requisites of the U.N. Convention and grants the country the power to exploit the resources in the expanded area and gives it the responsibility of managing it.

The recognition of Brazil’s claim, although only partial, has annoyed some neighbour countries, because of the huge economic benefits offered by the additional continental shelf it was granted.

Figueiredo said the challenge now is to monitor and protect the continental shelf. “We don’t have full sovereignty with regard to the maritime territory. Brazilian society is unaware of the important need to protect the Blue Amazon. There are enormous shortcomings, with respect to our needs.”

In 2005 a plan was approved to upgrade the navy with an estimated investment of 30 billion dollars until 2025. Defending a country is a complex task, said Figueiredo, because it involves a number of dimensions: military, economic, technical and scientific.

But scientific research in Brazil’s marine territory is currently far outpaced, he said, by the exploitation of resources such as the oil located 250 km off the coast and 7,000 metres below the ocean surface, beneath a thick layer of salt, sand and rocks.

Development of the so-called presalt reserves, discovered a decade ago, would make Brazil one of the 10 countries with the largest oil reserves in the world. And they already provide 27 percent of the more than three million barrels a day of oil and gas equivalent produced by this country.

“That region belongs to Brazil, the country has assumed commitments with the U.N. to monitor and study the living and non-living resources like oil, gas and minerals. If we don’t preserve it, we’ll lose this great treasure,” oceanographer David Zee, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, Brazil is far from living up to the commitments assumed with the international community. “We have duties – we have to meet the U.N.’s scientific research requirements. We have to take greater care of our marine resources,” he said.

Apart from the oil and gas wealth, a large part of the EEZ borders the Mata Atlántica ecosystem, which extends along 17 of Brazil’s 26 states, 14 of which are along the coast.

The environmental organisation SOS Mata Atlántica explains that coastal and marine areas represent the ecological transition between land and marine ecosystems like mangroves, dunes, cliffs, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and beaches. The biological wealth of these ecosystems turns marine areas into enormous natural nurseries.

And the convergence of cold water from the South with warm water from the Northeast contributes to biological diversity and provides shelter for numerous species of flora and fauna.

But only 1.5 percent of Brazil’s maritime territory is under any form of legal protection, Mata Atlantica reports.

Thus, ensuring national sovereignty over jurisdictional waters is still an enormous political and military challenge. In March, some 15,000 naval troops and 250 Navy boats and aircraft took part in Operation Blue Amazon, the biggest of its kind carried out so far in Brazilian waters.

“This was an opportunity to train and guarantee the security of navigation, crack down on drug trafficking, and patrol the sea. The mission involved the entire territorial extension of Brazil,” Lieutenant Commander Thales da Silva Barroso Alves, commander of one of the three offshore patrol vessels that Brazil has to monitor the Blue Amazon, told IPS.

These vessels control the extensive coast in “areas of great economic interest, exploitation and accidents. Illegal fishing is also a recurrent issue,” he said.

The officer argued that the extraction of marine resources should be carried out in a “conscious, sustainable fashion,” with the aim of preserving biodiversity.

Figueiredo, the political scientist, concurs. “Our ability to defend the Blue Amazon depends on our capacity to develop technical-scientific means of protecting biodiversity in such an extensive area,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Draconian Ban on Abortion in El Salvador Targeted by Global Campaignhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140406 One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women.

Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent to jail for supposedly undergoing illegal abortions.

There are currently 15 women in prison who were sentenced for alleged abortions after reported miscarriages. At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortions between 2000 and 2011, according to local organisations.

The campaign by Amnesty International and local human rights groups collected 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding a modification of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.

This Central American country of 6.3 million people is one of the few nations in the world to ban abortion under any circumstances and penalise it with heavy jail terms.

The campaign was launched when a woman was freed by an appeals court. She had been found guilty of homicide and spent 15 months in prison.

Carmelina Pérez wept tears of joy when a judge declared her innocent on Apr. 23, after a hearing in a court in the eastern city of La Unión, the capital of the department of the same name.

“I’m happy, because I will be back with my son and with my family, free,” a still-handcuffed Pérez told IPS. She has a three-year-old son in her native Honduras.

Pérez, 21, was working as a domestic employee in the town of Concepción de Oriente, in La Unión, when she suffered a miscarriage. She ended up sentenced in June 2014 to 30 years in prison for homicide – a sentence that was overturned on appeal.

Of the 17 women imprisoned in similar cases since 1998, 15 are still in prison.

That was the year the legislature modified the penal code to make abortion illegal under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is deformed or unviable, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Article 1 of the Salvadoran constitution was amended in January 1999 to protect the right to life from the moment of conception, making it even more difficult to reform the ban on abortion.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez, 25, was another one of the 17 women imprisoned, who are referred to by rights groups as “Las 17”. She had been sentenced to 25 years after being raped and suffering a miscarriage. She spent seven years in prison but was pardoned by the legislature in January 2015, after the Supreme Court recognised prosecutorial errors in her trial.

And in November 2014, 47-year-old Mirna Ramírez was released after serving out her 12-year sentence.

At least five other women have been accused and are in prison awaiting final sentencing.

Most of these women sought medical care in public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or stillbirths, but were reported by hospital staff fearful of being accused of practicing abortions. Many were handcuffed to the hospital bed and sent to prison directly, under police custody.

“The total ban on abortion is a violation of the human rights of girls and women in El Salvador, such as the rights to health, life and justice,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said at an Apr. 22 forum in San Salvador.

Guevara added that El Salvador’s law on abortion “criminalises the country’s poorest women.”

Although there are no recent figures, a 2013 study carried out by the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) found that 129 women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011.

Of this total, 49 were convicted – 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide in different degrees. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office argued that the fetuses were born alive and the mother was responsible for their death.

Of the 129 women accused, seven percent were illiterate, 40 percent had only a primary school education, 11.6 percent had a high school education and just 4.6 had made it to the university. And 51.1 percent of the accused had no income while 31.7 had small incomes.

In El Salvador, it is no secret that middle- and upper-class women have access to safe abortions in private clinics, and are neither reported by the doctors nor arrested and charged.

In its petition to modify the ban, Amnesty International demanded that El Salvador ensure access to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape or incest, where the woman’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is malformed or unlikely to survive.

Only the Vatican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Surinam and Chile have total bans on abortion, although in Chile the legislature is studying a bill that would legalise therapeutic abortion (under the previously listed circumstances).

Delegates from Amnesty International, the Agrupación Ciudadana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights met on Apr. 22 with representatives of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, to demand a reform of the law and deliver the 300,000 signatures.

They also met with the presidents of the legislature and judiciary.

“There is at least a willingness to talk, we see a certain openness,” activist Paula Ávila with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organisation based in the United States, told IPS.

Ávila added that as women who have suffered these cases increasingly speak out and tell their stories, the state will have to accept the need to sit down and talk.

The Center, along with the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, demanded a response from the Salvadoran state to a communication sent on Apr. 20 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) urging the state to recognise its responsibility in the death of “Manuela”.

Manuela – who never allowed her real name to be revealed – had a stillbirth, was erroneously accused of having an abortion, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was later discovered that she had lymphatic cancer, a disease that can cause miscarriages. She died in prison in 2010 without being treated for her cancer.

The IACHR has accepted the case and has given the Salvadoran state three months to respond with regard to its responsibility for her death.

The debate on the flexibilisation of the total ban on abortion is marked by the “machismo” of Salvadoran society and moralistic and religious overtones, with heavy pressure from Catholic Church leaders and evangelical churches that stands in the way of political changes.

But the release of Carmelina Pérez in La Unión has given rise to hope in similar cases.

For the first time, an appeals court judge dismissed the statement of the gynecologist who testified against the defendant. That decision was key in overturning her conviction.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Nicaragua Marriage Is Only for ‘Him’ and ‘Her’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:49:55 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140394 One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

A new Family Code that went into effect in Nicaragua this month represents an overall improvement in terms of the rights of Nicaraguans. However, it has one major gap: it fails to recognise same-sex marriage, and as a result it closes the doors to adoption by gay couples.

Organisations that defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons (LGBTI) fought to the end without success to get the new Code – Law 870 – to include the right of gay couples to marry and adopt children.

Marvin Mayorga, an activist with the Urgent Actions Against Discrimination for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project in Nicaragua, told IPS that the law is discriminatory.

“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family,” he said.“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family.” -- Marvin Mayorga

“And outside the family there are more barriers to achieving minimal guarantees and benefits like decent work, social security coverage, education, healthcare and housing,” he complained.

The activist stressed that “families in Nicaragua are diverse, but they want to impose one single model of what a family is.”

The new Code, approved by the legislature in 2014, finally entered into force on Apr. 8.

Its aim is to protect the rights of each member of the family as well as enforce the collective rights and obligations of families.

The driving force behind the drafting of the new Code, lawmaker Carlos Emilio López of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), told IPS that the 674-article Code updates and brings together in one legal instrument what was previously dispersed in 47 different laws and regulations.

The new Code addresses questions such as marriage, property rights, adoption, retirement, the rights of mothers, fathers and children, divorce, alimony and paternal and maternal responsibility.

Up to now, family questions were mainly included in the 1904 Civil Code, which according to López regulated these issues with a strongly conservative and Catholic tint, which subordinated women and children to the father as the breadwinner of the family.

“A careful analysis was made so that each member of society, as individuals that form part of families, had clear rights, obligations and duties in keeping with the country’s constitution and laws, so that there would be no discrimination against anyone for any reason,” he said.

López argued that there is no discrimination against the LGBTI community because the Nicaraguan constitution, which is above the new Code, protects the right of all Nicaraguans, and provides guarantees against inequality.

But Luis Torres, head of the local NGO Nicaraguan Sexual Diversity Alternative, told IPS that the new Code does discriminate against LGBTI persons by excluding them from the right to marry and forcing the state to provide social benefits only to family units recognised as such by the new Code.

“It’s a step backwards,” he complained. “Through the Code, the state excludes cohabiting same-sex couples from social security coverage. Neither marriage nor civil union between people of the same sex are recognised.”

That means in practice that “LGBTI couples do not have access to related rights like the right to a family loan, to adopt children, or to obtain social security coverage in case of the death or injury of a spouse, among other rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples,” Torres said.

The advances made by the new Code include recognition for the first time in this Central American country that civil unions – but only between a man and a woman – have the same rights and obligations as traditional married couples.

Ramón Rodríguez, a professor of criminal law and human rights law at the Central American University and the American University, said that because the Code “establishes that marriage and stable civil unions are only between a man and a women, a significant segment of the population, which forms part of the sexual diversity spectrum, is the direct victim of the violation of the universal principals of equality and non-discrimination.”

But Samira Montiel, Nicaragua’s ombudswoman for sexual diversity, disagreed with the criticism by human rights activists and LGBTI rights organisations.

“I would also have liked the Code to allow me to marry and adopt, but the constitution does not permit that and the Code cannot be above the constitution,” she told IPS.

Montiel said that although “for now” same-sex marriage has not been recognised, “the individual rights of each member of the lesbian-gay community are protected because they have equal rights as siblings, children, parents, relatives and citizens.”

“No lesbian woman or gay man who has a child will lose their right to parenthood, and they won’t be denied any benefits. So far I haven’t received a single formal complaint about the Code, no one has appealed it, there isn’t a single request for adoption of a child by a gay couple, and healthcare has not been denied to any lesbian or bisexual,” she told IPS.

One of the positive aspects of the Code is the fact that it accelerates the legal process for suing for alimony in divorce cases. Instead of dragging on for up to five years, the process can now take no longer than 150 days.

It also sets child support for sons and daughters under 18 to up to half of the income of the parent who is being sued, and creates fines for incompliance.

In addition, it creates a process for elderly parents to sue their children for abandonment, and gives sons and daughters up to the age of 24 the right to receive from their families money to buy food, in the case of proven need.

Furthermore, it addresses matters related to divorce, the division of assets, child protection, parental leave and other areas.

It also prohibits physical punishment or other humiliating treatment of children in any setting, and sets the age of marriage at 18 – the age of majority for both sexes, in terms of legal obligations.

The Nicaraguan federation of non-governmental organisations that work on behalf of children and adolescents had demanded that the age of marriage be raised, in order to put an end to marriages between girls aged 14 or even younger to adult men.

These marriages are often the so-called “family remedy” in cases of sexual abuse or pregnancy of girls and adolescents by adult men.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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