Inter Press Service » North America News and Views from the Global South Wed, 04 May 2016 00:57:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible! Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at and find more information on the Summit at

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Any Ways to Combat Extremism? Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.


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A World Drowning in Oil Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:37:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
DOHA, Qatar, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Thanks to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, major oil producers couldn’t come to an agreement in Doha to freeze their output to January levels to raise oil prices. The current low oil prices have a lot to do with the grim outlook for global economic growth while supply is growing. China, the second largest economy in the world, is slowing down. Not surprisingly, global oil demand is much lower at 94.8 million barrels a day vis-à-vis supply of 96.3 million barrels a day in the first quarter of 2016 according to the International Energy Agency.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Low prices are no doubt hurting producers like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Qatar, forcing them to run huge deficits as their oil revenues shrink while expenditures keep mounting. Iran, which is just free from US sanctions, too, wants to sell as much as possible to modernise its economy. Paradoxically, these talks to curb rather than cut output have failed when major oil producers are pumping as much oil as possible. Saudi Arabia, for instance, produced 10.2 million barrels a day in March, close to previous record highs. How then can prices start rising again?

For such reasons, a freeze – even if it did materialise — is unlikely to have made much of an impact in getting prices back up again. The current levels of Brent crude at $40 a barrel reflect excess supply. The global oil market is nervous that Saudi Arabia’s tension with Iran for dominance in West Asia can get out of hand. Geopolitical tensions in Syria, Libya and Iraq are also fast-escalating. Although prices can spike upwards, they are kept low by excess supply as demand is declining due to weaker global growth. But with lower US shale oil production, supply and demand may balance later this year.

Instead of a freeze, an excess supply situation normally ought to signal to dominant producers like Saudi Arabia or the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production to avoid a build-up of stock and ensure higher prices. But this is exactly what they have chosen not to do for geopolitical reasons. One year ago, Ali Ali-Naimi, Saudi’s oil minister asked “Why should we cut production?” on the sidelights of a climate conference in Lima. The Saudis resistance to lowering oil output is to squeeze out high cost producers and rivals like shale oil producers in the US and Iran.

The House of Saud and allies like Kuwait and the UAE were ready for prices even as low as even $20 a barrel. There is no doubt that low prices adversely affect the economics of oil extraction from shale. The US is now self-sufficient for its energy requirements and has emerged as a major swing producer in the global oil market. But in recent months, there are signs that shale producers in that country are experiencing a boom-bust cycle and the decks are being cleared for a decline in shale oil production. The Saudis expect higher prices to reflect such factors on the ground.

Saudi Arabia’s compulsions of late have changed due to rapidly dwindling coffers and losing out in 9 out of 15 key markets where it sold oil from 2013 to 2015 according to Financial Times. Its share of China’s imports thus has dropped from 19.4 per cent to 15.4 per cent over this period. Today, the Saudis prefer oil prices in the range of $60 to $80 a barrel to encourage demand and discourage supplies from high cost non-OPEC producers. But the contradiction is that they are now stepping up than cutting production to shore up their budgets and contributing to the persistence of global excess supply.

All of this ensures Brent crude prices that are no different from 2015. In any case, a production freeze can only succeed if all the major oil producers, including Iran, agree to do so. Iran, for its part, did not participate in this meeting in Doha. When both oil producers pump up more and more oil, how will prices rise? Saudi Arabia needs oil at $95.8 a barrel for its budget to balance. Iran needs oil at $70.4 a barrel according to the International Monetary Fund. The yawning gap between the current Brent crude and fiscal break-even prices is the difference between reality and unrealistic budgetary hopes.

If global oil prices remain depressed, the Gulf economies need to envision a future beyond oil. as we have written earlier. This is bad news for the millions of expatriate workers from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal who work in these economies. If the oil revenue-financed boom is over, many of them will be forced to return home. Already there are signs that remittances are declining. A world drowning in oil spells the end of the Gulf dream as major economies register slower growth in the rest of this year and beyond.


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Failing States: Many Problems, Few Solutions Sat, 09 Apr 2016 06:21:16 +0000 Barry Mirkin and Joseph Chamie Joseph Chamie is a former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is a former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.]]>

Joseph Chamie is a former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is a former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Barry Mirkin and Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Apr 9 2016 (IPS)

Regardless of whether they are called fragile, failed, or failing states, scores of countries around the globe are plagued by overwhelming problems with few solutions in sight. Moreover, the instability and dire straits of these countries are spilling across national borders, destabilizing neighboring countries and regions, while posing enormous challenges for international organizations and donors.

While lists of failing states may differ, they include for the most part, the same set of countries. In brief, failing states are unable to provide fundamental societal requirements and basic services to their citizens such as health, education, housing, welfare, employment, security, justice, governance and human rights.

Among the various key factors that can contribute to state failure are poverty, corruption, ineffective governance, crime, violence, forced displacement and sectarian and ethnic conflict. Destabilizing interventions and aggression from abroad are also a part of this toxic mix.

For purposes of this analysis the top 25 states, or the F25 countries, on the 2015 Fragile States Index (FSI) of the Fund for Peace are considered. The index is based on twelve social, economic and political indicators, including demographic pressures, poverty and economic decline, state legitimacy, security, human rights, rule of law, fractionalized elites and external intervention.

Based on their FSI scores, states are grouped into one of twelve categories ranging from Very High Alert to Very Sustainable. Four of the F25 countries – South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic and Sudan – are in the Very High Alert category. Twelve of the F25 are in the subsequent High Alert category, including the war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and the remaining nine countries are in the Alert category.

Three-fourths of the F25 countries are in Africa, and all except Libya in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the five Asian countries, four of them, namely, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, are racked by protracted violent armed conflict. The remaining country, Haiti, is the sole failing state in the western hemisphere.

The large majority of the F25 countries – 60 percent – have remained at the highest levels of the FSI for years. For example, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen have been among the top ten highest countries on the index since its inception in 2005.

Population estimates for the F25 countries show considerable variation (Figure 1). More than half of F25 countries have populations under 20 million and nine have populations between 20 and 99 million. By far, the most populous F25 countries are Nigeria and Pakistan at 182 and 189 million, respectively.

Source: United Nations Population Division and the Fund for Peace.

Source: United Nations Population Division and the Fund for Peace.

In the recent past the total population of the F25 countries was considerably smaller than that of developed countries. In 1980, for example, the combined population of the F25 countries was about one-third the size of the population of developed countries (Figure 2). The total population of the F25 is currently about three-quarters the size of developed countries.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Due to substantially higher demographic growth, by a factor of ten, the combined population of the F25 countries is expected to overtake that of developed countries in little more than a decade. By mid-century, the population of the F25 countries is projected to be 50 percent larger than developed countries, 1.9 and 1.3 billion, respectively.

The stark difference in the pace of demographic change between these two groups of countries is illustrated by comparing the populations of Nigeria and the United States. Currently the U.S. population is nearly twice as large as Nigeria’s, 322 and 182 million, respectively.

However, as Nigeria’s current demographic growth is more than triple that of the U.S., Nigeria is projected to overtake the U.S. by mid-century, when Nigeria will have the third largest population in the world, after India and China.

Although the F25 countries have relatively high mortality, with life expectancies at birth below the global average and the majority under 60 years, their rapid population growth is due to high birth rates. Among the F25 countries fertility is usually at least four births per women.

Moreover, some of the world’s highest fertility is observed in F25 countries, such as Niger (7.6 births per woman), Somalia (6.6), Democratic Republic of the Congo (6.2) and Nigeria (5.7).

The populations of the F25 countries are also young. In most instances, half of the population is below the age of 18 years. In some of the countries median ages are even lower, such as Niger (14.8 years), Uganda (15.9) and Somalia (16.5).

The F25 countries are the largest generator of refugees. In mid-2015, the top five sources of refugees under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), representing more than 60 percent of the 15 million refugees, were: Syria (4.2 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), Somalia (1.1 million), South Sudan (0.7 million) and Sudan (0.6 million).

A similar picture emerges with regard to internally displaced persons (IDPs). Of the 34 million IDPs in mid-2015 protected or assisted by UNHCR 70 percent were resident in the F25 countries, with just four of them accounting for nearly half of all IPDs: Syria (7.6 million), Iraq (4.0 million), Sudan (2.3 million) and South Sudan (1.6 million).

In addition to refugees and asylum seekers, high unemployment induces significant movements of unauthorized migrants to wealthier nations. Many youth, especially males, from countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Haiti, Nigeria and Pakistan are willing to undertake risky and costly trips with smugglers across land and sea to reach their desired destinations.

Desperate to escape war or driven by the hopes of a better life, more than 1 million refugees and economic migrants, an unprecedented number, illegally crossed the borders into Europe last year. Another 3,800, a third of them children, died while crossing the Mediterranean in a vain attempt to reach Europe, making it the deadliest year on record for such deaths.

The international refugee regime or system, which is based on the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Additional Protocol and implemented by the UNHCR, is being overwhelmed and proving inadequate in dealing with refugees and asylum seekers from failing states. Yet, it is feared that attempts to revise the current refugee regime will undermine rather than improve it.

Such is the case with an agreement struck between the European Union (EU) and Turkey in March 2016. Those migrants who illegally enter Greece from Turkey after March 20 will be deported back to Turkey. In exchange the EU will resettle one Syrian from a camp in Turkey for each Syrian who took an irregular route to Greece, with the maximum number capped at 72,000. Migrants currently in Greece could eventually be moved to other parts of the European Union, if they qualify for asylum.

The migration agreement also calls for Turkey to receive some $6.6 billion from the EU to assist with refugees in Turkey. Also promised is visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in most of Europe by mid-2016, if certain conditions are met, as well as the eventual resumption of negotiations with Turkey on EU membership.

A failing state is not a new phenomenon. In the past, however, the repercussions of a failing state were largely contained within its national borders. With an increasingly interconnected, globalized and mobile world, a failing state has disastrous consequences not only for its own inhabitants, but also for neighboring countries, as well as distant nations as has become disturbingly evident in recent years.

In particular, the surge in the numbers and populations of failing states poses serious dangers to world economic growth, development efforts and international security. The proliferation of failing states creates conditions and breeding grounds under which repressive kleptocracies, transnational crime, external incursions, armed extremists and terrorist groups can thrive and expand, resulting in among other things potential costly and perilous quagmires for foreign powers and regional and international organizations that opt to intervene.

The demographic realities of failing states can no longer be dismissed or postponed by political pronouncements, lofty goals or future promises. In addition to developmental issues such as poverty, employment, health, security, governance and political legitimacy, the international community needs to effectively address the faltering global refugee system and the vexing problem of illegal immigration, including smuggling and human trafficking.

Admittedly, some solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of failing states are being pursued. National, regional and international efforts are underway to improve the lot of failing states.

Those efforts encompass national dialogues, encouraging peace, reconciliation and state building, holding fair and peaceful elections, creating national priorities and accountability, monitoring specific developmental objectives and promoting economic resilience. Such initiatives require commitments of substantial resources and long-term support from development partners to address critical issues including security, governance, food, water, health, education, housing, equality, gender, employment and environment.

That no country has yet graduated from being considered a fragile state to a stable one provides little encouragement or optimism that the efforts currently underway will prove sufficient to solve the overwhelming problems of failing states. Clearly, radically new, innovative and comprehensive initiatives are needed in order for countries to transition from a failing to a stable state.


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Strange Spectacle: Nuclear Security Summit 2016 Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:59:17 +0000 John Burroughs2 John Burroughs is Executive Director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and a member of the Marshall Islands’ International Legal Team.]]>

John Burroughs is Executive Director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and a member of the Marshall Islands’ International Legal Team.

By Dr. John Burroughs
NEW YORK, Apr 4 2016 (IPS)

At the invitation of President Obama, on April 1 more than 50 leaders of countries, including all countries possessing nuclear arsenals, except Russia and North Korea, gathered in Washington for the fourth Nuclear Security Summit.

The focus was on securing civilian highly enriched uranium (HEU) and other modest and voluntary steps aimed at preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear and radiological materials usable in weapons. HEU intended to fuel civilian nuclear reactors is a small fraction of the total amount of weapons-usable HEU and plutonium in the world.

It was a strange spectacle indeed to see so much political capital invested in limited measures which do not address:
• the estimated 15,000-plus nuclear weapons in the possession of states which say they are prepared to use them; there are no safe hands, state or non-state, for these horrific devices
• the large stocks of HEU and plutonium in military programs
• the large stocks of reactor-grade but weapons-usable plutonium
• ongoing production of HEU and plutonium and construction of new reprocessing plants to yield plutonium

The contrast is stark with the global negotiations on prevention of climate change that culminated in the Paris Agreement last December. While that agreement is only a start, at least its negotiators acknowledged and sought to address the reality of climate change in its entirety.

Also remarkable and deplorable is that the United States and the other nuclear-armed states are so far boycotting the 2016 United Nations Open-ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Negotiations on Nuclear Disarmament. Established by the General Assembly in late 2015 with the support of 138 countries, the Working Group is charged with discussing legal measures and norms needed to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. Its next session will be held in Geneva in May.

The United States and five other nuclear-armed states (China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia) have additionally refused the Marshall Islands’ requests to defend their stances on nuclear disarmament before the International Court of Justice.

Referring to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to the long history of General Assembly resolutions on nuclear disarmament, in a 1996 Advisory Opinion the Court unanimously concluded: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective control.”

The Marshall Islands contends that the obligation applies universally, binding those few states (India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan) not party to the NPT, and further contends that all states possessing nuclear arsenals are failing to comply with the obligation.

Cases are proceeding against the India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. They are the only nuclear-armed states which have accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice as to disputes involving other states, including the Marshall Islands, having likewise accepted the Court’s jurisdiction.

Hearings on preliminary issues were held in The Hague from March 7 to 16, and rulings by the Court on whether the cases will go forward to the merits are expected within the next six months.

The limited scope of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, and the nuclear-armed states’ resistance to the enterprise of nuclear disarmament in other forums, corrodes the international cooperation badly needed in the nuclear arena and as to climate and other urgent issues as well.

The world would have been far safer if this had been the fourth Nuclear Abolition Summit. It is past time for the United States, Russia, and other states to embrace and urgently implement a broader agenda to achieve without delay a world free of nuclear weapons.


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US Nuclear Security Summit Shadowed by Rising Terrorism Fri, 25 Mar 2016 18:31:20 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When some of the world’s major nuclear powers meet in Washington DC next Friday, they will be shadowed by the rising terrorist attacks– largely in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, which will take place 31 March-April 1, will the fourth and final conference in a series initiated by US President Barack Obama in 2009 to address one key issue: nuclear terrorism as an extreme threat to global security.

According to the US State Department, the overarching theme of the summit meeting, to be attended by the world’s nuclear leaders, is “the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism and how nations can mitigate this threat.”

Dr Rebecca Johnson, a London-based expert on non-proliferation and multilateral security agreements, told IPS the terrorist attacks that ripped through Brussels “tragically remind us that President Obama’s key objective in setting up the Nuclear Security Summits was to prevent nuclear materials getting into the hands of anyone wishing to use them for nuclear or radiological weapons.”

“As well as strengthening intelligence and transnational cooperation, I hope they won’t forget that the risks start with the nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nine nuclear-armed states”.

These nine include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council –the US, Britain, France, China and Russia –plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Johnson said access to nuclear weapons and materials would be greatly reduced if governments would take bold steps to prohibit everyone from using and deploying nuclear weapons, along with activities like transporting warheads and nuclear materials.

This is one of the initiatives being discussed in a UN Working Group in Geneva this year.

“But the Obama administration appears determined to block any progress towards this nuclear security objective, which would put nuclear weapons on the same illegal, pariah footing as chemical and biological weapons,” said Dr Johnson, who founded the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in 1996 after working as an activist and then analyst on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS: “As the last nuclear security summit during the Obama administration’s term, I hope that the summit will not be an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, I don’t think we should have any expectations of any dramatic breakthroughs”.

To start with, he said, all the Security summits have been very narrowly focused on just civilian HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium). Occasionally there is some talk about plutonium, but this is more the exception than the rule.

The real big stockpiles of fissile material are the military stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and weapon grade plutonium that are possessed by countries with nuclear weapons, and the large quantities of reactor grade plutonium accumulated by countries that reprocess their spent fuel, he pointed out.

“These stockpiles should be the real focus of any process that is interested in reducing nuclear dangers—and unfortunately I think the upcoming summit will fail that test”, said Dr Ramana, the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.

Dr Johnson told IPS though it’s essential to share intelligence and ensure the best possible safety and security practices around nuclear facilities and materials, but more sustainable security requires ending the production and use of plutonium and highly enriched uranium – not only for weapons purposes, but also for military purposes like naval nuclear reactors in submarines and for all commercial purposes.

“There’s no need for these highly dangerous fissile materials to be produced or used any more”.

She said banning the production, use and trade in plutonium and HEU should be a no brainer for anyone who really cares about preventing nuclear use and terrorism.

But unfortunately the US and many others who plan to be in Washington next week are so stuck in their own outdated nuclear dependencies that they will prefer to rearrange the deckchairs rather than tackle the tough challenges that require them to change direction, he added.

“The two most salient measures they could take to prevent nuclear terror are the ones they will try to avoid – a nuclear ban treaty to take these WMD (weapons of mass destruction) out of circulation, and measures to end the production and use of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for all purposes,” declared Dr Johnson.

The writer can be contacted at

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Argentina, the United States’ New South American Ally Fri, 25 Mar 2016 16:30:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

By Fabiana Frayssinet
Mar 25 2016

After a decade of bilateral tension, the presidents of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and the United States, Barack Obama, resumed the friendship between the two countries, which could lead to a free trade treaty and a “universal” alliance.

“The United States stands ready to work with Argentina through this historic transition in any way that we can,” said Obama, in the first official visit by a U.S. president to this South American country since 1995, on Wednesday, Mar. 23 and Thursday, Mar. 24, after his historic three-day visit to Cuba.

Former president George W. Bush (2001-2009) visited in 2005, but to participate in the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, where the United States’ dream of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was buried.

“We see (Obama’s visit) as a gesture of affection, friendship, at a time when Argentina is embarking towards a new horizon and new changes,” Macri said Wednesday in a joint press conference in the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

“Please feel at home,” said the centre-right Argentine president, in office since December, setting the tone for the new relations between Buenos Aires and Washington, which he said would be “mature, intelligent, and constructive.”

During the visit, several agreements on security, cooperation in the fight against the drug trade, and investment were signed, in a show of the new era.

By contrast, relations with Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) of the Front for Victory – the left-leaning faction of the Peronist (Justicialist) party – were marked by clashes. In an interview ahead of his visit, Obama said Fernández’s “government policies were always anti-American.”

The tension between the countries peaked during the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

“We have to remember that on that occasion, Argentina actually said ‘no’ to the FTAA,” political scientist Juan Manuel Karg, of the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS.

But now Latin America’s third-largest economy and the United States have not only launched a new era of friendship but are seeking to knock down barriers to negotiate, for example, a bilateral free trade deal, as Obama indicated.

“One of the main things made clear was the United States’ interest in Argentina, and in Latin America as a whole, in the search for free trade agreements,” said Karg.

Argentina is a member of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Macri clarified that in order to reach an eventual bilateral agreement, it would be necessary to “strengthen Mercosur” before considering “a broader accord.”

“Despite its limitations and the slow pace of the progress it has made, Mercosur is still the most powerful economic bloc in South America, which rejected the FTAA not many years ago, in a context of the search for autonomy and integration among equals,” former foreign minister Jorge Taiana (2005-2010), now a lawmaker and the president of the Mercosur parliament, Parlasur, told IPS.
“The change of government in Argentina and the difficult political and economic situation in Venezuela and Brazil undoubtedly point to a change and a renewed presence of the United States, which wants to have a larger influence in regional decisions again,” he said.

In Karg’s view, “there is a possibility that Argentina will sign a free trade agreement with the United States in the medium term.”

But he said it could be a broader agreement, if there are changes of government in Brazil and Venezuela, or “a flexibilisation in Mercosur, with the aim of making Argentina a fulcrum between that block and the Pacific Alliance (made up of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico),” which also have agreements with the United States.

In 2015, Argentina had a 4.7 billion dollar deficit in trade with the United States, with imports totalling more than 7.6 billion dollars and exports nearly 3.4 billion.

But now Obama, who was accompanied by a large business delegation, promised to expand investment, given Argentina’s new openness.

“A country that reduces tariffs, opens up to imports, strikes down export taxes, and frees up the market becomes more attractive to foreign investors,” the director of the Southern Cone edition of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, José Natanson, commented to IPS. “I think foreign direct investment will increase.”

“I believe that what we see in this case is obviously a change in the Argentine government’s foreign policy, one of the areas where the difference is the most marked, with respect to ‘Kirchnerism’,” he said.

Under Kirchner and Fernández, a priority was given to relations with partners like China and Russia.

Macri, on the other hand, promised to “insert Argentina in the world.”

Since Macri took office, Argentina has also been visited by the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, and French President François Hollande.

“With Obama’s visit, Macri has reasserted his interest in privileged ties with the United States, which harks back to the 1990s, when the government of Carlos Menem had a privileged relationship with that country,” Taiana said.

The former foreign minister said the new government’s renegotiation with the “vulture funds” also helped smooth things over.

“Argentina put up resistance to this before, but now Macri decided to pay back the vulture funds. This removes the biggest discrepancy between Argentina and the United States,” he said.

Obama praised Macri’s “constructive approach,” which he said would “stabilise Argentina’s financial relationship internationally” and “heighten Argentina’s influence on the world stage in settings like the G20 (group of advanced and emerging economies).”

But for Obama, who called for Argentina and the United States to become “universal allies,” the alliance could also stretch to the promotion of “civil liberties, independent judiciaries, government transparency and accountability” and even the fight against terrorism.

Referring to the recent attacks in Brussels, “Obama was very emphatic” when he said he would call on U.S. allies “to take measures against the Islamic State,” said Karg.

“By becoming a privileged partner of the United States at this new moment in history, Argentina also has to assume what it means to be an ally at a ‘universal’ level, and especially during a moment of geopolitical turmoil,” he said.

Human rights forced itself onto the agenda

The second and last day of Obama’s visit was Mar. 24, the 40th anniversary of the coup that ushered in Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared.”

In the face of protests by human rights groups because Obama’s visit coincided with the anniversary of this dark page in Argentine history, the president decided to spend the afternoon in the tourist city of Bariloche in the country’s southern Patagonian region.

But before flying there, he reiterated his pledge to declassify new intelligence and military archives that can shed light on U.S. support for the Argentine de facto regime.

And the last activity on his official agenda was a visit to Remembrance Park, to pay homage to the victims of Argentina’s “dirty war”.

At the memorial, surrounded by photos and names of the victims of forced disappearance, he criticised the role played by his country in supporting dictatorships in Argentina and other countries in the region, which he described as “those dark days.”

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” Obama said.

“We cannot forget the past,” he said, before stating “when we find the courage to confront it, and we find the courage to change that past, that’s when we build a better future.”

Taiana said “I think this is Obama’s way of trying to show a change in U.S. policy with respect to the repression and its past commitment to the dictatorship.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Corruption Swallows a Huge Dose of Water Tue, 22 Mar 2016 23:51:46 +0000 Jeff Williams A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

By Jeff Williams
MOMBASA, Kenya, Mar 22 2016 (IPS)

While the United Nations marked this year’s World Water Day on March 22 focusing on the connection between water and jobs, a new report has rung loud alarm bells about the heavy impact of corruption on the massive investments being made in the water sector.

Each year, between 770 billion and 1,760 billion dollars are needed to develop water resources and services worldwide — yet the number of people without “safe” drinking water is about as large as those who lack access to basic sanitation: around 32 per cent of the world’s population in 2015, Transparency International on March 22 reported.

And asked how can so much be spent and yet such massive shortfalls still exist?

“One answer: About 10 per cent of water sector investment is lost to corruption.”

This striking information came out on the occasion of World Water Day 2016, as the Water Integrity Network (WIN) released a new report that documents the legacy of corruption in the water sector.

The WIN report reveals corruption’s costly impact on the world’s water resources. It also shows the degree to which poor water governance negatively affects the world’s most vulnerable populations – specifically women, children, and the landless.

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

While access to water and sanitation were formally recognised as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010, the reality is far from this goal, says WIN, a network of organisations and individuals promoting water integrity to reduce corruption and improve water sector performance.

“According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, some 663 million people lack access to so-called “improved” drinking water sources globally… this contributes to 1.6 million deaths annually, most of whom are children under 5 years old.”

Although the UN’s new 2030 Agenda includes a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) on water and sanitation as well as a mandate for accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16), action is needed so that pervasive and systemic corruption do not continue to seep from the water sector, according to the report.

The study cites some specific cases. In 2013, Malawi’s reformed public financial management system was misused to divert 5 million dollars in public funds to the private accounts of officials.

Another case: in 2015, an audit of the 70 million euro phase II national water programme in Benin, which included 50 million euro from the Netherlands, revealed that 4 million euro had vanished. Dutch development cooperation with the Benin government was suspended thereafter to safeguard additional funds.

Corruption is, however, not limited to developing countries. In fact, WING cites an example from the United States. “In California, a member of the State Senate in 2015 declared a system of permits that allowed oil companies to discharge wastewater into underground aquifers to be corrupt.”

Further more, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2016 (WIGO) shares examples of both corruption and good practices at all levels worldwide.

In this sense, WIGO demonstrates how improved governance and anti-corruption measures can win back an estimated 75 billion dollars for global investment in water services and infrastructure annually.

It therefore highlights and draws lessons from those examples of where governments, companies, and community groups have won gains for water consumers and environmental protection.

“The report proposes to build ‘integrity walls’ from building blocks of transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption measures,” says Frank van der Valk, the Water Integrity Network’s executive director. “Urgent action by all stakeholders is required.”

WIN works to raise awareness on the impact of corruption especially on the poor and disenfranchised assesses risk and promotes practical responses. Its vision is a world with equitable and sustained access to water and a clean environment, which is no longer, threatened by corruption, greed, dishonesty and willful malpractice.

Formerly hosted by Transparency International, the WIN global network is formally led by the WIN association and supported by the WIN Secretariat in Berlin.


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Farce Americana Mon, 21 Mar 2016 13:58:15 +0000 Zarrar Khuhro By Zarrar Khuhro
Mar 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The German language is truly underappreciated. Talce `Drachenfatter` for example: translating as `dragon fodder` this is the gift one gives as a peace offering to an angry partner or spouse. Then there`s `Schadenfreude` which means: `pleasure derived from another person`s misfortune` There`s a lot of that going around these days, with careful statistical research showing that global schadenfreude levels peak whenever Donald Trump opens his mouth.

This isn`t just expected, it`s also deeply satisfying. After all, America has lectured the world for decades on everything from human rights to democracy and everything in between. For those used to a steady stream of `do mores` from the exceptional nation, the opportunity for some payback is irresistible.

Latest to take a pot shot is the state-owned Chinese newspaper Global Times. In a mirror image of editorials one would normally see in the New York Times or Washington Post, the Global Times expresses concern that democracy itself may be the problem. After all, they argue, if such a `clown` can get so far in `one of the most developed and mature democratic election systems` in the world then what does that say about that system of government itself? In another jab, it points out that Hitler also came into power through the ballot box before going on to say that while Trump would probably not become president, the US does face the `prospect of an institutional failure`. Implicit in this criticism is the message that the Chinese system is far superior, given that it delivered dividends and not Donalds.

Echoing think pieces written by American journalists about the Middle East, journalist Murtaza Hussain sought to explain Trump`s rise in the context of American culture, saying that `it makes sense that fascist politics in the US would come via a reality TV star`.

In Pakistan, we are used to retired servicemen regaling us with their opinions about politics and even firing occasional shots across the bow of civilian statecraft and now, lo and behold, former CIA chief retired Gen Michael Hayden has come out saying that the US military would `refuse to act` if Trump were to actually order them to kill the family members of terrorists, as he pledged to do in his campaign speeches.

Were a former ISI chief to say this in Pakistan, we would be forgiven for keeping a close eye on the movements of the 111 brigade. As it stands, it isn`t impossible to picture a container outside the Capitol if Trump doesn`t get his way, with the soulchilling possibility of Kanye West standing in for DJ Butt. However, any possible (andprobable) Trump agitation would be nowhere near as peaceful as Imran Khan`s dharna, given that Trump has repeatedly and actively advocated violence against protestors at his rallies and has actually warned that his supporters may riot if he doesn`t clinch the nomination.

Add to that the massive support his fascist rhetoric garners and one can safely assume that were this to be happening in another country the US State Department would have issued at least one strongly worded statement of `concern` about the democratic process while readying the cruise missiles.

Turnabout is fair play of course, and Lebanese humorist Karl Sharro took advantage of the Chicago clashes between proand anti-Trump factions to express the hope that the US could one day hold peaceful elections. He also offered to send Lebanese election observers to help with capacity building for Americans in what seems to be an increasingly sectarian election season.

He`s (mostly) joking, but the highlyrespected Economist Intelligence Unit is dead serious when it warns that a Trump presidency would pose a major threat to the global economy.

On a scale of one to 25, they rank the threat of a Trump presidency at12,four points above a clashin the South China Sea and three points below the breaking up of the eurozone and the fracturing of the European Union.

According to the EIU, Trump gets this ranking due to his hostility towards free trade, his `exceptionally right-wing stance on the Middle East` and his `alienation of China and Mexico`. However, while the EIU also states that it does not expect Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton, his `most likely` contender for the Presidency, it says that there are `risks to this forecast, especially in the event of a terrorist attack on US soil` It`s not without irony then that, at number 12, Trump ties with the danger of an escalation in `jihadi terrorism`.

America borrows many symbols with the Roman Empire of old, so it is instructive to remember that Rome fell only after being weakened by a succession of weak, and of ten insane emperors. It`s also instructive to remember the old saying, `those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad`.

Or in this case, make ridiculous.

The writer is a joumalist. Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Fat’s Heavy Burden on the World Economy Mon, 14 Mar 2016 16:05:48 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 14 2016 (IPS)

About 2.1 billion people are regarded as overweight or obese today, or almost thirty per cent of the world’s population. With over 800 million people estimated to be chronically hungry in the world, it appears that the number of overweight is more than 2.5 times the number of undernourished.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Last year’s Second International Conference on Nutrition, organised by the FAO and World Health Organisation (WHO) in Rome last November, was criticised for exaggerating the extent as well as human and economic burden of malnutrition. Instead, the new numbers from a 2014 McKinsey Global Institute report suggest that the Conference instead erred in the opposite direction, at least by underestimating the extent of obesity.

The last estimate from the WHO was around 1.5 billion overweight, with a third of them obese. This implies an increase of about 40 per cent over just a few years! In the UK alone, for instance, 37 per cent of the population is deemed overweight and a quarter obese.

Economic burden
The overweight, especially the obese, impose a heavy economic cost equivalent to 2.8 per cent of world economic output, or about USD$2 trillion, according to the report. The burden on healthcare budgets is rising fast because unless current trends are reversed, half the world’s adult population will be overweight, if not obese in about 15 years.

The estimates of losses include lost economic productivity, additional healthcare costs and investments needed to mitigate and cope with its impacts. The burden thus ranks together with the economic costs of armed conflict, war and terrorism and of smoking, both estimated at $2.1 trillion each.

Not only fat cats are fat
While once associated in the popular imagination and caricatures with the ‘fat cat’ rich in rich Western societies, the problem has affected lower income communities there disproportionately more. In recent decades, the scourge has been spreading rapidly in most developing countries, especially those deemed better off or middle income, mainly due to lifestyle and associated activity and dietary changes.

Led by the WHO, the United Nations now recognises obesity as an epidemic connected to various diet-related non-communicable diseases, including type-2 diabetes, various cancers and cardio-vascular diseases. About 2.8 million deaths yearly are attributed to excessive body weight.

Comprehensive interventions necessary
The McKinsey Institute report and WHO figures significantly strengthen the case for stronger political commitment, more concerted and concerted policy approaches as well as greater international cooperation to address malnutrition in all its forms, namely hunger, micronutrient deficiencies and lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases, largely associated with obesity.

The report makes a strong case for a comprehensive intervention strategy of sufficient scale, recognising that any single ‘silver bullet’ intervention is unlikely to have sufficient impact. It considered 74 measures taken to address the problem of obesity before making its own recommendations. These include smaller fast food servings, restricting food and beverage advertising and promotion, improving information and education for consumers, especially parents, ensuring balanced, diversified and healthy meals at school and workplaces, reformulating processed foods, and requiring more exercise at school.

In early 2014, WHO halved its recommendation for sugar consumption from 10 per cent of an adult’s daily calorie intake to 5 percent — in the face of considerable resistance from adversely affected corporate interests and their government backers. The latest US dietary guidelines recently adopted the previous WHO guideline on sugar intake — a long overdue step in the right direction.

On a more encouraging note, after heading the world obesity league tables for some time, childhood obesity in the US was reduced by 43 per cent over the decade 2004-2013 suggesting that the world’s fastest growing pandemic can be reversed. This suggests that all is not lost, and that determined and concerted efforts can help reverse the spread of this new curse of excess.


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Palestinian Refugees from Syria Fri, 11 Mar 2016 07:09:36 +0000 Silvia Boarini 1 Women “Water Friends” Script a Success Story Tue, 08 Mar 2016 07:49:55 +0000 Stella Paul 0 Obama in Cuba: the Reasons for His Trip Wed, 24 Feb 2016 16:04:21 +0000 Joaquin Roy In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet professor and director of the European Union Centre of the University of Miami, analyses the complex scenario behind the forthcoming visit to Cuba by U.S. President Barack Obama. According to the author, this diplomatic step will be part of the legacy of the transition, whatever shape it takes. ]]>

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet professor and director of the European Union Centre of the University of Miami, analyses the complex scenario behind the forthcoming visit to Cuba by U.S. President Barack Obama. According to the author, this diplomatic step will be part of the legacy of the transition, whatever shape it takes.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Feb 24 2016 (IPS)

At this stage of the process that began in December 2014 with the surprise announcement of the opening of relations between the United States and Cuba, hardly anything counts as spectacular news. The detail in the decision by Washington and Havana that made news in the traditional sense (man bites dog) was that the plan to sit down and talk implied that Cuba gave up its prior demand that the embargo be lifted. The United States, for its part, accepted that Cuba did not undertake to make any special changes to its own political system.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

Since then, each side has been following a basic script that should one day lead to complete opening. All we need ask ourselves is what U.S. President Barack Obama has to gain with his visit to Cuba on 21-22 March, a decision not without risks, and what might be the motivation for its early date. The key is as much the forthcoming Cuban calendar as that of the United States.

In the Cuban context, developments in the political and economic situation in Latin America do not support an attitude of inertia and waiting for circumstances to improve while Raúl Castro’s term of government runs out (although that does not necessarily mean a regime change). Substantial changes are occurring in some areas of Latin America that will have an inescapable effect in Havana.

The instability in Venezuela, together with the change of government in Argentina, could trigger a modification of Cuba’s alliances. Although it is too soon to predict a major reconfiguration of alliances, a gradual fall of left-leaning populism and a return to the prevalence of moderation and neo-liberalism cannot be ruled out. Therefore, balancing the enduring presence of Cuba in Latin America with good relations with Washington is a priority. Here, Obama comes to the rescue.

The U.S. President has the advantage that his formerly risky wager on Cuba no longer affects his political present or future. He is no longer a presidential candidate. The issue of Cuba no longer has the weight it had years ago in the electoral context of Florida, where the vote count no longer depends on the Cuban issue. The influence of sectors opposed to normalisation and the end of the embargo has been eroded by the passage of time and circumstances.

In the rest of U.S. territory, Cuba does not exist as a “problem”. This is becoming clear in the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns, where not even candidates of Cuban origin (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) can exploit what used to be an advantage. What is more, demanding the end of trade barriers is seen as beneficial to the economies of many states producing goods that Cuba needs and wants to buy.

Returning to the Cuba-Latin America scenario, the changes in political and social tensions bring about the benefit of lower pressure in other regions of the planet. With the disappearance of Cuba as a source of infiltration in different areas (Africa, the Caribbean, South America), Havana is even taking on a cooperative role as mediator in domestic conflicts (Colombia). It cooperates on drug control functions (although there is suspicion that individuals are implicated). It guarantees the security of access routes to the Panama Canal and must deal with U.S. stubbornness in maintaining Guantánamo.

The only challenge and risk posed by Cuba for the United States is its own instability, caused by economic deterioration that may affect the political fabric and provoke internal conflicts, which (at the moment) only its own armed forces and security agencies can contain. Security agencies in Washington and the Pentagon are aware that the United States is already sufficiently preoccupied with more explosive scenarios in other parts of the world (Middle East, Asia). Therefore for the White House, whoever its occupant may be, the priority is to enjoy a certain amount of stability south of Key West. Cuban President Raúl Castro has no doubt taken note.

According to this logic, a number of operations are whittling away the force of the embargo. There has been a tremendous increase in visits to Cuba by U.S. citizens fitting into the authorised categories (studies, religious organisations, aid of various kinds) and by thousands of Cubans by birth who have the curious privilege of visiting their families. The impact of entry to the U.S. of Cubans with visas must also be taken into account: a minimum of 20,000 a year was authorised by Clinton to stop the boatlift in 1994. In addition to these arrivals is the systematic trickle of immigrants reaching U.S. territory through third countries in the Central American corridor.

This complex panorama is part of the scenario of Obama’s trip to Cuba, and the Cuban government is well aware of it. It will be part of the legacy of the transition, whatever shape it takes.


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Obama and Raúl Castro to Launch New Era with Historic Visit Tue, 23 Feb 2016 22:56:46 +0000 Patricia Grogg U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx (left) and his Cuban counterpart Adel Izquierdo signed an agreement Feb. 16 in Havana to restore commercial flights between the two countries. In the last year, four U.S. cabinet secretaries have visited Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx (left) and his Cuban counterpart Adel Izquierdo signed an agreement Feb. 16 in Havana to restore commercial flights between the two countries. In the last year, four U.S. cabinet secretaries have visited Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Feb 23 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro will go down in history as two statesmen who managed to overcome more than half a century of hostility to bring back together two neighbouring countries with too many shared interests to remain at loggerheads.

When Obama visits Havana on Mar. 21-22, it will be the fourth time he sees Castro in person. But it will be the first time a U.S. president is a guest of the Cuban government since 1928.

In December 2013, they shook hands for the first time in South Africa during the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela. At the time, few imagined that there would be further, less incidental, meetings – let alone that diplomatic ties would be restored and Obama would make an official visit to Cuba.

But diplomats from the two countries had been working behind the scenes since June 2013, with Canada and Pope Francis brokering the efforts, before the two governments surprised the world on Dec. 17, 2014 with the announcement of the decision to reestablish the ties broken off on Jan. 3, 1961.

In 2015 they met on Apr. 11 in Panama, during the Summit of the Americas, and later on Sep. 29 in New York, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. The latter was the first time the presidents of the two countries met in the United States since the 1959 revolution in Cuba.

In this Caribbean island nation, just 90 miles off the coast of the state of Florida, Obama will find people who admire him – and people who don’t.

Several generations of Cubans have grown up with the anti-imperialist rhetoric according to which the United States is the source of all evil. And although it has been toned down in the last few years, there is still a great deal of scepticism regarding Washington’s “good intentions” with respect to the thaw, or incomprehension as to why the former “enemy” is now a friend.

Independent journalist Miriam Leiva, of the internal opposition, said Obama’s visit is very important. “The Cuban people will receive his message directly. Besides, he’s coming with results; his measures have brought benefits such as an increase in remittances, which improve the lives of many people, not just of those who receive them directly,” she told IPS.

The United States is the main destination of Cuban immigrants, and as a result it is the biggest source of money sent back home to families in Cuba. According to official U.S. figures, nearly two million people of Cuban origin live in that country. Of that total, 1.1 million were born in Cuba and 851,000 were born in the U.S.

This explains why migration was the only issue that brought the two countries to the negotiating table – although not without tension – regularly for years. In these talks, Cuba complained that the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after reaching the country, encouraged illegal immigration to the U.S.

The image of U.S. President Barack Obama on a TV screen in Havana, announcing the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba, on Dec. 17, 2014. Now Obama can be seen in person by the people of Havana, when he visits the country Mar. 21-22. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The image of U.S. President Barack Obama on a TV screen in Havana, announcing the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba, on Dec. 17, 2014. Now Obama can be seen in person by the people of Havana, when he visits the country Mar. 21-22. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Issues of mutual interest and possible cooperation were discussed in the first contact made to outline the roadmap for the thaw – led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, and Josefina Vidal, director general of the Cuban foreign ministry’s U.S. Division.

The agenda for the normalisation of bilateral ties includes human rights, telecommunications, the fight against drug trafficking, environmental protection, prevention of natural disasters, and combating epidemics, among other areas of mutual interest and possible bilateral cooperation.

A year after the announcement of the restoration of ties, with the two countries’ respective embassies installed in the same buildings they were in before relations were broken off, President Castro publicly summed up what has been done so far and the issues that, in his view, must still be addressed for the complete normalisation of relations.

Among the results, he mentioned the expansion of the already existing cooperation in air security and aviation, and in efforts against drug and people trafficking and immigration fraud, as well as possibilities of cooperation in areas including environmental protection, maritime-port security and health.

Delegations from the two countries are currently working on more complex issues such as mutual compensation, people trafficking and human rights.

With respect to human rights, “we have profound differences and we are holding discussions on the basis of respect and reciprocity,” Castro said.

In a Feb. 20 reference to his upcoming trip to Cuba, Obama said that with Castro “I’ll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights.”

Josefina Vidal, director general of the Cuban foreign ministry’s U.S. Division, after reading out an official communiqué Feb. 18 on the historic Mar. 21-22 visit to the country by U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, director general of the Cuban foreign ministry’s U.S. Division, after reading out an official communiqué Feb. 18 on the historic Mar. 21-22 visit to the country by U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cuban authorities have habitually flatly rejected accusations about human rights.

However, on Feb. 18 Vidal said the Cuban government is open to dialogue with the Obama administration on any issue, including human rights, on the basis “of respect, equality, reciprocity and non-intervention in internal affairs.”

In a statement, the White House said that besides holding a bilateral meeting with Castro, Obama would “engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life.”

These are expected to include representatives of dissident movements and the emerging private sector.

In the last 12 months, the governors of several U.S. states have visited Cuba, along with dozens of members of Congress and of the business community.

Government officials who have visited include the secretaries of State John Kerry; of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack; of Commerce, Penny Pritzker; and of Transportation, Anthony Foxx.

And from Feb. 15 to 18, Pritzker hosted Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca. During the visit, the two officials stressed their interest in moving forward in the area of bilateral trade, although they recognised that changes are needed in order for this to prosper.

Pritzker said U.S. companies continue to face difficulties in Cuba, such as the requirement that foreign businesses hire Cubans through state organisations, or problems reaching people in the government to discuss business opportunities.

Malmierca, meanwhile, reiterated that the measures taken by Obama to make the embargo more flexible fall short, and said the president has the power to push harder to dismantle the sanctions in place against Cuba since 1960.

And he said the ban on the use of the dollar in financial transactions affects operations with companies from the United States and from elsewhere.

Businessman Gerard Dion, a former U.S. Marine and the author of “Cuba Unchained”, a political thriller that delves into the history of the relations between the U.S. and Cuba, is convinced that Obama knows what political, economic and legal changes must take place to convince Congress that it is time to lift the embargo.

“I’m sure he’ll discuss these things with Raúl Castro and will work hard to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement,” he told IPS by email.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Boutros Boutros-Ghali Turning Point in the United Nations Wed, 17 Feb 2016 16:02:26 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 17 2016 (IPS)

It is no coincidence that Boutros Boutros-Ghali was the only Secretary General in the history of the United Nations able to serve only one term instead of the two that have become traditional. The United States vetoed his re-election, in spite of the favourable vote of the other members of the Security Council.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who died on February 16, was considered too independent. We have now forgotten that at the request of the Americans, in 1992 he authorized, a United Nations intervention in Somalia, run by an American general, whose aim was to distribute $90 million in food and aid to the former Italian colony, that had been shaken by an internal conflict between local warlords.

The intervention cost $900 million in military expenditure, and ended with the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters, and the tragic death of 18 American soldiers, dragged into the streets of Mogadishu.

An obvious expedient for the US was to place the blame on Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who became the scapegoat during the US electoral campaign. Bill Clinton referred to him in his campaign, calling him BoooBoooGhali, and an agreement was made with the then US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright, to get rid of him, in exchange for becoming the US Secretary of State.

I traveled on the same flight to Paris with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, just after he left the UN (only the Italian ambassador went to say goodbye at the airport), and I remember the ease with which, when we arrived at the immigration queue, he went to the Non EU line, in spite of a policeman inviting him to the diplomatic exit. He said, my friend those times are gone, now I am a citizen just like you. And when we took a taxi, he had to dissuade the driver, who was an Egyptian, that he should pay even though the driver did not want to accept money from him.

The fact is, he was not popular at the UN. He was very strict, very private (he never attended a reception), and he was very aloof. He was, in reality, a professor of International Law, which was his real interest in life. And he did not enjoy socializing very much. He was suddenly alert when he met somebody with a personality, or an unusual person. But he saw the world of the UN as too pompous and formal.He always prefered a book to a diplomat. But if you could become his friend, you would find a very ironic and amusing mind, with a striking intellectual depth, and a shy human warmth.

He came from a traditional Egyptian orthodox family, who had been very rich, until President Gamal Abdel Nasser started the process of state nationalizations. He considered that because of his background, he could not be conditioned by power. He was a Copt, married to a strong and intelligent Jewish Egyptian, Leila, and he was able to make a career up to the level of Secretary of State, while maintaining his tenure at the University. When he was vetoed by the US for a second mandate, he told me: Americans do not want you to say yes: they want you to say yes, sir.

He never forgot his identity. He spoke of himself as an Arab, and he openly wondered if he would have been given the same treatment had he been white and American or European. He sympathized with what he called the underdogs and the exploited, and he tried to make the United Nations once again, a place of global governance. We have to remember that when he became Secretary General, in January 1992, the UN was at the end of a long process of decline, initiated under Reagan, in 1981.

In 1973, for the first time in history, the General Assembly unanimously approved a global plan of governance, which made international cooperation the basis for all its actions. Out of this plan, for instance, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido) was created. Even a Summit of Heads of States was held in Cancun, Mexico, in 1981, to advance a New Economic Order. It was the first outside visit of the newly elected American President, and he made immediately clear that the days of the UN were finished. The US would not accept to be straightjacketed into a democratic mechanism, where its vote had the same weight as that of Montecarlo (he probably intended Monaco). The US become rich thanks to trade, and his slogan was trade, not aid. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was part of the Cancun Summit, and a new alliance based on making markets and free movement of capital became the new basis for international relations.

From 1981 to 1992, the world changed dramatically, not only because of the collapse of a bilateral world, with the end of the Soviet Union, but because the winners took literally the end of communism as a mandate for a capitalism unencumbered by any governance.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali was not a left wing person. But he felt how the big powers were marginalizing the UN. The two engines of globalization, finance and trade, were already running outside of the organization. He spoke about this trend based on national interest with the concern of an Arab, and the distaste of a professor of International Law. He made a strong effort from the beginning of his term as Secretary General, establishing an Agenda for Peace, a strong juridical document with a clear role for the UN, which was conveniently ignored by the great powers.

He proceeded to hold a number of extraordinary conferences, from the Climate Change Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (the basis of the path to Paris), to the Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, the Conference on Population in Cairo in 1994, and the Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995, and the Beijing Conference on Women in the same year. In all those conferences, the US and the other great powers had to bow down to the rules of international democracy, and accept resolutions and plan of actions that they would gladly have avoided.

When finally, they got rid of him, in 1996, the decline of the UN started again. Even Kofi Annan, who was chosen to succeed Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Madeline Albright’s request, eventually fell into disgrace, because he tried to keep a measure of independence in his actions. Now the UN has no funds for action, and has become a dignified Red Cross International, left with education, health, food, children and other humanitarian concerns, far away from the real sources of money and power.

The Millennium Development Goals, adopted with great fanfare by the Head of States of the world in 2000, would cost less than 5% of the world’s military expenses. The five permanent members of the Security Council are responsible for the international trade of 82% of weapons, and its legitimacy for military intervention is a blanket conveniently used according to the circumstances. The sad situation of Iraq, Syria and Libya is a case in point. And the great powers have not hidden their agenda of moving the debate on governance away from the UN. The Group of Seven has become the Group of 20, and the World Economic Forum a more important space for exchange than the General Assembly.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali viewed the decline of the UN with regret. He went into positions which were consistent with his concerns. He become Secretary General of the International Francophone Organization, where again he had trouble with the French, because he wanted to make alliances with other Latin language countries, as he had a cultural view and not merely linguistic one of the world. He then became Commissioner for Human Rights in Egypt, and he did not deviate from his overall political view by becoming the Honorary President of the European Centre for Peace and Development, an organization created by the General Assembly, based in Belgrade, that has played a unique role in creating academic cooperation all over the Balkans and other countries of Eastern and Central Europe.

In this centre he found the place where his ideals for justice and peace, development and cooperation, were still vibrant and active. He died right at the moment of clashes between the fundamentalists of Islam and the others. He tried to draw attention to this problem that he had clearly seen coming, and he leaves a world where his ideas and his views have become too noble for a world where nationalism, xenophobia and conflict have become the main actors in international relations.

It is time now to look more closely at those ideas and ideals, and less at Boutros Boutros-Ghali as a human being, with its inevitable flaws and shortcoming which is also as he would want to be remembered. With him, we lived through what looks to have been the last great moment of the United Nations, with international law as e basis for cooperation and action.

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

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UN Chief Denied Second Term by a Livid US Veto Tue, 16 Feb 2016 20:26:21 +0000 Thalif Deen

Boutros Boutros-Ghali: An Appreciation

By Thalif Deen

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 93, was the only UN Secretary-General (1992-1996) to be denied a second term in office because of a US veto in the 15-member Security Council.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Boutros Boutros-Ghali

The US, which preaches the concept of majority rule to the outside world, exercised its veto even though Boutros-Ghali had 14 of the 15 votes in the Security Council, including the votes of the other four permanent members of the Council, namely the UK, France, Russia and China.

In such circumstances, tradition would demand the dissenting US abstain on the vote and respect the wishes of the overwhelming majority in the Security Council.

But the US refused to acknowledge the vibrant political support that Boutros-Ghali had garnered in the world body.

Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, Boutros-Ghali refused to blindly play ball with the US despite the fact that he occasionally caved into US pressure at a time when Washington had gained a notoriety for trying to manipulate the world body to protect its own national interests.

In a statement released Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Boutros-Ghali presided over a dramatic rise in UN peacekeeping at a time when the world increasingly turned to the United Nations for solutions to its problems, in the immediate aftermath of the cold war.

“Boutros Boutros-Ghali did much to shape the Organization’s response to this new era, in particular through his landmark report “An Agenda for Peace” and the subsequent agendas for development and democratization,” said Ban.

In his 345-page book titled “Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga,” released in 1999, Boutros-Ghali points out that although he was accused by Washington of being “too independent” of the US, he eventually did everything in his power to please the Americans.

But still the US was the only country to say “no” to a second five-year term for Boutros-Ghali although he also had the overwhelming support of the remaining 184 member states of the General Assembly at that time.

The former UN chief recalls a meeting where he tells the then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher that far too many Americans had been appointed to UN jobs “at Washington’s request over the objections of other UN member states.”

“I had done so, I said, because I wanted American support to succeed in my job (as Secretary-General”), Boutros-Ghali says. But Christopher refused to respond.

When he was elected Secretary-General in January 1992, Boutros-Ghali noted that 50 percent of the staff assigned to the UN’s administration and management were Americans, although Washington paid only 25 percent of the UN’s regular budget.

When the administration of US President Bill Clinton took office in January 1993, Boutros-Ghali was signalled that two of the highest ranking UN staffers appointed on the recommendation of the outgoing (President George) Bush’s administration– Under-Secretary-General Richard Thornburgh and Under-Secretary-General Joseph Verner Reed — were to be dismissed despite the fact that they were theoretically “international civil servants” answerable only to the world body.

They were both replaced by two other Americans who had the blessings of the Clinton Administration.

Just before his election in November 1991, Boutros-Ghali remembers someone telling him that John Bolton, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisations, was “at odds” with the earlier Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar because he had “been insufficiently attentive to American interests.”

“I assured Bolton of my own serious regard for US policy.” “Without American support,” Boutros-Ghali told Bolton, “the United Nations would be paralysed.”

Boutros-Ghali also relates how Christopher had tried to convince him to publicly declare that he will not run for a second term as secretary-General. But Boutros-Ghali refused.

“Surely, you cannot dismiss the Secretary-General of the United Nations by a unilateral diktat of the United States. What about the rights of the other (14) Security Council members”?, he asked Christopher.

But Christopher “mumbled something inaudible and hung up, deeply displeased”.

Boutros-Ghali also says that in late 1996 US Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright, on instructions from the US State Department, was fixated on a single issue that had dominated her life for months: the “elimination” of Boutros-Ghali.

Under-Secretary-General Joseph Verner Reed, an American, is quoted as saying that he had heard Albright say: “I will make Boutros think I am his friend; then I will break his legs.”

After meticulously observing her, Boutros-Ghali concludes that Albright had accomplished her diplomatic mission with skill.

“She had carried out her campaign with determination, letting pass no opportunity to demolish my authority and tarnish my image, all the while showing a serene face, wearing a friendly smile, and repeating expressions of friendship and admiration,” he writes.

“I recalled what a Hindu scholar once said to me: there is no difference between diplomacy and deception.”

One of his “heated disputes” with Albright (later U.S. secretary of state) was over the appointment of a new executive director for UNICEF back in 1995. It was a dispute “that seemed to irritate Albright more than any previous issue between us”.

President Bill Clinton wanted William Foege, a former head of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, to be appointed UNICEF chief to succeed James Grant.

“I recalled,” says Boutros-Ghali, “that President Clinton had pressed me to appoint him (Foege) when we had met in the Oval Office in May 1994.”

“I replied to her (Albright) as I had then to President Clinton: that while Dr. Foege was without doubt a distinguished person, unfortunately, I could not comply,” writes Boutros-Ghali.

He also told Clinton that he was personally and publicly committed to increasing the number of women in the top ranks of the United Nations, and UNICEF would particularly benefit from a woman’s leadership.

Since Belgium and Finland had already put forward “outstanding” women candidates – and since the United States had refused to pay its U.N. dues and was also making “disparaging” remarks about the world body – “there was no longer automatic acceptance by other nations that the director of UNICEF must inevitably be an American man or woman.”

“The U.S. should select a woman candidate,” he told Albright, “and then I will see what I can do,” since the appointment involved consultation with the 36-member UNICEF Executive Board.

“Albright rolled her eyes and made a face, repeating what had become her standard expression of frustration with me,” he wrote.

When the Clinton administration kept pressing Foege’s candidature, Boutros-Ghali says that “many countries on the UNICEF Board were angry and (told) me to tell the United States to go to hell.”

The U.S. administration eventually submitted an alternate woman candidate: Carol Bellamy, a former director of the Peace Corps.

Although Elizabeth Rehn of Finland received 15 votes to Bellamy’s 12 in a straw poll, Boutros-Ghali said he appealed to the Board president to convince the members to achieve consensus on Bellamy so that the United States could continue a monopoly it held since UNICEF was created in 1947.

And so Boutros-Ghali ensured that the post of UNICEF executive director will remain the intellectual birthright of the Americans – even to this date.

The writer can be contacted at

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2 Billion Couples and 10 Relationship Challenges Wed, 03 Feb 2016 19:48:47 +0000 Joseph Chamie Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division. ]]>

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

The relationship challenges that the world’s 2 billion couples confront vary considerably by circumstances, including age, sex, education, income, marital status, family size, length of relationship, urban-rural residence, customs, religion and region of the world. Nevertheless, 10 major challenges among married and cohabiting couples may be identified across countries.

First, despite international agreements, government policies and public information campaigns, forced and child-bride marriages unfortunately continue to take place in many less developed countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. For example, no less than two-thirds of the women aged 20-24 years old in Niger, Central African Republic, Chad and Bangladesh were married or in union before they were 18 years old (Figure 1).

Source: UNICEF. * The percent of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

Source: UNICEF.
* The percent of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.

Typically the family coerces the girl or young woman into a marriage or union to an older man. In many instances, the family fears unwanted behavior, sexuality and undesired relationships with men outside their ethnic, cultural, religious or caste group.

Also, parents may have made a marital promise regarding their daughter, wish to strengthen family links, desire to protect and enhance their daughter’s standing, reduce household expenditures or ensure land, property and wealth remains within the family.

A daughter who is perceived to have violated the honor of her family or has an unintended pregnancy may be forced into marriage or in extreme instances killed by a family member. Forced marriages may be abusive and intended to be a punishment to as well as a means of restoring honor to the family.

Second, spousal abuse is not limited to forced marriages and constitutes a serious challenge to a couple’s relationship. Domestic disputes, including confinement, intimidation, psychological abuse and partner violence, is a worldwide problem happening among many both married and cohabitating couples.

Globally, nearly one out of three women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner. Although some 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, it’s estimated that more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.

Third, sexual relations, intimacy and love/affection constitute another area that is often challenging for couples. Dissatisfaction with sexual relations in many instances leads to emotional infidelity, extra-marital affairs, erosion of trust and separation or divorce.

One often-noted difficulty in a couple’s relationship is the woman complaining that her partner seems to want sex all the time with little attention to her wishes and the man being frustrated that his partner uses sexual intimacy strictly on a reward and punishment basis.

Those issues take on added salience as some contend that marriage implies automatic conjugal rights with a husband entitled to be intimate with his wife any time he wants and a wife duty-bound to oblige.

Fourth, decisions on whether and when to have a child, the number and spacing of children and how the children should be reared often present an important consequential challenge for many couples. Men and women may have differing views on having children, their respective roles and responsibilities in parenting and childcare and expectations and future goals for their children.

The use of contraception and abortion to limit as well as space childbearing remains a sensitive matter for couples in many parts of the world. While in many industrialized nations the woman typically has the final say in reproductive and pregnancy decisions, in many developing countries these issues remain a contentious issue for many couples.

Fifth, another major challenge encountered by couples is the broad issue of communication. Often it is not an inability or unwillingness to understand each other, but rather simply a stubborn refusal to allow or accept the existence of a partner’s positions or viewpoints.

The lack of effective communication frequently leads to recurrent arguments, habitual bickering, lack of appreciation, detachment, unwillingness to forgive, emotional stress, and in some cases physical violence. Two toxic forms of communication frequently reported are “nagging” – a widespread complaint of male partners – and “the silent treatment” – a common complaint of female partners.

Sixth, finances or money is an often-reported major challenge that couples face in their relationship. Many couples quarrel over budgeting expenses and savings, their partner’s income, differing spending styles and inheritance issues. Invariably, one person in the relationship, usually the male, tries to control the resources, restrict the spending of the other and make the major financial decisions.

Seventh, harmonizing employment, careers, togetherness and work-life balance is increasingly a difficult challenge for many couples. With the spread of the two-career couple and nuclear family, the roles and responsibilities of men and women in a marriage or relationship have changed, differing considerably from those even in the recent past.

The lack of equality in a relationship and mutual respect for each other’s work and career may lead to resentment, stress and unhappiness. While working wives reduce the financial burdens for spouses, their employment may weaken the husband’s traditional authority in the family.

Also, wives and female partners who work outside the home and have with husbands or partners who are frequently not around are likely to be dissatisfied with the usual division of labor in the household as they find themselves doing more than their fair share of domestic chores and familial responsibilities.

Eight, many couples are challenged by a partner’s personal shortcomings, misbehavior and dysfunctional habits. Addiction, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity, jealousy, domineering, lying, and narcissism are some of the serious issues that jeopardize and weaken a couple’s relationship.

When one partner feels the other is immature, irresponsible or untrustworthy, the relationship or marriage is likely to suffer, undermining affection, attraction, cooperation and fidelity. The difficulties become exacerbated when the partner resists seeking outside assistance or heeding needed remedial measures.

Ninth, unfulfilled and differing expectations of marriage or an intimate relationship are another major challenge for couples. Women and men typically have different understandings, needs and priorities regarding marriage, love, romance and the nature of intimate relationships.

Unrealistic expectations when entering marriage and relationships are not uncommon, especially among the young and immature women and men. Disappointments, unmet promises and boredom can arise in a couple’s relationship, especially after a number of tedious and uneventful years.

Tenth, for many couples and marriages dealing with in-laws can be a burdensome challenge. Achieving the right balance and rapport with the parents of ones partner can have significant consequences on the stability and well-being of a couple’s marriage or relationship.

Given individual histories and personal viewpoints, couples may find themselves strongly disagreeing about the appropriate amount of time, care and assistance to be provided to in-laws. Those issues become even more complex in cases of second marriages, blended families, ex-spouses and the rearing of children and grandchildren.

In many instances difficulties with in-laws originate between with the wife and her husband’s mother. This is frequently the case, especially in patrilocal communities, because both are competing for the husband’s attention, dedication and support in family and domestic matters. As one wife has tersely noted, “Our marriage has three people … me, my husband and his mother.”

No doubt some will disagree with the above-enumerated ten major relationship challenges facing the world’s two billion couples and may propose different key challenges. However, nearly all would agree that couples in virtually every part of the world encounter significant challenges and difficulties with their spouses or partner at various times in their relationships.

Those challenges, which may range from minor annoyances to serious offenses, have generally been viewed as personal matters to be worked out by the couple. Modern societies, however, have vital interests in promoting strong and harmonious relationships of couples and marriages, supporting family formation and childrearing, ensuring the basic human rights, dignity and security of both women and men, and protecting the welfare of children.

As one adage has discerningly affirmed, “Peaceful family, prosperous country”.


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UN Hails Myanmar’s Historic New Parliament Tue, 02 Feb 2016 21:23:47 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When U.Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was elected UN Secretary-General back in November 1962, he was the first Asian to hold that post after Trygve Lie of Norway and Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.

The appointment was also a historic moment for Asia, which waited for 45 long years for the second Asian to hold that position: Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, the current UN Secretary-General, who was elected in January 2007.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

An equally important event took place in Myanmar last November when it held nation-wide elections, the first after decades of military rule, which were hailed by the United Nations as “a significant achievement in Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was forced to spend nearly 15 years under house arrest by a military government, emerged the leader of the largest political party: the National League for Democracy (NLDP) party.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s first freely-elected parliament in decades met in the capital of Naypyidaw — and at least over 110 of the NLDP’s 390 members in the new parliament are former political prisoners.

But constitutionally, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from holding the post of President, despite the NLD’s parliamentary majority, primarily because her children who were born in UK are treated as foreigners. Her late husband was a British scholar.

Asked about the historic opening of parliament, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “It’s another extremely important step in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.”

Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the gradual transition to democracy in Myanmar must be welcomed.

But the transition has to occur through a measured process, he said.

“Myanmar has not enjoyed a UK style (or an Indian style) democracy for a long time. It will take a while for a successful transition to be consolidated.’

“We know from recent experience that a Western style democracy cannot be superimposed on a country inexperienced in democracy. It is to be remembered that its territorial integrity will be a priority for Myanmar while divisive ethnic tensions will need to be carefully managed as it slowly absorbs the new political experience,” said Kohona.

Ban said the United Nations “has long been involved in Myanmar’s transition after more than 50 years of military rule”, appointing a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the issue.

In 2007, he set up the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar,” a consultative forum of 14 countries to assist him in his efforts to spur change in the South-East Asian nation.

Over the years, he has welcomed the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself. In 2010 he voiced concern over the decision to dissolve 10 political parties, including the NLD, ahead of the previous elections that November.

The United States, which imposed rigid economic and military sanctions on Myanmar for lack of a democratically elected government, for its treatment of political prisoners and its human rights violations, has begun easing some of these restrictions.

Since 2012, the US has provided over $500 million in support of Myanmar’s reform process, including implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and efforts to increase the participation of civil society and women in the peace process.

At a press conference in the Naypyitaw last month, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US welcomes the positive statements from President Thein Sein and from the leadership of the military congratulating the NLD and pledging to respect the result of the elections.

It is also encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi has met with President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the upcoming political transition.

“We know there are still many challenges ahead,” Blinken said.

“Broad-based economic growth must be nurtured and it must be sustained. The national reconciliation process must continue.”

He also said that remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter their ethnicity or religion.

Reforms need to continue until an elected civilian government is truly sovereign and all the country’s institutions answer to the people.

“The United States will work in close partnership with the new government to support its efforts to achieve these goals,” he declared.

He said the US has also discussed Myanmar’s economic challenges, including the incoming government’s focus on improving conditions for those who live and work off the land.

“The United States will continue to promote responsible investment by our companies in Myanmar, which we believe is strengthening new local businesses and industries and building human capital, not just extracting resources.”

“We talked about the peace process and political dialogue between the government and ethnic nationalities. The United States will do whatever the stakeholders in this historic effort believe will be helpful to aid in its success. Meanwhile, we urge an end to offensive military operations and unfettered humanitarian access to civilians in need,” he added.

The US is particularly concerned about discrimination and violence experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

Ban said he is regretfully aware that a large number of voters from minority communities, in particular the Rohingya, were denied the right to vote and some were disqualified as candidates,” the statement noted.

Encouraged by the statements of political and military leaders and other relevant actors, as Myanmar begins the process of forming its next government, the UN chief has urged all national stakeholders to maintain a calm atmosphere and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

“There is much hard work that remains ahead on Myanmar’s democratic journey and towards making future elections truly inclusive,” he said, underscoring that the people and leaders of Myanmar have it within their power to come together to build a better future for their country, “a future where peace and development take firm root on the foundations of inclusivity, respect and tolerance, where the human rights of all are protected regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and where no one is marginalized, vulnerable, and discriminated against.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Q&A: Ensuring Food Security for All Tue, 19 Jan 2016 15:55:41 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie

As the Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass, takes-up her role as Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), she shares her vision for the future of food security.

By Katherine Mackenzie
Rome, Italy, Jan 19 2016 (IPS)

Coming from a developing country where, in our generation, we have experienced the devastating effects of food insecurity and the complexity of its root causes, I take to heart the objective of ensuring that during my mandate, CFS will make a ‘real’ difference to people’s lives. Achieving results is something that we owe each and every undernourished person who today, in 2016 goes to bed hungry. There is still an unacceptable 793 million people in this condition worldwide! Ensuring food security for all is also something that we owe our children.

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

Today, in our inter-connected 21st century world, the persistence of hunger and malnutrition is both unacceptable, and complex to tackle. Root causes are many, they are interlinked, and they will only be addressed successfully if all actors involved, governments, civil society, the private sector, UN organisations and the international development community generally, including research organizations, come together and agree on the policy and actions that are necessary. This is why CFS, as the most inclusive platform for all stakeholders to work together on global food security and nutrition policies, has been called upon to play a major role in two crucial areas: implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the recommendations of the Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Both the review and follow-up to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and particularly of its second goal, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, as well as action to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms, will require platforms able to ensure inclusiveness, efficient science-policy interfaces, and an approach which breaks down silos.

Thanks to quality reports by its High Level Panel of Experts, and the participation of the different stakeholders around the table, CFS negotiates policy tools which are based on facts and evidence, and enjoy wide legitimacy and ownership. We can no longer argue that we lack the understanding or knowledge of the consequences of our actions, and today, we must all be held accountable for our actions and our choices.

Accountability is another priority that I have set myself for CFS in the coming biennium. Reality is fast changing, and CFS must be ready to evolve to stay inclusive, transparent, effective, and relevant. CFS must continue its constructive self-questioning, and examine whether its procedures are efficient, whether it is as inclusive as it should be, whether the science-based reports support policy negotiations as well as they could, and so forth. This year, we plan to carry out an independent evaluation of CFS, and we are looking forward to the results, in order to continue evolving and improving.

These new priorities represent a major turning point for CFS, and will no doubt involve challenges, as well as opportunities to prove that a participatory, inclusive model such as CFS is the future for sustainable development. I look forward to this biennium, and to achieving a lasting impact together with all CFS stakeholders!

The following is an exclusive interview with Ambassador Gornass conducted by IPS.

IPS: Please describe some of the toughest challenges we face today in trying to reach Zero Hunger.

Amb. Gornass: Our planet, however big and plentiful, has physical boundaries, and limited natural resources, which in today’s populated and globalised world, are getting scarce. This leads to competing demand for land, water, nutrients among others. Soils are depleted. This impacts upon agricultural productivity, and further affects our environment. Climate change is probably the most worrying of these changes which will affect all of us, with no exception. Political and governance factors also come into play; worldwide, protracted crises are multiplying. These conflicts affect food production from planting and harvesting to processing, distribution and the final consumer. Policy coordination and coherence is a major issue for food security and nutrition worldwide. For instance, different ministries within a government may not share the same views or may have different and sometimes competing approaches to an issue, which makes the implementation of policies such as those targeting the food insecure difficult, or may even jeopardize their impact. Countries within a region should also improve their coordination of policies. Better communication is something we need to achieve.

In general terms, there has to be an acknowledgement by all actors of their shared responsibility: each stakeholder has an interest, and responsibilities, in achieving global food security and improved nutrition.

IPS: Where have we succeeded so far and what might work better? Is SDG2 an aspirational goal or can we really reach it by 2030?

Amb. Gornass: There are examples of major advances in the fight against hunger. Globally, numbers are going down and overall, regions have made good progress, some regions having achieved both the 2015 international hunger targets. However, others have in fact gone backwards due to new factors such as political crises.

SDG2 can certainly be reached by 2030. We already know how to produce enough to feed the planet. It’s now about understanding how food systems can work better so that we no longer lose or wastefood, that it is more equally distributed, is available at a fair price that enables food producers to improve their livelihoods and encourages vocations, and that is both nutritious and adequate. As a result populations will be better off and countries will be enabled to grow. Increasing the production of smallholder farmers is key to achieving this. These are the people who will make the difference in nutrition and in the quality of food, overall.

IPS: Can you give us some specific success stories that show the way ahead for other countries as well?

Amb. Gornass: Brazil is an excellent example. Former President Lula’s Zero Hunger is a Brazilian government program introduced in 2003 by the then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with the goal of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by combining an array of social protection policies and safety net measures, aimed at increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers.

India also has success stories to share! For example, India launched a very successful social media campaign aimed at educating the entire population – and targeting women in particular – about the symptoms and consequences of malnutrition, as well as on the benefits of a varied diet, especially for infants and children under the age of five. The campaign was launched thanks to the support of a telephone company, which gave to people who watched the video extra telephone minutes. As a result of this campaign, malnutrition dropped from 51 percent to 37 percent!

IPS: Attaining food security could solve so many things, including for example decreasing health issues which at the national level cause a strain on a country’s economy, to say nothing of the personal suffering due to food insecurity and malnutrition. Do you think world leaders understand the importance of food security?

Amb. Gornass: They do! This is the message that they sent last September by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: development issues are strongly interrelated, and we need to work on these simultaneously, in a holistic and integrated manner, bringing together: developing, and developed countries; governments, and all other stakeholders.

The challenge is that, while food security and good nutrition achieve benefits that affect many sectors, such as health, economic growth as you mentioned, but also the environment, and populations’ overall well-being, achieving this also requires simultaneously moving things across many different sectors. For instance, “nutrition sensitive policies” should be included in health plans, agricultural development programmes, water management, education, etc. This is why food security and nutrition will only be achieved if all stakeholders realise this and work together. This is also why the 2030 Agenda, and enhanced nutrition, will be placed at the centre of the CFS agenda from now on; CFS multistakeholder members will meet this year in Open-Ended Working Groups to discuss how to implement concretely the decisions taken at the Committee’s Plenary meeting in October 2015.

IPS: Isn’t Climate change a huge problem for attaining food security and zero hunger by 2030? If we don’t get climate change right, how can we move ahead on food security? What role is CFS playing and couldn’t it play a greater role?

Amb. Gornass: Indeed, it is, especially in developing countries. A two degree increase will have a dramatic impact on crop yields and their nutritional content in many regions of the world and it will also affect climate variability, which in turn has adverse effects on harvests and food availability.

Climate change may also lead to important flows of displaced people, “climate refugees,” which has important food security implications. Small changes in a situation of fragile balance could have huge political and humanitarian repercussions. All countries have to work together to adapt to and mitigate climate change; we need to work on providing more funding and technical help. We need to enable farmers to sustain these changes. We need to find and adopt globally more sustainable agricultural production methods, and fast. But the solutions are in reach, thanks to the huge technology and innovation potential, as well as to traditional local knowledge on how to produce good quality food using available resources to their full potential and in a sustainable manner.

On this topic, CFS has commissioned a High Level Panel of Experts’ report on “Sustainable Agricultural Development Including the Role of Livestock”, to be launched in July 2016. In 2012, the CFS published a report on “Climate Change and Food Security” which was a game changer. The report introduced the idea of “Climate-Smart Agriculture”, with climate negotiators realizing that agriculture must needs be included in any negotiations on climate – that it was not only part of the problem but also has enormous potential for solutions! The policy recommendations which were negotiated based on this report are still very topical.

In the run-up to COP 21, CFS openly and actively advocated for a common narrative to be developed for sustainable development in the next 15 years – between the Sustainable Development Goals, Financing for Development, and quick action to check climate change – ensuring that all stakeholders take their full responsibility and contribute to a better world.

CFS will continue using its model, work, and convening power to support joint action, making sure that the implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals that fall under its mandate take into account the need for climate action.

CFS is fully committed to supporting all its stakeholders in building a world where in 2030, not one individual will be left behind.


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57 Million Deaths in Perspective Thu, 14 Jan 2016 21:38:49 +0000 Joseph Chamie

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Jan 14 2016 (IPS)

The number of deaths worldwide in 2015 was approximately 57 million. Those deaths represent 0.78 percent of the world’s population of 7.3 billion. In comparison, 140 million births occurred in 2015, resulting in a global population increase of 83 million people.

The major causes of death worldwide are ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive lung disease (Figure 1). Those four key diseases have remained the world’s top killers during the past decade.

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

Two-thirds of all deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. As has been the case throughout recent years, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in the world, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths.

The critical behavioral risk factors for heart disease, stroke and lung diseases are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption and tobacco usage. The use of tobacco, in particular smoking, is responsible for the death of about 1 in 10 adults worldwide.

Communicable diseases together with maternal, neonatal and nutrition conditions account for close to one-quarter of all deaths. The deadly infectious diseases include lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, malaria and tuberculosis.

While progress has been achieved in reducing maternal deaths, maternal mortality rates continue to be high. Nearly 830 women die daily due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Rates are especially high in some African countries, such as Chad, Mali and Somalia, where a quarter or more of the deaths among women of reproductive ages are from maternal causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth.

For children under age 5, the major causes of death are prematurity, pneumonia, birth asphyxia and birth trauma, and diarrheal diseases. In 2012 approximately 4 in 10 deaths of children under age 5 years took place within 28 days of birth, with prematurity responsible for 35 percent of those deaths.

Injuries are responsible for nearly one-tenth of all deaths. Road traffic injuries in particular take approximately 3,500 lives each day, placing it among the ten leading causes of death. Among people aged 15 to 29 years the major cause of death is road traffic injuries. And approximately 75 percent of all road traffic deaths are among males. One of the most important risk factors in road traffic fatalities is alcohol consumption.

While more than half of deaths worldwide occur after age 65, the age distributions of deaths vary greatly by development level. In Japan, for example, 60 percent of deaths occur after age 80. Child mortality under age 5 years claims 0.26 percent of all deaths and the chances of a Japanese child not reaching age 5 is about 1 in 333.

In contrast, in Nigeria nearly 60 percent of deaths occur below age 30. Child mortality under age 5 years accounts for 37 percent of all deaths and the chances of a Nigerian child not reaching their fifth birthday is approximately 1 in 8.

Major causes of death also vary considerably by socio-economic conditions. The top four causes of death in low-income countries in 2012 were lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDs, diarrheal diseases and stroke. In high-income countries, in contrast, the top four killers were ischemic heart disease, stroke, trachea bronchus/lung cancers, and Alzheimer’s and other dementia (Figure 2).

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

Suicide, another important cause of death, was responsible for over 800,000 deaths in 2012 or about 1.4 percent of all deaths worldwide. Due to religious, social and legal pressures, the incidence of suicide tends to be under-reported or not reported at all in some cases.

In 2012 three-fourths of all reported suicides took place in low- and middle-income countries. The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana, North Korea, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Suriname and Mozambique.

Males are nearly twice as likely as women to take their own lives. Suicide rates were highest among those aged 70 years and over. However, among young people aged 15 to 29 years suicide is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

Intentional homicide accounts for almost half a million deaths annually, or 0.8 percent of all deaths. In 2012 no less than 437 thousand people were murdered with men making up about 80 percent of homicide victims and 95 per cent of perpetrators.

More than half of all homicide victims are under 30 years of age, with children under the age of 15 accounting for 8 per cent of all homicides. Close to 15 per cent of all homicides is the result of domestic violence with women making up 70 per cent of those fatalities.

Some of the highest homicide rates are in Central and South American countries, such as Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela, where rates range from 40 to 90 deaths per 100,000 population. Among the high-income countries, such as Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States, homicide rates are comparatively low, less than 5 deaths per 100,000 population.

The number of deaths in war and civil conflict account for approximately 0.3 percent of all deaths globally. The body count from the top twenty deadliest wars in 2014, according to the Project for the Study of the 21st Century, was 164 thousand.

The four deadliest conflicts in 2014 were Syria (76 thousand), Iraq (21 thousand), Afghanistan (15 thousand) and Nigeria (12 thousand). Those and other conflicts experienced significant increases in casualties over the previous year.

The proportion of all deaths due to terrorism is about 0.06 percent. In 2014 the death toll from terrorism was approximately 33 thousand, compared to about 18 thousand in 2013. Nigeria had the largest increase in terrorist fatalities with about 7,500 deaths in 2014, an increase of more than 300 percent over 2013.

Terrorist attacks and deaths are highly concentrated geographically. Five countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria – accounted for nearly 80 percent of terrorism fatalities in 2014.

Iraq stands out as the worst affected country from terrorism, having the highest number of terrorism incidents and fatalities ever recorded by a single country. Approximately 30 per cent of all deaths in 2014 were the result of terrorist attacks.

The number of deaths due to executions in 2014 was no less than 607. While 22 countries carried out executions in 2014, three of them − Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – were responsible for more than 70 percent of recorded executions.

The number of executions is an underestimate as some countries underreport or do not report executions. In particular, the number does not include China, where statistics on the death penalty are a state secret.

Finally, as death is the inevitable outcome for everyone, the issue of the preferred or best ways to die often arises. People typically report that they prefer to die peacefully at an old age, at home in bed. Most wish to avoid a painful, lengthy and burdensome end of life.

Many would like to pass away quietly, comfortably and unbothered at an advanced age, preferably in their sleep. Others desire to die suddenly and painlessly after living an active, disability-free life. The Japanese have referred to this as “Pin Pin Korori” (ピンピンコロリ), the wish to live a long and happy life followed by sudden death rather than prolonged frailty or illness.

Some, perhaps even many, choose not to reflect upon death and end of life decisions. As one American comedian glibly remarked, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Ignoring one’s unavoidable demise, however, is unwise and unhelpful. Talking about the end of life, writing down one’s wishes and sharing those decisions with others makes one’s passing away less difficult, stressful and unsettling for family, friends and caregivers.


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