Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 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 Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

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.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

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

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[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, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[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 Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 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, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 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 Gallowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/iran-children-at-the-gallows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-children-at-the-gallows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/iran-children-at-the-gallows/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:11:46 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146533 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?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/is-hypocrisy-the-silent-strategy-of-western-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-hypocrisy-the-silent-strategy-of-western-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/is-hypocrisy-the-silent-strategy-of-western-democracy/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 15:12:55 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146376 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 Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/jihadism-the-radicalisation-of-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jihadism-the-radicalisation-of-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/jihadism-the-radicalisation-of-youth/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 15:03:13 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146358 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 Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/climate-victims-every-second-one-person-is-displaced-by-disaster/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 06:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146253 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 Knowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/400-million-people-live-with-hepatitis-but-they-do-not-know/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2016 11:15:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146231 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 Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/rights-of-indigenous-peoples-critical-to-combat-climate-change/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2016 11:50:23 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146196 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.

Factbox

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!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/forests-to-farm-or-not-to-farm-this-is-the-question/#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 14:31:09 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146138 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 Soonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/monster-el-nino-subsides-la-nina-hitting-soon/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 07:25:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146095 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.

Devastation

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 Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/clueless-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clueless-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/clueless-in-iraq/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:31:40 +0000 Owen Bennet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146058 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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Saudi Scapegoatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/saudi-scapegoats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudi-scapegoats http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/saudi-scapegoats/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 16:07:16 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146034 By Rafia Zakaria
Jul 13 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The eleventh day of September 2001 seems a distant memory now. On that day, 19 hijackers unleashed mayhem in the skies over the United States of America. Fifteen of these 19 hijackers, it would later be discovered, were Saudi citizens. Yet the war that ensued, that cast its bloody fingers deep into the Middle East and South Asia, would not be a war against Saudis. It was instead against Afghans, Iraqis and, at least via remote control, Pakistanis.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Much of the world, at least those portions of the world that matter, that are listened to, that construct the narratives of conflict, did not seem to balk at this fact or its incongruity to the politics of blame and expiation that have dominated the world since the 9/11 attacks. Saudi Arabia remained best friends with the US, its oil industry lubricating the latter’s economy.

Last week, the scourge of terror that has seeped into every pore of the rest of the Muslim world made Saudi Arabia its target. Near the end of Ramazan, three bombings occurred in the Saudi cities of Jeddah, Qatif and Madina. Four security guards were killed and four others wounded in the Madina attack, which took place ominously close to the mosque of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), one of Islam’s most sacred sites. The bombing in Qatif targeted a Shia mosque and the one in Jeddah took place near the US consulate.

In both the Qatif and Jeddah attack, the bombers were not able to execute the attack and succeeded in killing only themselves. The three bombings in three different parts of Saudi Arabia all took place within 24 hours. While there were no immediate claims of responsibility (as with attacks in Dhaka and Istanbul) the modus operandi of the attack aligned with the usual tactics of the militant Islamic State group.

Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them.

In the days since the attack Saudi authorities have been busy rounding up suspects. According to a report published by Al Jazeera, 19 people had been arrested by July 9. Of these 19, 12 are Pakistani and the remainder are Saudi citizens. In addition, Saudi authorities claim that the Jeddah bomber was also a Pakistani named Abdullah Gulzar Khan, who had been working in the kingdom for the past 12 years. The suspect was reported to have worn a suicide belt before he blew himself up.

The inordinate scrutiny placed on Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia is likely to become an even larger problem. Even when criminal charges are not terrorism-based, the Saudi legal system is opaque, providing few explanations of charges or records of proceedings. Owing in part to their inferior status in the kingdom and the intractability of its legal system in general, over 2,000 Pakistanis already languish in Saudi jails with 10 or more executed every year. The 12 arrested last week will simply join their ranks, the truth of the allegations against them never properly explained, the details of trials and prosecutions never communicated to the consulates of a poor country like Pakistan.

There are good reasons for the Saudi effort to pin the blame on Pakistanis. For instance, it permits Saudi Arabia to deflect the truth that in past years its propagation of an orthodox version of Islam via countless religious schools around the world has contributed to the creation of the jihadi mindset, whose pupils increasingly if not always provide cannon fodder for suicide bombers who have struck targets across the world.

According to an article published last year in World Affairs Journal, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, (either officially or via private donors) has funded madressahs and religious centres that have then been used for recruitment by extremist groups. The article quotes US Vice President Joe Biden as estimating the Saudi contribution to jihadi groups as being at “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons”. Increasingly defensive about its own contribution to the very threat that is now at its doorstep, Saudi royals like King Salman have tried to deflect blame by saying that they cannot be held responsible if the money they gave for good causes is appropriated into the cause of extremism and ‘jihad’.

Blaming Pakistanis is probably another portion of this strategy of deflecting blame; of responding to the premise that the seeds they planted have grown into an invasive species that wants to throttle the gardener itself. Pakistanis are weak, their lives are cheap and they can provide at best a feeble response to the aspersions Saudi Arabia casts on them.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is investing in national unity, painting the foreign worker as a potential terrorist serves to justify the already despicable treatment allotted to them. Predictably, all other Muslim countries and even Pakistanis themselves quietly and submissively accept this role; those who speak out loud and clear about European and American excesses heaped on immigrant Muslims maintain pin-drop silence when it comes to Saudi mistreatment. The self-appointed guardians of Islam’s holy sites, it is assumed, must be holy and beyond reproach.

For Pakistanis, it is ironic that Saudi Arabia leads the ‘Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism’. Unlike even Western countries, whose excesses against alleged terror suspects, whose unauthorised bombings of this or that country have received attention and criticism in the global public sphere, Saudi Arabia retains its air of sanctity.

Given this, whether it is air strikes that kill civilians in Yemen, or the easy implication of Pakistani foreign workers as terrorists, there appears to be no one who can chide the kingdom or check its power. Pakistanis, reviled yesterday as foreign and poor or deficiently Muslim, can now be made scapegoats in the Saudi war on terror, accused and indicted, not necessarily for their guilt but simply because it is so very easy to blame them, punish them, persecute them.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. rafia.zakaria@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Delusion ‘I Am Not Responsible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-delusion-i-am-not-responsible/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 11:48:32 +0000 Robert Burrowes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146028 The author has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘]]> A scared child shows fear in an uncertain environment. Credit: D Sharon Pruitt. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

A scared child shows fear in an uncertain environment. Credit: D Sharon Pruitt. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

By Robert J. Burrowes
DAYLESFORD, Australia, Jul 13 2016 (IPS)

- One of the many interesting details to be learned by understanding human psychology is how a person’s unconscious fear works in a myriad of ways to make them believe that they bear no responsibility for a particular problem.

This psychological dysfunctionality cripples a substantial portion of the human population in ways that work against the possibility of achieving worthwhile outcomes for themselves, other individuals, communities and the world as a whole.

In an era when human extinction is now a likely near-term outcome of this dysfunctionality, it is obviously particularly problematic. So why does this happen and how does it manifest?

In essence, if a person is frightened by the circumstances of others or a particular set of events, their fear will often unconsciously delude them into believing and behaving as if they bear no responsibility for playing a part in addressing the problem.

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes

This fear works particularly easily when the person or people concerned live at considerable social and/or geographic distance or when the events occur in another place.

But it can also work with someone who is socially or geographically close, or with an event that occurs nearby. Let me illustrate this common behaviour with several examples which might stimulate your awareness of having witnessed it too.

I first became seriously interested in this phenomenon after hearing someone, who had just returned from India, describe the many street beggars in India as ‘living a subsistence lifestyle’.

As I listened to this individual, I could immediately perceive that they were very frightened by their experience but in a way that made them not want to help.

Given that this individual has considerable wealth, it was immediately apparent to me that the individual was attempting to conceal from themselves their unconscious guilt (about their own wealth and how this was acquired) but I could perceive an element of anger in their response as well.

This anger was obviously shaping the way in which street beggars were perceived so that there was no apparent need to do anything. So what was the unconscious anger about? Most probably about not getting help themselves when they needed it as a child.

A widespread version of this particular fear and the delusion that arises from it, is the belief that it is the direct outcome of the decisions of others that make them responsible for the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Obviously, this belief is widespread among those who refuse to take structural violence, such as the exploitative way in which the global economy functions, into account. If the victim can be blamed for their circumstances then ‘I am not responsible’ in any way.

Men who like to blame women who have been sexually assaulted for their ‘provocative dress’ are also exhibiting this fear and its attendant delusional behaviour.

But perhaps the most obvious manifestation of evading responsibility occurs when instead of doing what they can to assist someone in need, a person laments ‘not being able’ to do something more significant.

And by doing this, their fear enables them to conceal that they might, in fact, have done something that would have helped.

This often happens, for example, when someone is too scared to offer help because it might require the agreement of someone else (such as a spouse) who (unconsciously) frightens them. But there are other reasons why their fear might generate this behaviour as well.

Another common way of evading taking responsibility (while, in this case, deluding yourself that you are not) is to offer someone who needs help something that they do not need and then, when they refuse it, to interpret this as ‘confirmation’ that they do not need your help.

A variation of this behaviour is to dispose of something that you do not want and to delude yourself that you are, in fact, ‘helping’.

I first became fully aware of this version of evading responsibility (and assuaging guilt) when I was working in a refugee camp in the Sudan at the height of the Ethiopian war and famine in 1985.

Companies all over the world were ‘giving’ away unwanted stock of unsaleable goods (presumably for a tax benefit) to aid agencies who were then trying to find ways to use it.

And not always successfully. I will never forget seeing the Wad Kowli Refugee Camp for the first time with its wonderfully useless lightweight and colourful overnight bushwalking tents instead of the large, heavy duty canvas tents normally used in such difficult circumstances. Better than nothing you might say. For a week, perhaps, but only barely in 55 degrees Celsius.

Another popular way of evading responsibility is to delude yourself about the precise circumstances in which someone finds themselves.

For example, if your fear makes you focus your attention on an irrelevant detail, such as the pleasantness of your memory of a town as a tourist destination, rather than the fact that someone who lives there is homeless, then it is easy to delude yourself that their life must be okay and to behave in accordance with your delusion rather than the reality of the other person’s life.

One way that some people evade responsibility is to delude themselves that a person who needs help is ‘not contributing’ while also deluding themselves about the importance of their own efforts.

This is just one of many delusions that wealthy people often have to self-justify their wealth while many people who work extremely hard are paid a pittance (or nothing) for their time, expertise and labour.

Variations of another delusion include ‘I can only give what I have got’ and ‘I can’t afford it’ (but you might know of others), which exposes the fear that makes a person believe that they have very little irrespective of their (sometimes considerable) material wealth.

This fear/delusion combination arises because, in the emotional sense, the person probably does have ‘very little’.

If a person is denied their emotional needs as a child, they will often learn to regard material possessions as the only measure of value in the quality of their life.

And because material possessions can never replace an emotional need, no amount of material wealth can ever feel as if it is ‘enough’. For a fuller explanation of this point, see ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War‘.

If someone is too scared to accept any responsibility for helping despite the sometimes obvious distress of a person in need, they might even ask for reassurance, for example by asking ‘Are you okay?’

But the question is meaningless and asked in such a way that the person in need might even know that no help will be forthcoming. They might even offer the reassurance sought despite having to lie to do so.

A common way in which some people, particularly academics, evade responsibility is to offer an explanation and/or theory about a social problem but then take no action to change things themselves.

Another widespread way of evading responsibility, especially among what I call ‘the love and light brigade’, is to focus attention on ‘positives’ (the ‘good’ news) rather than truthfully presenting information about the state of our world and then inviting powerful responses to that truth.

Deluding ourselves that we can avoid dealing with reality, much of which happens to be extremely unpleasant and ugly, is a frightened and powerless way of approaching the world. But it is very common.

Many people evade responsibility, of course, simply by believing and acting as if someone else, perhaps even ‘the government’, is ‘properly’ responsible.

Undoubtedly, however, the most widespread ways of evading responsibility are to deny any responsibility for military violence while paying the taxes to finance it, denying any responsibility for adverse environmental and climate impacts while making no effort to reduce consumption, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of other people while buying the cheap products produced by their exploited (and sometimes slave) labour, denying any responsibility for the exploitation of animals despite eating and/or otherwise consuming a range of animal products, and denying any part in inflicting violence, especially on children, without understanding the many forms this violence can take.

See ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

Ultimately, of course, we evade responsibility by ignoring the existence of a problem.

Despite everything presented above, it should not be interpreted to mean that we should all take responsibility for everything that is wrong with the world. There is, obviously, a great deal wrong and the most committed person cannot do something about all of it.

However, we can make powerful choices, based on an assessment of the range of problems that interest us, to intervene in ways large or small to make a difference. This is vastly better than fearfully deluding ourselves and/or making token gestures.

Moreover, powerful choices are vital in this world. We face a vast array of violent challenges, some of which threaten near-term human extinction.

In this context, it is unwise to leave responsibility for getting us out of this mess to others, and particularly those insane elites whose political agents (who many still naively believe that we ‘elect’) so demonstrably fail to meaningfully address any of our major social, political, economic and environmental problems.

If you are interested in gaining greater insight into violent and dysfunctional human behaviour, and what you can do about it, you might like to read ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’ mentioned above.

And if you are inclined to declare your own willingness to accept some responsibility for addressing these violent and dysfunctional behaviours, you might like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ and to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘.

You might have had a good laugh at some of the examples above. The real challenge is to ask yourself this question: where do I evade responsibility? And to then ponder how you will take responsibility in future.

Roberto J. Burrowes website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com and his email address is flametree@riseup.net

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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The Chilcot Inquiry must tell the truthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/the-chilcot-inquiry-must-tell-the-truth/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2016 14:18:38 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145918 By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Jul 4 2016 (IPS)

The long awaited Chilcot Report (5 years) on the Invasion of Iraq will finally be released on 6th July, 2016.

The Report is to be welcomed and the hope has been expressed that this inquiry will tell the truth of what happened to the Iraqi people and clarify the UKs involvement, through an official Government recognition of facts of the wars, sanctions and invasion of Iraq and for transparency, accountability and reparation to be paid to the Iraqi people by the UK Government who participated in these illegal and immoral genocidal wars.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

The story of what was done to the Iraqi people by UK and Western allies is shocking and deeply disturbing.

The two wars against Iraq, the imposition of economic sanctions, causing the slow deaths of thousands of people, were indeed crimes against humanity, war crimes, breaking all international obligations and conducted with no respect for human life or the Iraqi people’s rights.

The UK/US acted unilaterally ignoring the principal of multilateralism and irrespective of the enormous opposition to war against Iraq, articulated by millions of people around the world.

The invasion was carried out by US/UK NATO forces on the basis of a ‘lie’ that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the US.

The US/UK governments were for regime change and about Iraqi oil; the methods used were genocidal sanctions, wars and invasion/occupation of Iraq. The ‘shock and awe’ bombings of unarmed civilians by US/UK/Allied forces was not about bringing democracy and human rights to Iraq, it was about regime change, oil, imperial power, arms sales and total destruction of the infrastructure. It was to force the country into total submission by starving Iraq’s women and children.

And it was about arrogance and superiority of the UK, US and allies as they set aside international law and institutions of world order by their hegemony in a new era of dedication to the ‘war on terror’.

Anti-war,peace campaigners, and people marched in their millions around the world to say ‘No to war’.

Today, millions of world citizens whose pleas for peace and dialogue were totally swept aside by governments continue to say that US/UK Governments and allies were wrong, and on their behalf also say ‘We are sorry’ and ‘Please forgive us’ for the war crimes committed against the Iraqi people.

The truth of the injustice perpetrated by the UK invasion of Iraq, about the mass murder of innocent Iraqi children through sanctions, their families, homes, food chain destroyed, bombs dropped with depleted uranium, white phosphorus dropped on civilians and land, destruction of infrastructure, torture, invasion, occupations, renditions, extra judicial murders, theft of oil and resources, needs to be told in the hope that justice will be done and reparation for such injustice be forthcoming.

I personally witnessed the horrors of war and sanctions when I visited Iraq in 1999 after the first Gulf War and during the period of economic sanctions imposed by the West. Our peace delegation visited hospitals where children lay slowly dying in agony with no pain medication, and from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Doctors pleaded with us to help lift the sanctions to save their people. Over one million Iraqi children under the age of five died as a result of economic sanctions.

During meetings with Iraqi government officials we were repeatedly told that they wanted to enter into dialogue with the governments of UK/US and their diplomats to save Iraq from invasion but instead of dialogue only a Western imperial war agenda was being pursued for power and control.

UN officials told us that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and Iraq was not a military threat to anyone outside of Iraq.

The tragedy of Iraq is that if there was political will, the UK/USA governments could have solved the problem through dialogue and diplomacy and so many millions of Iraqi lives as well as the lives of UK and US soldiers could have been saved. There was (as there always is) an alternative to violence and war and Iraq was yet another war that did not have been fought).

I personally would like to see the report contain an admission of war crimes and an apology to the people of Iraq so that the grounds can be set for healing, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation in a country that is now being tragically torn apart by violence, sectarianism and war.

Iraq can be assisted on the long road to peace by the UK Government if it decides to come up with the truth and apologize by saying ‘We are sorry’, ‘Please forgive us’. The UK should contribute wherever possible to the building of peace and reconciliation in Iraq.

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
20th June, 2016 www.peacepeople.com

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

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Suspend Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Council, Human Rights Groups Sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/suspend-saudi-arabia-from-human-rights-council-human-rights-groups-say/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 21:56:17 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145882 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch brief the press. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch brief the press. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s membership in the Human Rights Council (HRC) should be suspended by members of the UN General Assembly, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) said on Wednesday.

The two human rights groups have joined forces to make the exceptional call for action, noting that it is based on Saudi Arabia’s “gross and systematic violations of human rights” in Yemen and domestically.

“We believe that…Saudi Arabia does not deserve to sit anymore on the Human Rights Council,” HRW’s Deputy Director for Global Advocacy Philippe Bolopion said to press here Wednesday.

HRW and AI allege that they have documented 69 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which have killed at least 913 civilians including 200 children.

In total, the UN Human Rights Office estimates that there are more than 9,000 causalities since military operations began in Yemen in March 2015. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian causalities as all other forces put together.

In a recent report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of recorded child deaths and injuries, and nearly half of the 101 attacks on schools and hospitals.

However, the Secretary-General removed Saudi Arabia from a list of countries that have committed violations against children in that same report earlier this month, after the Gulf state reportedly threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs. HRW and AI called the list of countries the “list of shame.”

“I had to make a decision just to have all UN operations, particularly humanitarian operations, continue,” the Secretary-General said upon receiving criticism of the move.

“I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs,” he continued.

In response, the Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied the use of threats and intimidation to remove the country from the list.

“It’s important to defend this very important mandate to protect children affected by armed conflict. Member states of the General Assembly ought to stand up and defend this mandate,” Bennett told the press.

In addition to the UN’s reporting, HRW and AI have also documented 19 attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen involving internationally banned cluster munitions, many of which were in civilian areas such as Sana’a University.

Alongside the nine nation-strong coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Executive Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division Sarah Leah Whitson also noted that the United States and the United Kingdom have “crossed the threshold to become a part of this war” by being principle suppliers of weapons including cluster munitions. In 2015, Saudi Arabia purchased $20 billion of weapons from the U.S. and $4 billion from the UK.

The two Western nations have also provided intelligence support and targeting assistance during the conflict.

This makes them legally responsible for crimes being committed on the ground, Whitson stated.

Meanwhile, the coalition’s naval blockade of Yemen’s ports have drastically limited the supply of food and medicine, leaving over 80 percent of the population in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. This barrier and starvation of civilians is “a method of warfare and a war crime,” Whitson said.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” -- Richard Bennett

Saudi and U.S. officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but members of the coalition have repeatedly denied any violations of human rights.

Domestically, Saudi Arabia’s country’s crackdown on dissent has also persisted. In 2015, at least six people, including prominent writers and activists, were punished for the expression of their opinions. One was sentenced to death.

Even speaking to human rights groups such as HRW and AI is an offense, said Director of AI’s Asia-Pacific Program Richard Bennett.

Executions have also surged, Bennett noted.

Just in 2016, at least 95 people have been executed, higher than at the same point last year. Approximately 47 of them were killed in a mass execution in January. Many of these executions are for offenses which, under international law, must not be punishable by death.

Despite the well-documented violations in international humanitarian and human rights law, Saudi Arabia has used its membership in the HRC to shield itself from scrutiny and accountability, the two groups said.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia thwarted a resolution in the HRC that requested an investigation on alleged war crimes and other violations by all sides to the Yemeni conflict. Instead, the country drafted its own resolution that did not include a reference to an independent UN inquiry.

HRW and AI have also called on member states of the General Assembly (UNGA) to act in accordance to Resolution 60/251. The resolution states that the UNGA, with two-thirds of the vote, can suspend the rights of membership in the Council if a member commits human rights violations.

The rule has previously been invoked in 2011 when Libya’s membership was suspended due to human rights violations.

“We realize that the odds are against us,” Bolopion stated when asked about the likelihood of Saudi Arabia being suspended.

But Bolopion hopes the campaign will be a “wake-up call” for other countries to see that they cannot get away with conducting human rights abuses and to clean up their act.

HRW and AI also stressed that action is essential in order to maintain the UN’s integrity.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” Bennett concluded.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia, along with nine Arab states including Egypt and Kuwait, intervened in the Yemeni conflict and has since clashed with Houthi forces.

Despite UN-mediated peace talks which produced a ceasefire, there have been “serious violations” by both parties, the Secretary General said to Yemeni negotiators.

The negotiations are set to resume in mid-July following the Muslim Eid holiday.

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Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Sweden Among New Members of UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/ethiopia-kazakhstan-sweden-among-new-members-of-un-security-council/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 01:27:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145864 Italy and the Netherlands have taken the unusual step of splitting the term of a UN Security Council seat. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

Italy and the Netherlands have taken the unusual step of splitting the term of a UN Security Council seat. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2016 (IPS)

Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Sweden were elected on Tuesday to serve on the UN Security Council (UNSC) as non-permanent members, while Italy and Netherlands have split the remaining contested seat.

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) met to choose five new non-permanent members who will serve a two-year term starting January 2017 alongside the 15-member council.

As the UN’s most powerful body, the UNSC is responsible for international peace and security matters from imposing sanctions to brokering peace deals to overseeing the world’s 16 peacekeeping missions.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom expressed how “happy” and “proud” Sweden is to be joining the UN’s top decision-making body.

“We will do now what we promised to do,” she told press. Among its priorities, Sweden has pledged to focus on conflict prevention and resolution.

“With 40 conflict and 11 full-blown wars, it is a very very worrisome world that we have to take into account,” Wallstrom stated.

Despite its location in Northern Europe,  Sweden has not been untouched by recent conflicts, including the ongoing civil war in Syria. With a population of 9.5 million, the Scandinavian country took in over 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015. The government has since imposed tougher restrictions on asylum seekers including a decrease in permanent residence permits and limited family reunification authorisations.

Ethiopia has also highlighted its position in promoting regional and continental peace and security. The country is the largest contributor of UN peacekeepers and is actively involved in mediating conflicts in Africa, most recently in South Sudan. It has also long struggled with its own clashes, including a crackdown on political dissent.

The Sub-Saharan African country has also promised to work towards UNSC reforms.

During the 70th Session of the UNGA in September 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn remarked that he was “proud” that Ethiopia is one of the UN’s founding members, but stressed the need to reform and establish a permanent seat for Africa in the council.

“Comprehensive reform of the United Nations system, particularly that of the Security Council, is indeed imperative to reflect current geo-political realities and to make the UN more broadly representative, legitimate and effective,” he told delegates.

“We seize this occasion to, once again, echo Africa’s call to be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the Security Council,” Dessalegn continued.

Ethiopia has been a non-permanent member of the UNSC on two previous occasions, in 1967/1968 and 1989/1990.

It will also be the third time that Bolivia will have a non-permanent SC seat. Bolivia campaigned unopposed with the backing of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

“Bolivia is a country that has basic principles…one of those principles is, without a doubt, anti-imperialism,” the Bolivian delegation said following their election, adding that they will continue implementing these principles as a member of the UNSC.

Since the election of Evo Morales, its first indigenous leader, the South American country has largely focused on social reforms and indigenous rights. Most recently, Morales has been reportedly implicated in a political scandal that is threatening journalists and press freedom.

Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to be a member of the UNSC after beating Thailand for the seat.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said that he was “very happy” and their selection was a “privilege.” He also reiterated the country’s priority focus on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan relinquished its nuclear weapons and has been actively advocating for non-proliferation around the world.

“We have a lot to offer to the world and we believe that it is time to attract attention to the need of development in our part of the world,” Idrissov stated.

However, Human Rights Watch has scrutinized the Central Asian nation’s human rights record, including restrictions on freedom of expression.

Netherlands and Italy were up for the last Western European seat on the UNSC, but after four rounds of voting, they were deadlocked with each country receiving 95 votes while needing 127 to win.

Following deliberations, Italian and Dutch foreign ministers announced that they would split the seat, with Italy in the UNSC in 2017 and the Netherlands in 2018.

Since May, the six countries have been campaigning for council seats by participating in the first-ever election debates in the UN’s 70-year history.

The debates were a part of a new effort to increase transparency in the institution.

The new non-permanent members will work alongside the five veto-wielding permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Following their controversial exit from the European Union, known as “Brexit”, the UK may face an uncertain future in the UNSC as the prospects of Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK loom.

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Making Sustainability Part of the Corporate DNAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 17:26:44 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145814 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/making-sustainability-part-of-the-corporate-dna/feed/ 0 Worldwide Displacement At Levels Never Seen Beforehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/worldwide-displacement-at-levels-never-seen-before/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:35:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145762 A family living in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

A family living in a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2016 (IPS)

Displacement has increased to unprecedented levels due to war and persecution, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has found.

In a new report, entitled Global Trends which tracks forced displacement globally, UNHCR found that 65.3 million were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59 million just 12 months earlier. This is the first time in the organisation’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.

Globally, 1 in every 113 people is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. This represents a population greater than the United Kingdom and would be the 21st largest country in the world.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi during the launch of the report.

Though the Syrian conflict continues to generate a large proportion of refugees in the world and garners significant international attention, other reignited conflicts have been contributing to the unprecedented rise in displacement including Iraq.

Iraq currently has the third-largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and alongside Yemen and Syria, the Middle Eastern nation accounts for more than half of all new internal displacements.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too.” -- Filippo Grandi.

By the end of 2015, there were 4.4 million Iraqi IDPs, compared to 3.6 million at the end of 2014. At least one million of these IDPs have been displaced since conflicts in the mid-2000s.

Displacement has increased even further following a government military offensive against the Islamic State in May with more than 85,000 Iraqis fleeing from the Iraqi city of Falluja and its surrounding areas. Approximately 60,000 of these fled over a period of just three days between 15 to 18 June.

Despite the figures, UNHCR continues to struggle to secure funding to meet the needs of Iraqis.

Halfway through the year, the agency has so far only received 21 percent of funds needed for Iraq and the surrounding region.

“Funds are desperately needed to expand the number of camps and to provide urgently needed relief supplies for displaced people who have already endured months of deprivation and hardship without enough food or medicine,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery.

Though six camps have already been built and the construction of three more are underway, UNHCR estimates that 20 additional camps will be needed in the coming weeks.

In the Debaga camp in northern Iraq, newly displaced civilians are staying in a severely overcrowded reception centre which is currently seven times above its capacity.

Along with the lack of shelter, insufficient hygiene facilities and clean drinking water is creating a “desperate situation,” Rummery said.

And displacement may only get worse, she added.

“It is estimated that more than a million people still live in Mosul and any large offensive against the city could result in the displacement of up to 600,000 more people,” Rummery stated.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Iraq is classified as a level-three emergency, which signifies the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crisis.

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