Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa News and Views from the Global South Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:26:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupation Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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Community Conversations in Ethiopia Prevents Exploitative Migration Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:30:44 +0000 UN Women Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.]]>

Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.

By UN Women
Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Five years ago, when Meliya Gumi’s two daughters, Gifty* and Chaltu,* aged 16 and 18, migrated to Dubai and Qatar respectively, as domestic workers, everyone thought they were moving towards a better future. As a widowed mother of eight with little resources, living in the village of Haro Kunta in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Gumi had a difficult time making ends meet.

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Gumi’s daughters made it to their destination countries through illegal brokers, but found themselves trapped in poor working conditions with no benefits or protection. They send some money to Gumi every now and then, which supplements her meagre income.

“My wish is to see my daughters come back home safe and I would never want them to leave again, as long as they have some income to survive on,” says Gumi, who is now one of the 22 active participants of the “Community Conversations” initiative in her village, supported by UN Women and International Labour Organization (ILO). The Community Conversations aim to prevent “irregular migration”—exploitative or illegal migration, including smuggling and trafficking of workers, mainly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries [1]—by providing information and making the community aware of the risks. The initiative also raises awareness about the ILO Convention 189, namely the Domestic Workers Convention, which went into force globally in 2013 and has 22 ratifications to date. Ethiopia has yet to ratify the Convention and raising awareness about protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers is a critical step forward.

Among the nine administrative regional states in Ethiopia, the Oromia region, where Gumi’s village is located, is most prone to migration and a popular source for illegal brokers. Some 161,490 domestic workers from this region have migrated overseas between 2009 and 2014, of which an estimated 155,860—96 per cent—were women [2].

“One of the key interventions of the Project is to also address safe migration for women,” says UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Funmi Balogun. “UN Women recognizes the rights of women to safe migration to seek better opportunities and to improve their livelihoods. To enable this, the project strengthens the capacities of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and its affiliates to provide gender-sensitive information as part of pre-departure training for potential migrant women domestic workers, so that they understand their rights, know how to access support and how to save and protect their earnings. This training and support were designed to assist potential female migrants understand their rights, whether in Ethiopia or in their receiving countries, know where support systems for them are located and strengthen their ability to effectively save and protect their earnings. The institutions were also supported to understand the rights of migrant workers as stated in ILO Convention 189, and to institutionalize processes and systems for reintegrating returnee women migrant workers into their communities.”

Coordinated by trained facilitators, the Community Conversations take place twice a month and engage men and women of different age groups, returnee migrant workers, families of migrant workers and prospective migrants, religious leaders and community influencers. The initiative is active in three regions of Ethiopia—Amhara, Oromia and Tigray—and in the Addis Ababa city administration since 2015, and have been successful in changing attitudes and practices of the communities regarding irregular migration. For example, in the Adaba district alone, within four months of implementation, the conversations led to significant reduction of irregular migration. The Government of Ethiopia is now institutionalizing the practice of Community Conversations at the village level throughout the country.

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha, Adaba district’s Head of the Labour and Social Affairs Office, notes that the initiative is not only helping the villagers in making informed decisions about migration, it is also empowering them to identify the root causes of migration and take their ideas for solutions to policy makers. “In past four months, we have prevented 19 individuals—13 women and 6 men— from taking up irregular migration, and enabled 31 school drop outs who were preparing to migrate illegally, to get back to school in this community,” he added.

As Gumi shares the experiences of her daughters as a cautionary tale for others, she stresses, “If enough resources, including land and employment, is provided to the younger ones, there will be no need for them to migrate.” As a result of the discussions and with the support from the government, some parents have started investing in their children’s education and income generating activities, rather than financing irregular migration.

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

The Community Conversations in Adaba District are part of a joint project, ‘Development of a Tripartite Framework for the Support and Protection of Ethiopian and Somali Women Domestic Migrant Workers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Lebanon and Sudan’ by ILO and UN Women and funded by the European Union. Over 140,000 women and 85,000 men have participated in the Community Conversation initiative as part of the project.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals

[1] The GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
[2] UN Women (2015). Unpublished study on the Nature, Trend and Magnitude of Migration of Female Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) from Ethiopia to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, Lebanon and Sudan. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Prices Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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In Host Country Lebanon, Refugee and Rural Women Build Entrepreneurship, Cohesion and Future Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:44:32 +0000 UN Women Women entrepreneurs from refugee and host communities in Lebanon are using their unique skills and creativity to build their own model of social stability in Lebanon while launching economically viable businesses.]]> Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By UN Women
Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

“When we were forced to leave our country, I never thought that a community in Lebanon would accept and treat me as an active member, the way I have been at the Kfeir Women’s Working Group,” says Hiba Kamal, an 18-year-old refugee from Syria who travelled to Lebanon with her family five years ago fleeing instability in her own country.

Kamal is among more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria and its neighbouring countries, hosted by Lebanon. The massive influx of refugees accounts for 25 per cent of the total population in Lebanon and puts unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese economy. There is an ever-increasing demand for public services and significantly stronger competition for limited resources and employment.

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

The protracted refugee and migrant crisis has led to increased tensions between host and refugee populations, especially in the poorest areas, where refugees tend to concentrate. There is a higher risk of insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence [1].

Women, both Lebanese citizens and refugees, often suffer more discrimination due to the prevalence of prejudiced laws and cultural stereotypes. They are frequently either restricted at home, or relegated to finding low and unstable income within the informal sector without social protection.

To improve women’s access to employment and markets, the Amel Association, a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, implemented a three-year project from 2012 – 2015 in the south of Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut. The project has impacted over 1,000 rural and refugee women, who have learned how to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, such as embroidery and accessories, organic and agro-food products, following the highest quality and sanitation standards.

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Through interactive sessions, where refugee and Lebanese women learned and worked together, the programme also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence to build social stability. “The [Lebanese] women started teaching me their traditional needle work and I was genuinely happy to share with them all the traditional practices that I had learned from my mother and grandmother in loom work,” shares Kamal. By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, participants link their cultural heritage and history with the products, making them unique and highly marketable.

“We started seeing real results of our work when some of the women started creating their own products and started exhibiting them. They grew stronger, more confident and set inspiring examples for other women in the area,” says Safaa Al Ali, Programme Manager at the Amel Association.

The organization facilitated an alliance with 13 other civil society organizations and cooperatives doing similar work to create the first economic network for women in Lebanon, called “MENNA” (meaning “from us” in Arabic language). Today, more than 300 refugee and rural Lebanese women producers sell soaps, candles, accessories and handicrafts directly to the public in a shop in Beirut also named MENNA.

“I came to Lebanon as the crisis began in Syria five years ago…it was hard to find a suitable job as a refugee and I could not access the formal business sector,” shares Mona Hamid, a 51-year-old Syrian refugee living in the suburbs of Beirut. “By joining the MENNA network at Amel, I gained skills to sell and promote my items at local businesses and also showed them at exhibitions.”

The success of the initiative prompted Amel to create a MENNA catering service in February 2016, opening up more income-generating opportunities for women.

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

The MENNA brand has brought together Lebanese and refugee women in a way that has benefited entire communities. “The importance of this project is that it respects the culture and skills of refugee women and assists them in integrating into the host community. It is a model that works, not only to make women agents of their own economic empowerment in a fragile context, but also as a way that brings them together to work for a common goal, thus building social stability and sustainable peace,” notes Rana El-Houjeiri, Programme Specialist for UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality in Lebanon. The Fund is now building upon the success of this project by supporting similar initiatives in Lebanon and other countries in the Arab States region.

[1] Amel Association International (2013). Unpublished study on “Gender analysis of Host Communities affected by Syrian Refugee Crisis”

This story was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official
partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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Building Bridges: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the Emirates at the Vatican Thu, 15 Sep 2016 19:32:13 +0000 Rubya Delarose Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

By Rubya Delarose
ROME, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

As the rise of religious racism and Islamophobia sweeps across Europe, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is increasing their emphasis on the message for peaceful tolerance across all nations.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Zayed met with Pope Francis in Rome recently. The meeting held at the headquarters of the papacy was also attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State. The focus of their meeting was on global development and social and humanitarian issues, including initiatives in the educational and health areas in underprivileged communities.

Pope Francis commented at the meeting that the U.A.E’s adoption and deployment of sustainable sources of energy and support of countries and communities in need act as outstanding contributions to international development.

“Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to the Pope is part of his continuous meetings aimed at promoting the values of tolerance, peace and co-existence in all societies” Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance told Emirates News Agency WAM.

As terrorism destabilizes Europe, Sheikh Zayed’s meeting at the papacy was an opportunity to confirm the U.A.E’s condemnation of all forms of violent extremism and his country’s position as a united force against intolerance.

WAM reported that the U.A.E stands with Pope Francis on his universal rejection of extremism. The Vatican and the U.A.E recognize that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam.

As the consequences of Islamophobia threaten Muslims worldwide, the need to spread a message of tolerance across all religions is vital. Any form of extremism must be denounced.

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U.A.E Stands By Conflicted Yemen Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:34:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

As unrest and chaos plague Yemen, the U.A.E is not waiting in silence. Recognising that in spite of being impoverished Yemen has always been strategically important for U.A.E and the region, the warfare and conflict will not only gravely affect the region itself but could also obstruct the future security of the Middle East as a whole.

Extremist forces continue to hinder Yemen’s development and block any path to peace for the strife-torn nation. However, the U.A.E is determined to put the threat radical armed groups pose to a halt.

According to a recent report issued by Emirates News Agency, WAM, the U.A.E has played a crucial role in the growing success in the fight against Al Qaida in Southern Yemen.

Recently, the U.A.E supported Yemen’s significant military advancement. After five years of lawlessness and terrorist control in the province of Abyan, the Yemeni army managed to liberate the region and wipe out the deathly threat of terror posed by Al Qaida and its allies in Daesh. (ISIL) The U.A.E played a fundamental role in this military triumph through the extensive aerial cover provided whilst the Yemeni army advanced on the militants.

However, once secure in the knowledge of having gained back control over the conflict-ridden territory, the U.A.E did not stop there. The Emirati volunteer organization, the Emirates Red Crescent, successfully launched several humanitarian missions and provided vital food and water supplies to civilians most affected in the province.

The U.A.E’s forces have not only been victorious in their attempts to eradicate the chaos inflicted by extremist groups, they have also placed a strong emphasis on providing aid to all civilians, including those considered “unreachable”. They are committed to their pledge to provide sustainable development and long-term aid in a bid to rebuild Yemen’s civil society.

The recent military success in Abyan follows the recapturing of a major port in addition to an airport and surrounding territory in the coastal city of Al Mukalla, once seized by Al Quaida.

The operation had been planned six months in advance in order to ensure its success . More than 20,000 soldiers engaged in the warfare which lead to victory and a weakening of the Al Quaida threat. Subsequent operations focused on sustainable development for the city including the rebuilding of demolished buildings and the restoration of security at the city’s airport and port.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, emphasises that “”it is just as important to root out the terrorists from their bases and bring Yemen’s coastal territories back to orderly government so that some measure of calm, normal business and social life can restart.” The U.A.E’s commitment to restore stability, security and order in Yemen is admirable. Through the donation of roughly 1.17 billion USD in the past 16 months to the crucial military assistance to eradicate the threat extremist armed groups pose, the future prospect of peace brings more hope to strife-torn Yemen.

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Islam Right Now Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:26:35 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Watching Christianity nearly a century–fundamentalist Christians fighting ritualistic Christians fighting secularism, generally moving fundamentalism–>ritualism–>secularism–maybe the same for Islam? Their similarities make “Islam right now” a repetition of Christianity; their differences shout, Watch Out! Let us see where this leads us.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Violence-prone fundamentalist evangelical Christians are still on top of the USA and some Nordic countries; but much less in ritualistic Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, meaning by far most of Europe.

Beauty of worship, the psychology of confession, less verbalism; all help.

Secularism makes faith so metaphorical for many that Christianity becomes only a ritual for Christmas-Easter, baptism-marriage-funeral (if there are no secular alternatives). Result: empty churches.

Our secular age makes literal faith in dogmas difficult, and that tears at the faith. But this is where two major differences enter:
• Islam is much less dogmatic, there is much less to tear at, only the readily acceptable shahada, faith in one Alla’h and his prophet Muhammad;
• If that faith turns metaphorical, Islam has the other four pillars of Islam to fall back upon: prayer together, sharing, fasting, pilgrimage, every day, a whole month every year, once a life.

The point of gravity in Islam moves more easily from faith to practice; and may stop there. There is much built-in outer practice that will survive a decrease in inner faith. Result: full mosques.

Moreover, the four pillars are compatible with key secular values:
• prayer together: with more we-, less I-culture less loneliness;
• sharing: with more altruism, less egoism;
• fasting: with more solidarity for those in misery and self-control;
• pilgrimage, with the sharing of something sacred, above our selves.

A “good Muslim” does all that; what does a “good Christian” do? Going to mass and to the confession booth are church, not social, answers. The clear social answer is monastic orders, monks and nuns dressing, living apart from others, doing Samaritan work. Others are invited to do the same, but where-when-how? Easier leaving it to the state.

The West should stop talking about jihad and jihadism as “holy war”, even if also abused by some Muslims, and try to understand[i]. Jihad means “to strive, exert oneself in the path of God”[ii].

There are four aspects: inner, greater jihad fighting the evil in oneself; spreading Islam by the word; by good deeds, like honest business; and defensive jihad if Islam is trampled upon with moderate retribution. No aggression: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggression.” (Qur’an 2:190).

Jihad accommodates honest business a religious duty. Like chosen people, promised land (Genesis 15:18) in Judaism makes fighting for Israel from Nile to Euphrates a religious duty. Like warfare to protect the West is a Christian duty, for God, King and Fatherland.

God is divine, King semi-divine as rex gratia dei, Fatherland not. The gap between Christianity and secular Fatherland has been bridged by preventive war as sacrament[iii]; reactive war against attack not needed. In EU, however, there is a mix of Fatherlands with no King and no God. Hence Br-exit for her to continue to Rule the Waves, for God or not.

Imagine Muslims abusing a Western sacred word, democracy, calling Western wars “democratism”.

They would be right because people who profess democracy also often go to war. And they would be wrong by missing the whole idea. Like “jihadism”, “democratism” would locate the cause of war on the other side, and not in the relation between them; making the relation even worse instead of appreciating the profundity.

Christians give to Caesar that of Caesar and to God that of God, opening for secularism. Islam does not, but moves from fundamentalist true faith to ritualistic true practice are compatible with secularisms.

Such as democracy, in Muslim Egypt and Turkey; Islam embracing “all equal under the law” as a special case of “all equal under Alla’h”. USA did not like it but preferred a military coup. To Washington, national evangelist, “true” democracy means “pro-USA” democracy.

How about IS, is it more I for Islamic faith, or more S for State with institutions for the other four pillars? It could be both, making transitions from true believers to true ritualistic practitioners easy. The problematic word is not “Islamic” but “State”. Pitted against USA and EU IS may take on their attributes; after Brexit more USA than EU.

The historical record is terrifying and long-lasting, including:
• Islam expanding East-West to the Iberian peninsula 711-1492, north but beaten at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571), Vienna (1683); stopped in the Balkans;
• The Catholic Christian Crusades 1095-1291 against Muslims but also against Orthodox Christians and Jews;
• Three centuries across the Mediterranean to Barcelona-Genoa-Napoli to catch Christian slaves for heavy road work[iv];
• West colonizing Islam (except Iran) 1830-1960, starting with Algeria;
• The massive US-led coalitions attacking in Afghanistan from 2001 and in Iraq from 2003 with 9/11 as a pretext, killing, displacing millions;
• IS now killing a small fraction, as retribution with moderation[v].

Six violences, three by each. The first four lasted centuries, a bad omen for the last two. But have a second look. In the first two the two religions played major roles; in the last two the state system, United States vs Islamic State[vi].

State wars are shorter; decades, not centuries. However, the wisdom of challenging US as an Islamic state rather than as an invincible ummah with provinces can be disputed[vii].

We have given reasons that Islam will survive secularization better than Christianity, having much to fall back upon; how about IS vs US?

We might argue that both will lose because the state system itself is yielding to regionalism and localism. Islam is ready, with ummah regionalism and imam localism.

Christianity, however, is split between Latin and Anglo America, US and EU, Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe–much more than Sunni vs Shia and Arab vs non-Arab. And local churches are more for spiritual, not also for mundane affairs[viii].

On top of that: the world, even USA, is tired of endless warfare. Let Islam settle. The West and Christianity have serious work to do.


[i]. Gary Wills, the famous columnist, took the trouble to understand: “My Koran problem”, NYRB, 24 March 2016. His Koran problem was that he knew nothing: “–we Christians begin with the greatest deficit of knowledge /whereas/those who know the Koran have quite a lot of knowledge about Torah and Gospel, since Allah sent them both to earth before he sent the Koran.–we Westerners cannot even remember it unless we learn something about the Koran. It’s about time”. Indeed.

[ii].Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, in a lecture and in articles like “Concept of ‘jihad’ misunderstood”, New Straits Times 14 July 2014.

[iii]. Look at who comes to the funerals of Norwegian soldiers with mandate to kill in Afghanistan: the King, top bishops.

[iv]. Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, Palgrave Macmillan.

[v]. Sarah Birke, “How ISIS Rules”, NYRB, 5 Feb 2015: armed resistance being difficult, the alternative from the inside was silent resistance, or migration. Or what we have now, open US/IS warfare.

[vi]. But religious discourse did not wither away, here are two:
* George Bush 10 Feb 2003, on a possible attack on Iraq: “Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world”. (Washington Post, 10 Feb 2003);
* Osama bin Laden 11 Feb 2003: “victory comes only from God, all we have to do is to prepare and motivate for jihad”. Audio message conveyed by

[vii]. For a deep analysis of the present situation, see Abbas Aroua, “The Salafiscape in the Wake of the Arab Spring”,

[viii]. In a play, Maria og Magdalena; Lidelseshistorien og kristen=dommen (the Passion Story and Christianity) Oslo: Kolofon 2016, this author tries to liberate Crist, driven by conscience and compassion, from the Church as Mary’s son, not God’s begotten by the Holy Spirit–as inspiration for us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 September 2016: TMS: Islam Right Now

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseases Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.

Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Drought Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.


Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.


Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.


Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]


Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.


The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.




[2] List compiled from: and



[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.


[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series,

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Lead Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.


Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”


Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation


How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.


Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”


Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslaved Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Iran: Children at the Gallows Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:11:46 +0000 Rose Delaney2 At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

As Iran currently executes the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world, hundreds of Iranian minors helplessly watch their childhoods pass them by as they await their fatal ends behind bars.

Shockingly, rights groups have reported that Iran has executed at least 230 people since the beginning of 2016.

Whilst the majority of countries worldwide are fighting for the eradication of capital punishment against adults, Iran continues to sentence girls as young as 9 and boys aged 15 to death.

According to a recent report issued by Amnesty International, at least 160 young Iranians currently await execution.

Whilst Iran is a major perpetrator in this human rights violation against minors, a host of countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen uphold Iran’s belief that the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment for “devious” minors.

The death penalty for minors in Iran is invoked by what are considered to be “Hodud crimes”. “Hodud” refers to offenses which have fixed definitions and punishments under Islamic law.

For example, those engaged in the practices of alcohol consumption, adultery, and same-sex fornication will, in most cases, face the grave consequence of death.

Iran’s brutal stance on the death penalty was brought to the fore this August as Human Rights Watch reported on the mass execution of 20 felons in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison on August 2nd.

Whilst a score of “criminals” were put to death this month , Alireza Tajiki , managed to narrowly escape his final execution date of August 3rd.

Alireza, now 19, was sentenced to death at the tender age of 15, following a trial that did not meet international standards of justice by any means.

Thankfully, the young Iranian evaded execution due to the support of a lawyer. However, the postponement is only temporary.

Alireza, who has been convicted of rape and murder, is one of the hundreds of young Iranians to be sent to the gallows for what Iran considers to be “the most serious” of crimes.

Hassan Afshar, arrested at 17 and convicted of “forced male to male intercourse” did not share the same luck as Alireza.

On July 18, Amnesty International reported the hanging of Hassan by Iranian authorities. He had no access to a lawyer.

Drug-related crimes are also amongst the host of “atrocities” to be deemed punishable by death.

Janat Mir, a young Afghani residing in Iran was arrested for drug offenses after his friend’s house was raided by local police.

Similar to the vast majority of young people in his grave situation, he could not avail of legal protection or consular services.

He is said to have been 14 or 15-years-old when he was mercilessly executed in 2014.

Unfortunately, many convicted youths in Iran find themselves trapped in similarly hopeless situations to those described above.

The most alarming issue is that Iranian minors are, for the most part, blindly unaware of their rights to a fair trial.

Although a progressive path was paved when the Iran Supreme Court announced that youths sentenced to death could apply for a retrial, this reform did not leave the impact it should have.

While the official policy has been amended and undertaken, an underlying problem persists; the vast majority of incarcerated children are kept in the dark on their right to a retrial.

Even though a revised Islamic Penal Code was introduced in 2013 wherein children who “did not comprehend the nature of their crime” or who lacked “mental growth and maturity” during the criminal act could be given an alternative punishment to the death penalty, the code does not meet Iran’s international obligations.

No judge or courts, under any circumstances, should have the authority to sentence juvenile offenders to death.

In this way, Iran has consistently failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, by neither protecting nor informing minors of their rights and also refusing to put an end to the death penalty for minors.

Ironically, Iran often denies confining and subsequently executing young offenders.

In April 2014, the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, stated: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have no execution of people under the age of 18.”

In this sense, it remains evident that the Iranian judicial system demonstrates a blatant disregard of its human rights obligations to children.

James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, emphasised his belief that “Iran’s bloodstained record of sending juvenile offenders to the gallows, routinely after grossly unfair trials, makes an absolute mockery of juvenile justice and shamelessly betrays the commitments Iran has made to children’s rights.”

In many ways, the amendment of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code is the fundamental key to achieving child development and juvenile justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Penal code must be altered in order to explicitly prohibit the use of the death penalty for all crimes committed by people under 18 years of age, increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls to that for boys, which is currently set at 15, and ensure that no individual under 18 years of age is held culpable as an adult, in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Now, it is time for the world to call for a reform of the Islamic Penal Code.

The justice, freedom, and fundamental human rights Iran’s children behind bars have been so mercilessly denied of must be put to an almighty halt.

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Is Hypocrisy The Silent Strategy of Western Democracy? Wed, 03 Aug 2016 15:12:55 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The official reasons for the US-led, UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003 were to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism, and free the Iraqi people.

However, immediately after the United States deposed and killed Iraq’s dictator and established a new authority to govern the country, a chaotic post-invasion environment surfaced, militias formed, inter-ethnic violence between Sunnis and Shias increased, and the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light.

In the following years, communities have been displaced, terror attacks have increased, and the Islamic State has emerged. Since the beginning of the invasion by the US and its allies until the present day, 180’000 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a database by the Iraq Body Count.

While it is undisputable that Saddam Hussein’s regime was brutal and appalling, the misery brought on by the war and endured by Iraqis until today is incomparable to the former dictator’s reign.

The Iraq War represents a catastrophe that could not have been more disastrous. It most certainly brought the calamitous failures of western powers to the fore.

On the 6th of July 2016, Sir John Chilcot delivered a crushing 6000-page verdict on the Iraq War and condemned former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in backing George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

In the document, Blair is accused of exaggerating the threat Saddam Hussein posed to British interests. The report states that peaceful alternatives to the war were not explored.

It further states that the information regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was presented in the media and named as one of the main causes of the war in spite of there being no proof of the existence of such weapons.

Chilcot writes that the United Kingdom and the United States have undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council by going ahead with the invasion, and concludes that the war in 2003 was indeed, unnecessary.

Although Blair openly acknowledged parts of the accusations, he also rejected others. Blair believes that it was essential to remove Hussein and that the war is not the cause for the terrorism of today in the region. In the midst of all these allegations, American officials so far have kept quiet.

The families of the 179 Britons killed so unnecessarily during the war will use Chilcot’s report to seek justice. The families of the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, however, may never receive it.

They never decided to be in a war. They were no soldiers. Yet their houses, their streets, their infrastructure, their way of making a living – everything has been destroyed, as life in the UK and America goes on as undisturbed as it has before the Iraqi war.

Saddam has gone, but in his place, we now have 1000 Saddams”, Kadhim al-Jabbouri, an Iraqi who used to repair Hussein’s motorcycles, told BBC news.

Blair and Bush have repeatedly insisted that Iraq and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein.

However, as the ringleaders behind the mass violence executed in Iraq, who are they to decide who deserves to live and die?

Blair and Bush are responsible for havoc and murder, and the galling question cannot be avoided: In the end, who killed more Iraqis?

The two democratically elected representatives of Western democracies, or the dictator who ruled Iraq before their arrival?

Wanting to bring freedom to the people in Iraq is an honourable endeavour, however, whether this was the genuine intention of the US and Great Britain remains doubtful.

In many ways, Blair and Bush’s decision to wage war on Iraq represents the notion that Western democracy can easily be turned into western hypocrisy

Broadcasting the inhumane violence conducted in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention and as “war on terror”, the whole invasion really seems to have been engineered as a means of gaining power for the US and the UK.

In the end, this power-hungry style of governance has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

It is thus deeply appalling that today, the entire Muslim population is held responsible by presidential candidate Donald Trump and other Islamophobes in the United States and Europe for the criminal group that calls itself the Islamic State – a group whom no one has elected, and maybe would not even exist if it were not for countless US interventions.

Why then should Western liberal democracies not be held accountable for mass murderers like Tony Blair and George Bush who were in fact fairly and freely elected?”, Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies at Colombia University, argues on Aljazeera.

In the process of writing the Chilcot report, the British government has prevented the release of specific documents. The exposure of extracts of a conversation between Bush and Blair recorded prior to the invasion of Iraq has been blocked.

The publishing of the Chilcot report had been postponed due to difficult negotiations with the United States, and now, certain content has been removed from the media with suspicious haste.

The manner in which the Iraq war is being dealt with thereby gives strength to the allegation that it was nothing less than an illegal war.

If this is truly a democratic world, should the initiators of the war not be prosecuted in the same way as previous African dictators and despots from the Middle East guilty of the same crime?

I will be with you, whatever”, Blair wrote in one of his secret letters to Bush, written exchanges wherein the two leaders shared the belief that the time had come to define post-cold war world order.

It is this kind of western incompetence and adoption of imperialistic war tendencies that have created a platform for years of strife and conflict in the Middle East.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Jihadism: The Radicalisation of Youth Tue, 02 Aug 2016 15:03:13 +0000 Rose Delaney2 In light of ongoing terror attacks and the relentless recruitment of young fighters, "Jihadism" must be viewed as a critical global problem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

In light of ongoing terror attacks and the relentless recruitment of young fighters, "Jihadism" must be viewed as a critical global problem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

To 13-year-old Gauher Aftab, the path to eternal bliss never seemed more enticing than in the pivotal moment a pious man with a flowing beard entered his 9th-grade Islamic studies classroom.

For a young influential student like Gauher, the professor’s pristine shalwar kameez (a traditional outfit originating in South Asia) , coupled with his regal demeanor, and further accentuated by exhilarating recounts of battle as a Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan, is exactly what set the mark for Gauher’s future aspirations.

According to the influential professor, the boys in Gauher’s class all had one fundamental duty, that being; to fight all enemies of Islam. His energetic lectures focused more on the condemnation of non-Muslim religious denominations than on the academic syllabus.

Alarmingly, during these “academic” sermons, the professors call for violence was deafening. He legitimised it in the name of honour, otherwise known as “Jihad” which is defined as being a religious struggle against yourself or in society.

The message was clear, if Gauher and his companions did not comply with this age-old “code of violence” they would be deemed as unworthy of “Jihadism”.

Gauher recalls his professor stating that those who did not believe in forceful violence against “heretics” were no better than men who “wear mehendi on their feet and bangles on their wrists”.

“Mehendi” the art of applying temporary henna tattoos is believed to have been used by the prophet Muhammad to dye his beard, therefore, henna cannot be used on feet as a mark of respect to him.

Traditionally, “mehendi” is practiced in the Middle East and in South and South Asia by women for cosmetic purposes.

Given this background, these calculated verbal attacks on a young boys masculinity are what first ignites the fire to prove their manliness and fight in the name of religious “honour”.

Gauher claims that as a young boy the very thought of “Jihadism” was self-actualizing and granted him with a feeling of self-fulfilment.

What started off first as meagre donations to the Jihadi movement, “10 Rupees for Allah” (the equivalent to 15 US cents) that the professor claimed could purchase a bullet that would rip through an infidels chest, subsequently led to a fixation with the idea of martyrdom.

Due to the professor’s subtle forms of indoctrination, Gauher yearned for the opportunity to fight and wage war on the Islamic “enemy”.
Gauher’s story represents one of thousands of cases of young men being led astray by religious leaders.

Thankfully, divine intervention played its part and Gauher still lives to tell the tale of his dip into the world of “Jihadism”.

Now, he advocates for the widespread protection of youth against these indoctrinating “religious” forces.

Gauher lectures on extremism and the process of radicalization. In this sense, his life-changing experience can be viewed as a blessing in disguise. He has used it to inform others and to contribute to the reversal of the growing trend of “Jihadism”.

The key message he strives to disseminate is that the process of radicalization can happen to anyone and at any given moment.
As someone who led a privileged lifestyle, Gauher is fully aware that extremism knows no bounds.

Whether one is underprivileged and illiterate or affluent and worldly, religious Jihadi recruiters know where to strike a chord, leave you unnerved, and willing to succumb to their “pious” demands.

Ironically, the core meaning of “Jihad” has been distorted in recent years, particularly post 9/11 and the consequential war on terror. In reality, The Arabic word “jihad” is often translated as “holy war,” however, in purely linguistic terms, the word ” jihad” actually means struggling or striving.

In a religious sense, as described by the Quran “jihad” has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a devout believer, as well as a strong strive to inform people about the faith of Islam.

As a direct consequence of ongoing terror attacks, sensationalism, and anti-Islamic fear-mongering, the term “Jihad” has exploded across global media outlets.

For this reason, misunderstandings of what “Jihad” actually signifies have arisen. It has become associated with violence, brutality, and martyrdom.

It’s fundamental to note that military action only represents one form of “Jihad” which in itself is very rare. Religious extremists have corrupted the meaning of the term “Jihad”. Unfortunately, the media has fed off their distortion of religion.

Indeed, corruption and misinterpretation seem to be at the heart of the extremist movement. In a recent Ted Talk in Lahore, Pakistan, Gauher Aftab analysed the process of radicalization and how extremists target those most vulnerable and susceptible to indoctrination, in other words, children.

Gauher emphasises the fact that in many cases, children are open to radicalization even before they are approached by extremists. In a field study conducted in rural villages in Pakistan by the Paasban Project, 50% of both children and adults believed that violence was a justified means of enforcing one’s opinion. An additional 66% agreed that religious leaders could not lie or do harm.

In this sense, this radical belief system is ingrained into the collective psyche from a young age and the extremist’s work is already partly done.

Undoubtedly, the rise of “Jihadism” must not be seen as a uniquely “Islamic” problem. Non-Muslims are both equally accountable and responsible for the critical global crisis. In fact, 1 in 6 ISIS recruits are Western converts to Islam.

In many cases, Western citizens who feel disenfranchised, isolated and failed by society view extremist groups as their “call for revolution”.

In this way, the media’s scapegoating of the Muslim population in light of ongoing terror attacks is nothing short of a form of Islamophobic sensationalism.

However, in spite of the ongoing rise of terror attacks, there is a strong belief by activists that the growth of Jihadism is not irreversible.

Through a change of heart and mind and a strong advocacy for peace, we can put a stop the “kill and be killed” philosophy sweeping across our radicalised world.

With Open dialogue and a cry for the reform of radicalised education systems, we can steer thousands of young vulnerable men away from violent extremist groups.

Gauher and global peace activists encourage us all, as a united community, to stand our ground in the face of terror.

We must not view the eradication of extremist violence as an impossible task. It is now time to put an end to terror in the name of an “honour” that has led to nothing more than the corruption of youth and the mass killings of countless.

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Climate Victims – Every Second, One Person Is Displaced by Disaster Wed, 27 Jul 2016 06:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal Land degradation - Sustainable land management: do nothing and you will be poorer. Credit: UNEP

Land degradation - Sustainable land management: do nothing and you will be poorer. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

Climate change and related extreme weather events have devastated the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of most vulnerable people worldwide– by far exceeding the total of all the unfortunate and unjustifiable victims of all terrorist attacks combined. However, the unstoppable climate crisis receives just a tiny fraction of mainstream media attention. See these dramatic facts.

“Every second, one person is displaced by disaster,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reports. “In 2015 only, more than 19.2 million people fled disasters in 113 countries. “Disasters displace three to ten times more people than conflict and war worldwide.”

As climate change continues, it will likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards; the impact will be heavy, warns this independent humanitarian organisation providing aid and assistance to people forced to flee.

“On average, 26 million people are displaced by disasters such as floods and storms every year. That’s one person forced to flee every second.”

“Climate change is our generation’s greatest challenge,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which counts with over 5,000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries.

The climate refugees and migrants add to the on-going humanitarian emergency. “Not since World War II have more people needed our help,” warned the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland, who held the post of UN undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief (2003-2006).

Egeland –who was one of the most active, outspoken participants in the World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul May 23-24)– also stressed that the humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians.

“I hope that world leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children,” he said to IPS during the World Humanitarian Summit.

For its part, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) forecasts 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis. Many of them would be coastal population.

On this, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that coastal populations are at particular risk as a global rise in temperature of between 1.1 and 3.1 degrees C would increase the mean sea level by 0.36 to 0.73 meters by 2100, adversely impacting low-lying areas with submergence, flooding, erosion, and saltwater intrusion.

An estimated 83,100 people remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance in Wau, South Sudan. Credit: OIM

An estimated 83,100 people remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance in Wau, South Sudan. Credit: OIM

In a recent interview with IPS Nairobi correspondent Manipadma Jena, the director general of the International Organisation for Migration, William Lacy Swing, said that coastal migration is starting already but it is very hard to be exact as there is no good data to be able to forecast accurately.

“We do not know. But it is clearly going to figure heavily in the future. And it’s going to happen both in the low-lying islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean, and in those countries where people build houses very close to the shore and have floods every year as in Bangladesh.”

“It is quite clear that we will have more and more conflicts over shortages of food and water that are going to be exacerbated by climate change,” Lacy Swing warned.

Political crises and natural disasters are the other major drivers of migration today, he said to IPS in the interview.

Lacy Swing confirmed the fact that climate victims now add to record 60 million people who are fleeing war and persecution.

“We have never had so many complex and protracted humanitarian emergencies now happening simultaneously from West Africa all the way to Asia, with very few spots in between which do not have some issue. We have today 40 million forcibly displaced people and 20 million refugees, the greatest number of uprooted people since the Second World War.”

On 25 July, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution approving an agreement to make the International Organisation for Migration part of the UN system.

Founded in the wake of the World War II to resettle refugees from Europe, OIM celebrates its 65th anniversary in December of this year.

AFAO and UNHCR prepared a handbook that will help mitigate the impact of displaced people on forest resources. The handbook aims to help displaced people access fuel for cooking food while reducing environmental damage and conflicts with local communities. Credit: FAO/UNHCR

FAO and UNHCR prepared a handbook that will help mitigate the impact of displaced people on forest resources. The handbook aims to help displaced people access fuel for cooking food while reducing environmental damage and conflicts with local communities. Credit: FAO/UNHCR

“Migration is at the heart of the new global political landscape and its social and economic dynamics. At a time of growing levels of migration within and across borders, a closer legal and working relationship between the United Nations and IOM is needed more than ever,” said the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement welcoming the Assembly’s decision.

IOM, which assisted an estimated 20 million migrants in 2015, is an intergovernmental organisation with more than 9,500 staff and 450 offices worldwide

“We are living in a time of much tragedy and uncertainty. This agreement shows Member States’ commitment to more humane and orderly migration that benefits all, where we celebrate the human beings behind the numbers,” IOM Director General William Lacy said.

Through the agreement, the UN recognises IOM as an “indispensable actor in the field of human mobility.” IOM added that this includes protection of migrants and displaced people in migration-affected communities, as well as in areas of refugee resettlement and voluntary returns, and incorporates migration in country development plans.

The agreement paves the way for the agreement to be signed by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon and Swing at the UN Summit for refugees and migrants on 19 September, which will bring together UN member states to address large movements of refugees and migrants for more humane and coordinated approach.

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400 Million People Live with Hepatitis But They Do Not Know Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal Peru is carrying out a strategy to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of hepatitis B. The most important preventative intervention is the universal vaccination, which can prevent infection in 95 per cent of cases. Photo credit: PAHO

Peru is carrying out a strategy to eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of hepatitis B. The most important preventative intervention is the universal vaccination, which can prevent infection in 95 per cent of cases. Photo credit: PAHO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 26 2016 (IPS)

With some 400 million people around the world infected with hepatitis B or C, mostly without being aware, the United Nations top health agency encourages countries to boost testing and access to services and medicines for people in need to combat the ‘ignored perils’ of this disease.

A staggering 95 per cent of people infected with hepatitis B or C do not know they are infected, often living without symptoms for many years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns. And over 90% of people with hepatitis C can be completely cured within 3–6 months.

“The world has ignored hepatitis at its peril,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general, ahead of the World Hepatitis Day, which is observed annually on 28 July.

“It is time to mobilise a global response to hepatitis on the scale similar to that generated to fight other communicable diseases like HIV AIDS and tuberculosis,” she said.

The number grows by 6 to 10 millions a year, WHO reported, while announcing plans to release new testing guidelines for both hepatitis B and C.

With this, among other actions, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation attempts “to encourage testing and reach the 95 per cent of people who are not aware they are infected with the disease.”

The theme of this year’s World Hepatitis Day is Know Hepatitis; Act Now.

What is Hepatitis? Credit: WHO

What is Hepatitis? Credit: WHO

Together with its partner, Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health, WHO on July 25 said it recently launched #HepTestContest, a global contest to show how the testing guidelines could translate into real action on the ground.

“We needed examples of innovations and best practices to help guide and inspire others,” said Philippa Easterbrook from the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme, who co-led the project.

The contest received 64 contributions from 27 countries, WHO said.

Five finalists were selected by a panel of experts including representatives from WHO, the World Hepatitis Alliance and Médecins sans Frontières, who reviewed the testing models for innovation, effectiveness, and plans for sustainability.

In addition to national testing campaigns, approaches included testing in prisons, testing in the workplace and hospital emergency rooms, integrated HIV-hepatitis testing, as well as the use of internet, social media, and electronic medical records to flag higher-risk patients for testing in primary care.

Are you at risk? Credit: WHO

Are you at risk? Credit: WHO

“From prisons in Australia, use of an internet-based risk self-assessment tool in the Netherlands, community testing camps for drug users in India, to testing in primary care in Mongolia we learned some great lessons about how to build awareness of this hidden disease, improve testing rates and link those infected to treatment and care,” Philippa Easterbrook added.

An important feature of the approach was the strong community involvement and support as well as strategic partnerships to leverage reductions in the price of treatments, WHO said.

“Bringing together pharmaceutical companies, government, research organisations and communities to help negotiate price reductions make hepatitis treatments more affordable,” said Easterbrook.

“The contest demonstrated a range of possibilities. It showed that if we can develop acceptable testing approaches to suit different contexts and cultures, then we can increase effective hepatitis testing in more countries and communities,” she added.

In May of this year, the World Health Assembly – WHO’s decision-making body – called for treating eight million people for hepatitis B or C by 2020, to reduce new viral hepatitis infections by 90 per cent, and to decrease the number of deaths by 65 per cent in 2030, as compared with 2016. These targets are part of the first ever Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis.

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Rights of Indigenous Peoples ‘Critical’ to Combat Climate Change Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:50:23 +0000 Baher Kamal Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

Maasai pastoralists, who participate in a farmer field school, are selling animals at a local market in Narok, Kenya. Indigenous peoples have a key role to play in addressing climate change. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 25 2016 (IPS)

No longer it is about restoring the legitimate rights of over 370 indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries worldwide, many of them living in dire situation, but now about their central, critical role in combating climate change.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has relentlessly emphasized this new reality.

“Very few countries have so far made a clear commitment to a requirement in the Paris Climate Change Agreement that countries undertaking climate change activities should ensure the rights of indigenous peoples,” she says, while reminding of “the large number of violent deaths of people protecting their forests and rights to land in 2015 – the deadliest year for environmental defenders on record.”

“It’s a dire situation in terms of respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,” she told the participants in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Committee on Forestry (COFO) which met in the Italian capital on July 18-22.

“Indigenous peoples across the world experience the consequences of historical colonisation and invasion of their territories, and face discrimination because of their distinct cultures, identities and ways of life,” according to UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On this, FAO stated that “Governments must do much more to provide the enabling conditions required for indigenous peoples, local communities, smallholders and their organisations to restore degraded landscapes and achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation in practice.”

Specifically, René Castro Salazar, FAO’s Assistant-Director General warned that the issue of indigenous rights to land and territories was ‘critical’ for the success of climate change initiatives.

“Unless we help indigenous peoples achieve secure land tenure and better governance, it will be very hard to achieve long-term solutions,” Castro Salazar said. “We are lagging behind, and we need to do more.”

Vast Carbon Stocks

A third of global forests are under some form of management by families, smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples, and represent some of the most important carbon stocks in the world, FAO reported during the meeting. Government-recognised community forests alone hold an estimated 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon stock.

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

Agro-forestry farmers are tending to the crops in Kigoma, Tanzania. Forests are an integral part of the national agriculture policy with the aim of protecting arable land from erosion and increasing agricultural production. Credit: FAO

“Family smallholders, local communities and indigenous peoples have a key role to play in preserving these carbon stocks by reducing deforestation, managing forests sustainably and restoring tree cover as part of productive rural economies, particularly when they belong to strong producer organisations,” according to the UN agency.

In addition, an estimated 1.5 billion hectares of land hold potential for smallholder farmers to combine agriculture with trees.

“But failure to find the best way to engage with local stakeholders and align their interests with forest conservation can significantly compromise the chances of achieving carbon sequestration and mitigation targets.”

Greater Ownership

In an outcome statement issued at the close of the Rome meeting, participants urged governments to provide the enabling conditions required for local communities, indigenous peoples and local producers, “to manage larger territories, from securing and enforcing tenure rights to creating favourable business incentives and offering technical, financial and business extension services.”

They also called on global financing mechanisms, government programmes and private investors to direct investment and support towards local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations.

Finally, they called for climate change initiatives “to shift towards giving greater ownership to local communities, indigenous peoples, smallholders and producer organisations and engaging them in participatory and qualitative assessment of the forest cover and trees on farms they manage.”

Livelihoods of Millions of People, Precarious

On the occasion of the Rome meeting, FAO issued a new study that helps to fill a significant knowledge gap on the presence and extent of forests and trees in the world’s drylands, where the food security and livelihoods of millions of people, already precarious, are increasingly being threatened by climate change.

The study’s preliminary findings show that trees are present with hugely varying densities on almost one-third of the world’s 6.1 billion hectares of drylands, which cover an area more than twice the size of Africa. Almost 18 per cent of this area contains forests.

An estimated 2 billion people, 90 per cent of whom are in developing countries, live in drylands. Recent studies have indicated the need to restore these areas to cope with the effects of drought, desertification and land degradation.

In particular, water availability in drylands is expected to decline further due to changes in climate and land use, the new study warns.

“Poor people living in remote rural areas will be most vulnerable to food shortages, which combined with violence and social upheaval, are already leading to forced migration in dryland regions in Africa and western Asia.”

Until now, there has been little statistically based knowledge on dryland trees –particularly those growing outside forests– despite their vital importance to humans and the environment, according to the study.

The leaves and fruit of trees are sources of food for people and fodder for animals; their wood provides fuel for cooking and heating and can be a source of income for poor households; trees protect soils, crops and animals from the sun and winds, while forests are often rich in biodiversity.

Drylands are divided into four aridity zones (see map): the dry sub-humid zone, is the least arid of the four zones and consists mostly of the Sudanian savanna, forests and grasslands in South America, the steppes of eastern Europe and southern Siberia, and the Canadian prairie.

Most dryland forests occur in this zone, as do some large irrigated, intensively farmed areas along perennial rivers; at the other extreme, the hyper-arid zone is the driest zone and it is dominated by desert – the Sahara alone accounting for 45 per cent, and the Arabian desert forming another large component.


At a glance: some preliminary findings of the FAO Global Drylands Assessment:
• The global drylands contain 1.11 billion hectares of forest land, which is 27 per cent of the global forest area, estimated at approximately 4 billion hectares.

• Two-thirds of the drylands forest area can be defined as being dense, meaning it has closed canopies (i.e. a canopy cover greater than 40 per cent).

• The second most common land use in drylands is grassland (31 per cent), followed by forest (18 per cent) and cropland (14 per cent). The category other lands constitutes 34 per cent of the global drylands area.

• The least-arid zones have the most forest. The proportion of forest land is 51 per cent in the dry subhumid zone, 41 per cent in the semiarid zone, 7 per cent in the arid zone and 0.5 per cent in the hyperarid zone. The average crown cover density is ten times higher in the dry subhumid zone than in the hyperarid zone.

• Trees outside forests are present on 1.9 billion hectares of drylands (31 per cent of the global drylands area), if all land with more than 0 per cent crown cover is included. Thirty per cent of croplands and grasslands have at least some crown cover, as do 60 per cent of lands classified as settlements.

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Forests: To Farm or Not to Farm? This Is the Question! Tue, 19 Jul 2016 14:31:09 +0000 Baher Kamal Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 19 2016 (IPS)

The dilemma is critical: on the one hand, there is an absolute need to produce more food for the world’s steadily growing population; on the other, there is pressing urgency to halt -and further revert- the increasing trend to deplete the forests, which are as necessary for human survival as it is for ensuring their dietary needs.

So what is at stake ? Forests play a major role in sustainable agricultural development through a host of channels, including: water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climates and providing habitat protection for pollinators and other species.

But agriculture accounts for the lion’s share of the conversion of forests. In the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 per cent and 33 per cent of forest conversion, respectively, and the remaining 27 per cent of deforestation happens due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion and mining.

How to achieve the two vital objectives? The top United Nations organisation dealing with food and agriculture speaks loud and clear while providing specific data.

“While agriculture remains the most significant driver of global deforestation, there is an urgent need to promote more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security, says UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This has been the key message of the FAO flagship publication The State of the World’s Forests, presented on July 18 at the opening of the one-week Session (Rome, 18-22 July) of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognises that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“Both agreements call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard. The key message from SOFO is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food,” Graziano da Silva added.

But while agriculture plays a major role in the on-going conversion of forests, FAO’s report stresses that forests serve many vital ecological functions that benefit agriculture and boost food production.

“Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests,” says Eva Müller, Director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

“What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of policies on agriculture, forestry, food and land use, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and stronger involvement of local communities and smallholders.”

According to Müller “Governments should provide local communities not only with secure land tenure but also with secure forest tenure rights. A farmer knows best how to manage his or her own resources but often lacks legal instruments to do so.”

How to Improve Food Security While Halting Deforestation

The fact is that well-managed forests have tremendous potential to promote food security. Besides their vital ecological contributions, FAO reports, forests contribute to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation through income generated by engaging in the production of forest goods and environmental services.

Not only – approximately 2.4 billion people rely on wood-fuel for cooking and water sterilisation. And forest foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins to rural diets and can also serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity.

According to The State of the World’s Forests report, since 1990, over 20 countries succeeded in improving national levels of food security while at the same time maintaining or increasing forest cover – demonstrating that it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food.

Twelve of these countries increased forest cover by over 10 per cent: Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam.

“Their successes all relied on a similar set of tools: effective legal frameworks, secure land tenure, measures to regulate land-use change, policy incentives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, adequate funding, and clear definition of roles and responsibilities of governments and local communities.”

Successful Case Studies

The report cites case studies from seven countries –Chile, Costa Rica, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Tunisia and Viet Nam– that illustrate the opportunities for improving food security while increasing or maintaining forest cover.

Six of these countries achieved positive change in the period 1990-2015 in two food-security indicators – the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished people – as well as increases in forest area.

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

The report explains as follows the case of some of these countries:

The Gambia, the only low-income country among the seven, succeeded in achieving the first goal of halving the proportion of hungry people within the same period.

Viet Nam, for example, has implemented a successful land reform to provide secure land tenure as a way of encouraging long-term investment.

This process was accompanied by a shift from state forestry to multi-stakeholder forestry with the active participation of local communities including a forest land allocation programme and forest protection contracts with local households.

The land reform was also coupled with policy instruments to increase agricultural productivity, including land tax exemptions, soft loans, export promotion, price guarantees, support for mechanisation and reductions in post-harvest losses.

In Costa Rica, deforestation reached its peak in the 1980s, mainly due to the conversion of forest cover to pastures.

The country has since reversed this trend largely due to the forest law, which now prohibits changes in land use from natural forest, and its system of Payments for Environmental Services, which provides farmers with incentives to plant trees, and supports forest conservation.

As a result, forest cover has increased to nearly 54 per cent of the country’s land area in 2015.

In Tunisia national development plans recognise the beneficial role of forests in protecting land against erosion and desertification.

There, agricultural production has increased through intensification that makes better use of existing agricultural land through irrigation, fertilisers, mechanisation, improved seeds and better farming practice. Incentives for establishing forest plantations in the country include free seedlings and compensation for the loss of agricultural income.

The key themes of the FAO Committee on Forestry session seek to respond directly to the milestone agreements of 2015 and investigate how forests and sustainable forest management can contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.

Together with the World Forest Week, the committee considers how the full potential of forests, including forests’ contributions to livelihoods, food security, jobs, gender equality and many other global development goals including the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreements, can best be unlocked.

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‘Monster’ El Niño Subsides, La Niña Hitting Soon Mon, 18 Jul 2016 07:25:54 +0000 Baher Kamal West Hararghe region, Ethiopia, December 2015. Some 10.2 million people are food insecure amidst one of the worst droughts to hit Ethiopia in decades. Photo credit: WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

West Hararghe region, Ethiopia, December 2015. Some 10.2 million people are food insecure amidst one of the worst droughts to hit Ethiopia in decades. Photo credit: WFP/Stephanie Savariaud

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 18 2016 (IPS)

As if human-made armed conflicts, wickedness, rights abuse, gender violence, cruel inequality and climate catastrophes were not enough, now the saying “God Always Forgives, Men Sometimes, Nature Never” appear to be more true than ever. See what happens.

Now that the 2015-2016 El Niño –one of the strongest on record– has subsided, La Niña – El Niño’s ‘counterpart’– could strike soon, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of people in the most vulnerable communities in tens of countries worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia Pacific.

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.

La Niña is the opposite weather phenomena—it lowers sea surface temperature producing a counter impact and anyway bringing more catastrophes with heavy rains in areas affected by El Niño draughts and more of these in flooded regions.


While El Niño has devastated harvests, livestock and thus livelihoods, its huge impact on children is worsening, “as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event,” a new report from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has just revealed.

Making matters worse, there is a strong chance La Niña could strike at some stage this year, UNICEF’s report “It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children” alerts.

Drought associated with the El Niño phenomenon has severely affected Arsi, Ethiopia. Photo credit: OCHA/Charlotte Cans

Drought associated with the El Niño phenomenon has severely affected Arsi, Ethiopia. Photo credit: OCHA/Charlotte Cans

El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña, occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena –such as droughts and floods– have increased in frequency and severity.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan.

Millions of Children in Dire Need

Indeed, the UN Children Fund reports that children in the worst affected areas are going hungry. In Eastern and Southern Africa –the worst hit regions– some 26.5 million children need support, including more than one million who need treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “

The same children who are affected by El Niño and threatened by La Niña, find themselves on the front-lines of climate change,” added Khan.

Children in the worst affected areas are going hungry now, UNICEF report says, and warns that their futures are at risk, as extreme weather has disrupted schooling, increased disease and malnutrition, and robbed families of their livelihoods. In drought-affected areas, some children are staying away from class to fetch water over long distances, or have moved away with their families following loss of crops or livestock.

Moreover, being out of school often increases a child’s risk of abuse, exploitation and, in some areas, child marriage, UNICEF adds, while warning that malnutrition among children under five has increased alarmingly in many of the affected areas, as families who were already living hand-to-mouth.

In many countries, El Niño affects access to safe water, and has been linked to increases in diseases such as dengue fever, diarrhoea and cholera, which are “major killers of children.” Drought can also force adolescent girls and women to engage in transactional sex to survive. And mortality for children living with HIV is two to six times higher for those who are severely malnourished than for those who are not, UNICEF reports.

Global Development at Risk

UNICEF is not the sole UN agency to warn against the devastating effects of El Niño and the huge threats from La Niña.

Farmers in Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by El Niño. Photo credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse

Farmers in Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by El Niño. Photo credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse

In fact, failure to prepare for and adapt to the ‘new normal’ of increasing climate-linked emergencies such as El Niño could put global development targets at risk and deepen widespread human suffering in areas already hard hit by floods and droughts, top United Nations officials alerted.

The heads of the three Rome-based UN agencies, FAO, IFAD and WFP, along with the UN Special Envoy on El Niño & Climate, warned in a recent meeting that more than 60 million people worldwide, about 40 million in East and Southern Africa alone, are projected to be food insecure due to the impact of the El Niño climate event.

To coordinate responses to these challenges UN agencies and partners on July 6 met at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The joint meeting included the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned that the impact of El Niño on agricultural livelihoods has been enormous and with La Niña on the doorsteps the situation could worsen.

“El Niño has caused primarily a food and agricultural crisis,” he said, announcing that FAO will therefore mobilise additional new funding to “enable it to focus on anticipatory early action in particular, for agriculture, food and nutrition, to mitigate the impacts of anticipated events and to strengthen emergency response capabilities through targeted preparedness investments.”

Meanwhile, OXFAM international–a confederation of non-governmental organisations, reported that about 60 million people across Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, Central America, and the Pacific now face worsening hunger and poverty due to droughts and crop failures in 2014/5 that have been exacerbated by the El Niño weather system in 2015/6.

“This number is likely to rise,” warns this international confederation of NGOs working together for “a just world without poverty, where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.”

OXFAM has recently issued a short report giving a voice to some of the people that it is working with in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Papua New Guinea. “They’ve told us that they have lived through bad times before, but that this drought is much worse than previous ones,” says the report, which is authored Debbie Hillier.

These are some of the most impacting excerpts of OXFAM’s report, titled ”What Will Become of Us:Voices from around the world on drought and El Nino.”

“… People go to bed with empty stomachs; toil in their fields or go to school with the gnawing pain of hunger; they walk or cycle for miles to try to find food. Many people have reduced the number of meals they eat per day to two or even one.

… Hunger hurts. For parents, the struggle to put food on the table has been acutely painful; children cry for food, babies nurse on empty breasts.

… Many people have nothing left. Farmers and herders have worked hard, but now they watch their crops fail and their animals die.

… Despite their best efforts, many communities and governments are being overwhelmed.

People cope by draining their savings and stocks, selling assets, borrowing money, and migrating to find work.

… When these are exhausted, coping strategies become more damaging and women and girls often bear the brunt: dropping out of school, entering early and forced marriages, facing an increased risk of violence during longer trips to collect wood, food or water, and transactional sex.”

In its GROW blog channel, OXFAM has also published a short report on El Niño and Climate Change:All You Need to Know, showing the relation between the two weather events.

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Clueless in Iraq Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:31:40 +0000 Owen Bennet By Owen Bennett-Jones
Jul 14 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

For many Americans and Brits the 2003 Iraq war is seen as not only a disaster for Iraq and its neighbours but also as a defeat of the US and UK forces. The recently published Chilcot inquiry lends its considerable weight to this view. It went so far as to describe the circumstances in which the British pulled out of Basra, after negotiating a deal with a local militia there, as “humiliating”.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

But there is another way of looking at what happened in Iraq. The war not only exposed Western weakness but also led to sectarian violence in the Middle East which, despite all the loss of Shia life, has empowered the Shias in the region. Iran is in a much stronger position in 2016 than it was at the start of 2003.

Top Secret Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) documents declassified by Chilcot show just how little idea the British had that this would be the outcome. As is now well established, the British intelligence community’s first and most important error was to state that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, Britain’s intelligence agencies were telling Tony Blair: “Iraq has a chemical and biological capability”, before going on to predict: “Saddam would seek to use chemical and biological munitions against any internal uprising; intelligence indicates that he is prepared to deliberately target the Shia population.”

But that was just one mistake. There were others. In February 2003, just weeks before the invasion, the JIC stated that Iran was not likely to project its power into Iraq. “Iranian-inspired terrorist attacks on coalition forces are unlikely, unless the Iranians thought the US had decided to attack them after an Iraq campaign.” The JIC seemed so sure of Western military superiority that it believed Iran’s main concern would be to avoid anything that could be seen as provoking Washington.

Documents show how UK remained unprepared for Shia resistance.

A month after the invasion UK intelligence officers had had the chance to obtain better information from Iraqi Shias about Iran’s plans to protect itself by drawing the US into a prolonged conflict. “Of greatest concern are state-backed and terrorist groups. […] Iran […] would prefer that the coalition got bogged down inside Iraq….” Nevertheless, in the same document the JIC doggedly stuck by its pre-war view: “However, as we judged in [JIC assessment of Sept 17, 2002], Iran has limited leverage or influence in Iraq, even among the Shia.”

Six months later, the JIC was reporting that far from remaining quiescent “some elements” of the Iranian regime were supporting some Sunni groups including Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq as well as Shia militia. “Iran and Lebanese [Hezbollah] are probably inciting violent anti-coalition protests and other disruptive activity. Any coalition attempt to disarm Shia militia groups, such as the Badr Corps (SCIRI’s armed wing) and militant cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, could be a significant additional cause of friction,” the JIC said.

By the end of the same month it acknowledged that: “Any coalition attempt to disarm the Shia militia groups could be a flashpoint for trouble.”

Given these sobering assessments it is somewhat baffling to find that when, in April 2004, concerted Shia resistance did eventually come, the British were not ready for it: “The scale and extent of attacks mounted by the Mahdi Army and associated Shia militants have come as a surprise,” the JIC said.

The JIC assessments over the following years recorded the UK intelligence community’s increasing realisation that Iran, having seen off the threat of a US attack by drawing them into prolonged conflict in Iraq, was now training and arming Shia militias to attack coalition forces with a view to forcing the foreign forces out.

In November 2006, the JIC said: “We judge that Iran wants to speed MNF [multinational forces] withdrawal from the South and to make life as difficult for Coalition forces as long as they remain.”

In one of the last JIC assessments published by Chilcot from October 2007 came the view: “We judge that the Iranians want an Iraq led by a Shia-dominated government, susceptible to their influence which will never again pose a threat to them.” In other words, having seen off the US threat, Iran has shifted focus to shoring up its regional position as well.

The declassified top secret intelligence assessments released by the Chilcot inquiry are a great illustration of the law of unintended consequences. And while hindsight gives today’s observers an unfair advantage — and even though Iranian intentions developed over the course of the war — Tehran’s behaviour was consistently rational and designed to further its national interest.

The assessments made by British intelligence before the war— and even after it started — failed to predict that Iranian conduct. Britain may once have had an extraordinary knowledge of how the world works. It seems to have lost the knack.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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