Inter Press Service » North America News and Views from the Global South Sat, 28 Nov 2015 08:29:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Analysis: More Countries Want More Babies Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:07:47 +0000 Joseph2

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

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin
NEW YORK, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Concerned with the consequences of demographic decline and population ageing, especially with respect to economic growth, national defence and pensions and health care for the elderly, a growing number of governments are seeking to raise birth rates. Whereas nearly 40 years ago 13 countries had policies to raise fertility, today the number has increased four-fold to 56, representing more than one-third of the world’s population.

The most recent and largest addition to this pronatalist group of countries, which includes Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey, is China. The Chinese government announced that it will change its controversial one-child policy to a two-child policy per couple in order to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population.

Assuming a slight increase in its current fertility level, China’s population of 1.38 billion is projected – according to the UN medium variant – to peak by 2030 at 1.42 billion and then decline to 1 billion by the end of the century (Figure 1). However, if fertility were to remain constant at its current level, China’s population would soon begin declining, reaching around 0.8 billion by the year 2100. If fertility were to instantly reach the replacement level, an unlikely event, China’s population would grow to 1.51 billion by midcentury.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

China’s population age structure is also becoming older than any time in the past. Whereas in 1950 less than five per cent of the Chinese were aged 65 years or older, today the proportion has doubled to 10 per cent. By 2035 China’s proportion elderly is expected to double again and reach one-third by around midcentury.

Similar to China, 82 other countries – accounting for almost half of the world’s population – are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level of about two births per woman. As a result, the populations of 48 of those countries, including Germany, Japan, Russia and South Korea, are projected to be smaller and older by midcentury, even assuming modest gains in birth rates. If fertility rates were to remain constant at their current levels, the declines and ageing would be even more pronounced than currently expected (Figure 2).

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In an attempt to counter those two major demographic trends, many governments have adopted a variety of policies to raise birth rates. At one extreme are draconian measures such as prohibiting contraception, sterilization, abortion and the education and employment of women. As those measures violate basic human rights, few governments are prepared to take such drastic steps to raise fertility. Moreover, such measures have undesirable demographic consequences, including higher levels of unintended pregnancy, illegal abortion and maternal mortality.

Some governments are promoting marriage, childbearing and parenting through public relations campaigns, incentives and preferences. Such programs highlight the vital role of motherhood and its valuable contribution to the welfare and growth of the country. Australia and South Korea, for example, are among those making appeals to women to have one more child. Also, Iran is considering legislation that would encourage businesses to prioritize the hiring of men with children.

Perhaps the most common pronatalist policies aim to reduce parent’s considerable financial costs for childbearing and child rearing. Those policies include cash bonuses at the time of a child’s birth and/or recurrent cash supplements for dependent children

In Turkey, for example, parents are entitled to 300 Turkish lira (108 dollars) for the birth of their first child, 400 Turkish lira (144 dollars) for the second and 600 Turkish lira (215 dollars) for the fourth and subsequent child. One consequence of this legislation, however, has been the need for the provision of government financial assistance to needy families with large families.

Additional policies, especially popular among many Western countries, focus on making employment and family responsibilities “compatible” for working couples, especially mothers. In addition to extended maternity leave as well as paternity leave, other measures include part-time work, flexible working hours, working at home and family-friendly workplaces, including nurseries, as well as pre-school and after-school care facilities.

However, the costs of family friendly policies are not insignificant. For example, with fertility at two children per woman, France’s extensive scheme of family benefits is estimated to cost four per cent of gross domestic product, one of the highest percentages in the European Union.

Some governments are also looking to selective immigration to maintain the size of their workforce and slow down the pace of population ageing. However, a recent United Nations study concluded that international migration at current levels would be unable to compensate fully for the expected population decline. Between 2015 and 2050, the excess of deaths over births in Europe is projected to be 63 million, whereas the net number of international migrants to Europe is projected at 31 million, implying an overall shrinking of Europe’s population by about 32 million.

In addition, the financial costs, social integration and cultural impact of immigration have come to the political forefront in recent months. A growing tide of refugees and economic migrants – mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, estimated at over 800,000 – have arrived on the shores of the European Union since the beginning of 2015 to escape war, repression, discrimination and unemployment.

As part of its response, the EU is considering a plan to offer aid money and visas to African countries that agree to take back thousands of their citizens who are unlawfully residing within its borders. Also aiming to stem the record inflows of refugees, various EU members have put up fences, imposed border controls and tightened asylum rules.

Other countries that are averse to encouraging immigration, such as Japan and South Korea, have instead opted to boost labour productivity as a means of compensating for a shrinking labour force. Those governments are also reviewing legislation to encourage more women to join and remain in the labour force by offering them family friendly work environments, improved career mobility and promotions to management and senior positions.

While family-oriented measures may encourage some women to have children, those policies are costly and their overall effect on fertility is weak or unclear. The many forces pushing fertility to low levels are simply too powerful for governments to overcome with dictates, financial incentives and public relations campaigns.


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Leading Powers to Double Renewable Energy Supply by 2030 Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:45:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

China has become the world leader in wind energy, although it is still surpassed by many European countries in terms of per capita wind power generation. Credit: Asian Development Bank

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 12 2015 (IPS)

Eight of the world’s leading economies will double their renewable energy supply by 2030 if they live up to their pledges to contribute to curbing global warming, which will be included in the new climate treaty.

A study published this month by the World Resources Institute (WRI) analysed the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the 10 largest greenhouse gas emitters to determine how much they will clean up their energy mix in the next 15 years.

Eight of the 10 – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and the United States – will double their cumulative clean energy supply by 2030. The increase is equivalent to current energy demand in India, the world’s second-most populous nation.

“We looked at renewable energy because it’s a leading indicator for the global transition to a low-carbon economy. We won’t get deep emissions reductions without it,” WRI researcher Thomas Damassa, one of the report’s authors, told IPS.

More than 150 countries have presented their INDCs, most of which commit to actions between 2020 and 2030. They will be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

Since energy production is the main source of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for around 65 percent of emissions worldwide, efforts to curb emissions are essential and must lie at the heart of the new treaty, especially when it comes to the biggest emitters, experts say.

Of the 10 largest emitters, Russia and Canada were not included in the study because they have not announced post-2020 renewable energy targets.

Currently, one-fifth of global demand for electric power is covered by renewable sources, according to a report by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), and their cost is swiftly going down. Hydroelectricity still makes up 61 percent of all renewable energy.

But fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy supply and power generation, making up 78.3 percent and 77.2 percent, respectively, according to REN21.

Studies indicate that in countries like India, where there are serious challenges in terms of access to energy, wind power is now as cheap as coal, and solar power will reach that level by 2019.

“The INDCs collectively send an important financial signal globally that renewables are a priority in the next two decades and a viable, pragmatic solution to the energy challenges countries are facing,” said Damassa.

Coordination between industrialised and emerging countries is crucial, especially the powerful BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bloc.

That is because industrialised nations are historically responsible for GHG emissions but the BRICS and other emerging countries now produce a majority of global emissions.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The dam will be the third-largest in the world when it is completed in 2019. Climate change experts are worried about the impact of the megaproject in the vulnerable Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

China is the leading emitter of GHG emissions and the biggest consumer of energy. But it is also the largest producer of renewable energy, accounting for 32 percent of the world’s wind power production and 27 percent of hydroelectricity, followed in the latter case by Brazil, which produces 8.5 percent of the world’s hydropower.

The Asian giant aims to increase the proportion of non-fossil fuel sources by 20 percent by 2030. The country currently uses coal for 65 percent of its energy, while mega-dams represent just 15 percent.

In the first meeting of energy ministers of the Group of 20 industrialised and emerging nations, held Oct. 5 in Istanbul, the officials acknowledged the importance of renewable sources and their long-term potential and pledged to continue investing in and researching clean energy.

Of the 127 INDCs presented as of late October – the EU presented the commitments of its 28 countries as a bloc – 80 percent made clean energy a priority.

“They certainly help but clearly countries still need to go farther, faster – and in sectors outside of energy as well – to drive emissions down to the level that is needed,” said Damassa.

The pledges made so far would keep global warming down to a 2.7 degree Celsius increase, according to the UNFCCC secretariat, although other studies are more pessimistic, putting the rise at 3.5 degrees.

To avoid irreversible effects for the planet, global temperatures must not rise more than two degrees C above preindustrial levels, although even with that increase, severe effects would be felt in different ecosystems.

Because of that it will be essential to reassess the national pledges during the climate talks in Paris, and establish a clear mechanism for ongoing follow-up of the actions taken by each country.

“I see all of the BASIC (the climate negotiating group made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) pledges as ‘first offers’ that will have to be reassessed after the Paris deal is finalised,” Natalie Unterstell, the negotiator on behalf of Brazil at the UNFCCC, told IPS.

The expert, who is now a Louis Bacon Environmental Leadership Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard in the U.S., points to key differences between these four countries and Russia, the fifth member of BRICS.

She also explained that while these four countries agreed to reduce the proportion of fossil fuels in their energy mix, there are differences in how they aim to do so.

Adaptation is a large component in South Africa’s INDCs – a signal that the carbon-based economy understands the need to build a more resilient future. India is putting a strong emphasis on solar energy, and Brazil pledged to raise the share of renewable sources in its energy mix to 45 percent by 2030.

Brazil’s proposal is based partly on large hydropower dams, some of which are in socially and environmentally sensitive areas, like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the actions that China takes can, by themselves, facilitate or complicate the talks. According to Untersell, the country “has a comparative advantage as it has committed itself to develop renewables technology and is delivering its promise.”

Ties between these emerging economies and the industrialised powers were strengthened over the last year by a series of bilateral accords that began to be reached in November 2014, with the announcement that China and the United States had agreed on joint actions in the areas of climate and energy.

“These agreements are good signals for the industry to transition (to a cleaner model). However, the private sector needs more than aspirational goals to base their operations,” said the expert.

But she said it was a good thing that the agreement between the two countries was based on actions on an internal level, because this shows concrete changes in the energy policies of both nations.

Besides the agreement with Washington, China has signed another with France, Brazil did the same with Germany, and India did so with the United States, in an effort by these countries to speed up their internal transition before COP21.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Africa Demands for More Input to Save the Climate Sat, 07 Nov 2015 07:38:38 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu 0 Opinion: Will We Find the Resources to Create a Better World? Fri, 06 Nov 2015 15:38:59 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona

Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was also Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Nov 6 2015 (IPS)

The UN General Assembly adopted the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a global summit of world leaders in September. They agreed on 17 new universal goals, and 169 targets that will provide the framework for economic and political policies of UN Member States over the next 15 years to make the world a better place for humanity.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The indicators, against which their performance will be measured, will be finalised by March 2016. Some, including the UK and Japan, wanted fewer goals. The trillion dollar question, despite the familiar hype that follows the launch of any UN initiative, is whether the resources so necessary for the realisation of the SDGs would be generated through the goal: revitalisation of global partnerships.

The SDGs are expected to seamlessly expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Agreed by governments in 2000, the MDGs, numbering eight, were also to be accomplished in 15 years. Impressive successes were recorded by some countries with regard to these goals, mostly through their own efforts.

The MDGs were essentially intended to accelerate the development of developing countries in the eight sectors identified. The substantial non-realisation of the last goal, global partnerships, including the non-delivery of the expected level of development assistance by developed countries, impacted on the full attainment of the other goals in many poor parts of the world.

The SDGs will apply to every country. Even their partial attainment in the coming 15 years will pose a gigantic challenge to all of humanity. In a world where, embarrassingly, more than 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day, more than 800 million go to bed hungry, 57 million children have no access to education, 2.4 billion live without proper toilet facilities, 663 million lack access to safe water, one third of all schools lack safe water and toilet facilities, millions of women still die in childbirth and many more children do not live to reach their fifth birthday, the SDGs may turn out to be simply too daunting.

One pressing and distracting challenge ballooning from a destabilised Middle East is the massive outflow of displaced persons across borders. More than 38 million remained displaced the world over in 2014.

The targets, assiduously refined by the negotiators, have given substance to the SDGs. A target under goal one, for example, includes reducing by at least half the number of people living in poverty by 2030, and eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day).

The enormous cost of meeting these goals has not begun to be fully absorbed yet. Even if the world will eventually pat itself on the back for achieving some of the goals, the cost of reaching them is simply mind boggling.

Rough calculations made by the intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing have put the cost of providing a social safety net to eradicate extreme poverty at 66 billion dollars a year, while annual investments to improve infrastructure (water, agriculture, transport, power) could be up to 7.0 trillion dollars globally.

The Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development (FfD) last July, which preceded the SDG summit, formulated conclusions with a view to identifying funding sources for the SDGs. The UN ritually hailed the Addis Ababa action agenda (AAAA for short) as containing “bold measures to overhaul global finance practices and generate investment” for tackling the challenges of sustainable development.

On closer analysis, the commitments made by the multilateral financial institutions, the UN agencies, the private sector charities and the bilateral donor community, though impressive, do not appear to come even close to the sums required to achieve the SDGs. The search for funding for the SDGs continues to be constrained by thinking based on an old framework that really did not deliver the desired results.

A worryingly emerging development is the determined effort by traditional donor countries to shift responsibility to entities that are difficult to hold to account internationally (e.g. private charities and corporations), signalling an abrogation of their long recognised obligation to provide development assistance.

If history were a guide, it is unlikely that even a meaningful portion of the estimated costs will be met through bilateral and multilateral development assistance. The 40-year-old commitment to transfer 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to developing countries, despite the recommitment in Addis Ababa, is still an elusive goal for most developed countries.

Even with the imaginative accounting practices adopted by some donors in recent times, including counting environmental assistance in development financing, the target remains distant for most.

The international community may have reached a point where it is necessary to acknowledge the elements and approaches that failed in previous development exercises. Likewise it needs to recognize the approaches that succeeded and are sustainable. Little Singapore at one end of the spectrum and large China at the other end offer examples of success. But what succeeded in one place may not necessarily work elsewhere.

While it is expected that developing countries themselves will raise some of the necessary funding, including through the building of strong institutions, better taxation, reduction of corruption and stemming the illicit outflow of funds, these measures will not necessarily produce significant results in the short term.

A widely hawked policy approach to development encourages public-private partnerships. Since the financial crisis of 2008, state involvement in the economy is no longer dismissed even by the conservatives. While some developing countries will follow this path with success, it is difficult to imagine that many, especially the smaller ones, with their limited economic opportunities, would or could.

The lack of personnel trained in modern economic management, costly and usually imported energy sources, economic limitations that do not encourage the ready flow of foreign investments are critical constraints. Bilateral development assistance will continue to play a role, especially for the large number of such small developing countries.

Many of the SDGs interface with others. For example, the goal on climate change with its cross cutting importance, impacts, directly or indirectly, on a range of others. Ending poverty and hunger, ensuring food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture, managing water resources and sanitation, achieving sustainable economic growth and employment and sustainable industrialisation, and using renewable energy, among them.

The oceans, inter alia, are the major influence on weather patterns, the biggest sink for GHGs, the predominant source of protein for humanity and a major employment generator. The sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources will need to be kept in mind when addressing climate change.

A holistic and proactive approach to the SDGs could also be a catalyst for innovation, development of new technologies and establishment of new industries.

Countries will meet at the end of November in Paris to address the now undeniable threat of climate change. This meeting cannot be only about GHG emission targets, however ambitious.

The SDGs, especially sustainable production and consumption patterns, among others, will need to be confronted with honesty in Paris. Unless efforts are made to identify realistic funding sources, especially for the less developed countries, and the requisite technologies, we may have to leave Paris with more regrets than achievements.


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Urgently Needed: Studies Linking Land Degradation, Migration, Conflict and Political Instability Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:14:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena 1 Opinion: UN Frontline Staff Consider Options as Pay Cuts Loom Wed, 04 Nov 2015 20:18:28 +0000 Ian Richards Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations. ]]>

Ian Richards is president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations.

By Ian Richards
GENEVA, Nov 4 2015 (IPS)

When the world’s most powerful ambassadors gathered in New York last week to celebrate the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, it would have been undiplomatic to mention the looming crisis facing the UN’s proudest achievement – its humanitarian aid programmes.

But the diplomats and political leaders at the anniversary concert in the General Assembly Hall, featuring Lang Lang and the Harlem Boys Gospel Choir, were well aware that they have just a few months to avert a fundamental threat to the UN’s ability to deliver its aid programmes effectively.

UN professional staff who deliver emergency relief in some of the most dangerous places in the world are now considering their options after learning that the value of their pay and allowances, including the right to family leave, will be cut by up to 10 per cent next year after a three year pay-freeze. The cuts will be heaviest at the lower grades, thereby falling disproportionately on staff recruited from the same developing countries that the UN is trying to help.

When the cuts were announced to World Food Programme workers in South Sudan, a staff association representative who was there said: “Everyone looked like they’d been punched in the stomach.”

With the UN weathering allegations of corruption and retaliations against whistle-blowers, the last thing it should do is undermine the humanitarian aid programmes that justify its existence and uphold its reputation across the developing world.

In the tragedy that is Syria today, the UN can at least say that it is providing food, shelter and places of safety for the displaced population and people in insecure areas.

The World Food Programme has just over 200 staff in Syria, organising daily food rations for 4.25 million people. The staff regularly cross front lines between government and opposition control in conditions of extreme danger. Work like this has led to 319 UN staff and contractors being killed in service, 325 being injured and 164 kidnappings since 2000.

Lourdes Ibarra, WFP’s Head of Programmes for Syria, and an experienced manager in South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other “hardship stations” says: “We work in dangerous, challenging conditions. Some colleagues leave because of the conditions and the strain on their families, and we have lost colleagues who were killed in armed attacks and bombings.

“What keeps us working here is knowing that we can save lives, and to do that takes a highly committed, highly motivated staff.

“One of the most stressful situations is not actually the physical danger – it is the feeling of not being supported by some people we work with, and more so by the UN itself.

“If my staff are not being supported, and conditions mean we cannot make a difference, what do we think will keep them working here?”

Any Member State that votes in favour of these cuts needs to be able to answer that question.

Staff have set up the Fairness for Frontline Workers campaign asking the public across the world to put pressure on their Governments to reject these flawed proposals.

The cuts have been put forward by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), the pay advisory body for global public sector organisations, in the context of budget constraints forced by austerity. This year’s package affects 32,000 globally mobile UN staff; next year the ICSC turns its attention to the 62,000 local staff.

The ICSC has struggled to justify the unbalanced impact of the cuts, which take the most from single parents, who are mainly women, at a time when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pledged to increase the number of women in senior field positions.

The cuts will make it more difficult and more expensive for workers posted in the most difficult and dangerous locations to take leave to see their families and get medical checkups. The UN’s medical directors have said: “This is an area of great concern”’ because family leave and respite breaks “prevent stress-related symptoms and disorder in the long term.” Mental health problems already account for 25 per cent of UN sickness leave and 40 per cent of the costs.

An unusual aspect of the situation is the strong degree of agreement between UN staff unions and management. UN aid agency chiefs have warned that effective aid programmes and humanitarian interventions will be severely compromised without experienced, motivated staff to run them.

Further, the chiefs of all UN agencies including UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the UNHCR have jointly voiced their concern that the pay changes are “not fit for purpose” in terms of meeting the UN’s stated ambitions for a more diverse staff with more women in senior roles, or for increased “mobility” – moving staff quickly to danger zones where they are needed to save lives.

They warn that the cuts will make it harder to attract “the brightest and best,” and have a negative impact on staff motivation – when the personal risks for staff in danger zones already deter all but the most highly motivated.

We believe the cuts are penny wise, dollar foolish – saving some agencies 1 per cent of their budgets next year, but costing far more in the medium term when experienced aid managers, with years under the belt in the world’s most remote locations, leave and cannot be replaced.

If that happens, the UN won’t have much to celebrate when its 80th anniversary comes around.


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Opinion: Eliminating Malaria in the Americas: An Opportunity We Cannot Afford to Miss Tue, 03 Nov 2015 12:36:10 +0000 Herve Verhoosel

Hervé Verhoosel is representative in New York and Head of External Relations of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership.

By Hervé Verhoosel

An issue mostly associated with Africa and Asia, malaria may not initially come to mind when we think of the Americas.

Hervé Verhoosel, Representative in New York & Head of External Relations, Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership

Hervé Verhoosel, Representative in New York & Head of External Relations, Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership

It has been over 60 years since the United States was declared malaria-free, and many countries in the region have made great strides against the disease in recent years, largely making malaria either a thing of the past or an irrelevant topic of discussion.

Yet, as we mark the 9th annual Malaria Day in the Americas on November 6, an estimated 120 million people in the region are at risk of malaria. With so many of these countries nearing elimination targets, we must use this occasion to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and recommit ourselves to pushing this disease out of the Americas once and for all.

With just weeks left under the Unied Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to take its place, there’s no better time than now.

Since 1998, when the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership was founded, 100 countries worldwide have become free from malaria, over six million malaria-related deaths have been averted and the MDG target for malaria has been achieved and in some cases even surpassed.

This is thanks to global investments – including from regional donors like the US President’s Malaria Initiative and the Canadian government – as well as multilateral mechanisms like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Latin America is no exception to this unprecedented progress. Technical leadership by the the World Health Organisation’s Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and political commitment has helped scale-up interventions that have reduced malaria-related deaths by nearly 78 per cent between 2000 and 2013.

Next year, Argentina may become the second country in the Western Hemisphere to be certified malaria-free – and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador and Paraguay are not far behind, making the region closer to achieving malaria elimination than ever before.

With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including a target to eliminate malaria by 2030 –, we must build on our achievements so that we can save lives and unlock potential in communities across the region.

To answer this call, WHO and the RBM Partnership have developed their respective Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030 (GTS) and Action and Investment to Defeat Malaria 2016–2030 – toward a malaria-free world (AIM), which together provide a forward-looking, complementary framework to tailor local strategies and mobilize action and resources to achieve elimination in the next 15 years.

First launched in July at the Third Annual Financing for Development Conference in Addis Abba by the UN Secretary General and several heads of states, this vision will be presented next week at the Ministers of Health meeting in Brazil.

But ambition and strategic vision alone will not carry us across the finish line. We must also ensure the financial underpinning required to deliver on the promise of malaria elimination our leaders have made in the SDGs – something which experts estimate will cost more than 100 billion dollars.

While total international and domestic financing for malaria peaked at 2.7 billion dollars in 2013, current figures show a significant gap in much-needed funding. In Latin America alone – a region positioned to lead the way in global elimination efforts – funding for malaria has decreased from 214 million to 140 million dollars between 2011 and 2013.

Staying on track will require increased financing by the international donor community, as well as increased domestic financing by affected countries. It won’t be cheap, but our front-loaded investment is paltry compared to the consequences of not investing now.

With malaria showing signs of resurgence in places like Venezuela, Guyana and Haiti, largely due to cross-border migration and patchy surveillance systems, a failure to act now places our achievements in jeopardy and threatens broader development efforts of the region.

Beyond being morally compelling, investing in malaria is a solid economic investment. If the financial targets outlined in the AIM are met, nearly 3 billion malaria cases globally will be averted and over 10 million lives saved. These are not simply numbers; they are people that fill classrooms and form a healthy workforce capable of returning more than an estimated 4 trillion dollars of additional economic between 2016-2030.

As we move forward, with our eyes on the finish line, governments in the region must continue – and even increase – their commitment to malaria control, including through multi-sectoral and cross-border collaborations like the Mesoamerica Malaria Elimination Initiative, the Malaria Champions of the Americas and the Amazon Malaria Initiative.

The private sector also has a role to play, through continued investment in their employees and their communities of operation. Expanded efforts will not only help save lives and decrease financial burden to societies and governments, they will also drive regional trade and tourism.

As we join together to commemorate the last Malaria Day in the Americas before transitioning to a post-2015 era, let us remember that we are not malaria-free until we are all free of malaria, and achieving this is critical to achieving the broader development targets set by the SDGs.

We have the tools and knowledge, and now with the GTS and AIM, we are able to learn from past lessons, build on our successes and come together – across borders and sectors – to finally and sustainably achieve malaria elimination.


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Opinion: Integrating Water, Sanitation and Health are Key to the Promise of the UN Global Goals Fri, 30 Oct 2015 22:46:44 +0000 Princess Sarah Zeid

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global advocate for maternal, child and newborn health in fragile and humanitarian settings.

By H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid
AMMAN, Oct 30 2015 (IPS)

The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted an ambitious 15-year sustainable development agenda, the 2030 Global Goals.

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

H.R.H. Princess Sarah Zeid

To understand the impact these Global Goals must have on our world, I need only remember my summer visit to a school in Basra, in southern Iraq.

To enter through the school gates, I had to negotiate a fetid stream of sewage, broken glass and garbage. The condition of the school building itself was terrible, and even worse were the bathrooms. You could see their appalling state because they had no doors, and thus, zero privacy. All this in a place where the temperature can reach above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) – it was so hot I felt as if my cheeks were frying.

I look back at this now through the eyes of a mother, and my horror is all the greater. No girl could go to this school, because no girl could go to the bathroom. No child could safely attend this school, because no child could do so without being exposed to disease.

With daughters denied education, confined to home and sons locked in a cycle of exposure to ill health, how can we expect women to participate in commerce, politics, peace and sustainability? How do we think the next generation is going to be educated, skilled and healthy enough to make a positive contribution?

The solutions to women’s and children’s dignity, health and wellbeing lie well beyond the health sector alone, and demand instead an integrated approach, including solutions that deliver water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in health and in education.

No one’s needs divide neatly into our professional sectors, and sustainable wellbeing and prosperity will not come from fragmented interventions. A holistic approach spanning across all these domains is urgently needed.

The linkages between WASH, health, education and nutrition for that matter are stark. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, more than half the cases of measles in the country are caused by lack of clean water, and poor WASH conditions are a leading cause of malnutrition.

Illness and death in childbirth, and in maternal and child health, are not only the result of the lack of access to quality medical care, nursing or pharmaceuticals. They also happen because nearly 40 per cent of health facilities worldwide have no source of water.

In low-income countries – where preventable mortality is at its highest – an estimated 50 per cent of health care facilities lack access to the electricity they need to boil water and sterilize instruments.

WASH also helps promote gender equality. If water, sanitation and hygiene are designed so that the practical burdens women carry daily are reduced, they will be able to play broader and more creative roles in their community’s development, paving the way towards equitable development in countries and globally. Everyone benefits from these contributions.

There is recognition of the importance of joining up. Last autumn, 16 researchers from the World Health Organization, Unicef, WaterAid and others came together to call for action on joining water, sanitation and hygiene to efforts on maternal and newborn health. The World Health Organization has launched an action plan to address the need for water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities.

This new sustainable development agenda and, quite frankly, the state of the world today, demands of us another dimension of this integration, too: an integration of our development and humanitarian efforts.

The renewed Every Women Every Child Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health is working to make this happen. Headed by the Office of the UN Secretary General and supported by a global movement of governments, philanthropic institutions, multi-lateral organizations, civil society organizations, the business community and academics, the renewed Strategy gives new priority to humanitarian and fragile settings and pledges the needed integration to save more lives as life is given.

After all, the right to live life in dignity, the rights to health and to water and sanitation are human rights, universal and indivisible. They are rights to be upheld even in the toughest of situations and at the hardest of times. However, without joined-up pipelines of delivery to enable that flow of human dignity for everyone, everywhere, the promise of the Global Goals will just drain away.


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Opinion: Women on Reproductive Strike Thu, 29 Oct 2015 19:05:00 +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, Oct 29 2015 (IPS)

Women are having fewer than two children on average in 83 countries, representing nearly half of the world’s population. And in some countries, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Spain, average fertility levels are now closer to one child per woman than the replacement level of about two children (Figure 1).

Largely as a result of women’s reproductive decisions, the populations of 48 countries are projected to be smaller and have older age structures by mid-century. Looking further ahead, the prospects for those countries are compounded over time resulting in even smaller and older populations by the close of the century.

For example, if Japan’s fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman were to remain unchanged, its current population of 127 million would be 64 million by 2100 with more than 40 percent of the Japanese aged 65 years and older. Similar demographic outcomes occur in many other countries when low fertility levels remain unchanged, such as Germany, Italy, Russia and South Korea (Figure 2).
Based on the demographic trends observed over the last five decades, once birth rates fall below the replacement level, especially when less than 1.6 births per woman, they tend to stay there. And even if birth rates were to increase somewhat, the pool of women of childbearing age in many of the low fertility countries is shrinking, resulting in fewer babies being born.

Although relatively little supporting empirical research exists, countries tend to view demographic decline and population ageing as critical concerns. They believe those demographic trends will have serious repercussions on national interests affecting economic growth, military defence, cultural integrity, pensions and health care, especially for the elderly.

Some governments, including Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, have concluded that intervention efforts are needed to raise their country’s birth rates in order to stem the projected decreases and rapid aging of their populations. Most recently, those twin demographic concerns have led China to announce that it is abolishing its one-child policy in favour of a two-child policy per couple.

However, despite government policies, considerable financial expenditures and various pronatalist initiatives, including national conception day, family night, “love cruises,” match-making, economic incentives, promotion of motherhood and appeals to patriotism and civic duty, efforts to raise fertility back near the replacement level have generally failed to convince women to have more children. In many low fertility countries birthrates have remained well below replacement for decades.

There are many factors or reasons why fertility levels have fallen below replacement and continue to persist at low levels. Marriage as a valued social institution has declined with divorce and separation becoming more common and acceptable. Also, marriage is no longer being viewed as just for reproductive purposes.

Opportunities for education, employment, mobility and financial independence, together with effective contraception, permit women to delay or forgo motherhood altogether. In many developed countries, especially in Europe, 10 per cent of women in their forties are childless and even in some, such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the number is close to 20 per cent.

Also instead of marriage many women and men are choosing to cohabitate, thereby avoiding legal issues, social responsibilities and long-term commitments. Even if they subsequently decide to marry, many are content to continue with their partner just as a couple.

Growing numbers of young women as well as men are choosing personal self-fulfillment and career development rather than centring their lives on family and children. After years of being without children, many have become accustomed to an urban life style, higher social and economic status and unrestricted freedoms.

Women also report that they have no children because they are not able to find a suitable partner who would be willing to share equally in parenting and household chores. For example, when asked if she wanted to have a child, one young Japanese woman replied, “No, because in order to have a baby I’d have to marry a baby.”

Also, many young couples find that they cannot live on one person’s income alone and therefore both are obliged to work. The additional costs of children plus the need to save for longer years of old age place increased financial demands on household income as well as exerting powerful brakes on childbearing.

Another compelling factor accounting for low fertility in many countries is the lack of sufficient support and social services for those with children, especially single-parent families. That issue has become particularly salient given the fact that the majority of women are no longer simply mothers but are working mothers.

The demands of employment, career development and parenting combined with the costs of childrearing have also created “the hurdle of the second child.” Given those pressing circumstances, especially as childcare still falls largely on women, many mothers are reluctant to have a second child. Even if some women decide to cross the second-child hurdle, comparatively few are willing to consider having three or more children.

Some women as well as men have limited their fertility due to concerns about global overpopulation and its damaging consequences on the natural environment. They are convinced that the world would be a better and more sustainable place to live with low birthrates, which would in turn lead to a smaller future global population.

Government policies and schemes to encourage women to have more births in order to stem population decline and ageing have also encountered resistance and objections about unwarranted government interference and meddling in women’s lives. In Germany, for example, the recent introduction of a childcare allowance for stay-at-home mothers was harshly criticized for discouraging women to pursue careers as is widely promoted and expected of men and fathers.

Will governments be successful in persuading women to call off their reproductive strike and have significantly more children, thereby perhaps raising fertility rates to near the replacement level? It seems highly doubtful.

Based on their current behaviour and what they’re reporting, women in low fertility countries are not likely to increase their reproduction for the sake of the nation, limited financial incentives or other governmental pronatalist schemes. Most young women have decided not to return to the traditional, restrictive reproductive roles that their mothers and grandmothers followed. Consequently, for the foreseeable future, birthrates in low fertility countries are likely to remain below the replacement level.


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Opinion: Battling Iran-Backed Extremists in Yemen Wed, 28 Oct 2015 23:24:55 +0000 Kaled Bahah

Kaled Bahah is the Prime Minister and Vice President of Yemen.

By Kaled Bahah
ABU DHABI, Oct 28 2015 (WAM)

In a region racked by strife, Yemen stands out. It is the poorest country in the Middle East and since March, the plight of my people has been worsened by an inhumane war.

The people of Yemen elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in February 2012 to preserve the country’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, while leading all Yemenis toward a brighter future. But that future has been stolen by Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who drove our legitimate government from office and have committed countless human-rights abuses, documented by the UN. In response, a broad, international coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and with Yemen’s national army, is working to liberate our country from illegal, foreign-sponsored control.

Although the battle for Yemen’s future has been intense, we have recently made significant progress. In July, the port city of Aden was wrested from Houthi control and is now the temporary base of the legitimate government.

With Aden now secured, we have accelerated the delivery and distribution of essential goods and humanitarian assistance to Yemenis, who had been on the verge of famine before the current conflict. Thanks in large part to the exceptional generosity of our Gulf brothers, Aden’s schools, which were shut down during the Houthi occupation, are open. Electricity has been restored and hospitals are starting to function again.

While much more needs to be done, the arduous road to recovery begins with the restoration of territorial control. Yemen’s national army and coalition forces have advanced to the northern province of Marib on the doorstep of the capital, Sana’a. We will take our capital back, and restore legitimacy to our country and hope to all Yemenis. The Houthis can avoid further bloodshed if they comply with the UN Security Council resolution adopted on April 14th and recognise the legitimate, freely elected government and return all territories that they have illegally seized.

The world is rightly concerned about the toll, especially to civilians, from this war. Any civilian death is a tragedy for which my heart bleeds, and the forces allied with us are taking extraordinary care to avoid civilian casualties and target only military objectives. Yet we have seen terrible evidence, documented by internationally respected NGOs, of Houthis locating their hide-outs and weapons caches in civilian areas and making human shields out of political detainees.

In its practices, the Houthi group enjoys the support of a regional power. My country is keen to have good relations with all countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, provided that principles enshrined in the UN charter, particularly non-interference in internal affairs, are respected and observed. But Tehran must choose, either it continues to sow discord and maintain relations with a seditious movement, the Houthis, or it deals with Yemen’s legitimate authority.

The end of this conflict cannot come soon enough. In their callous disregard for the rule of law, the Houthis have opened up a dangerous power vacuum in parts of the country, which al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] the sworn enemies of humanity, are exploiting. As a result, much more than the future of my country is at stake.

Failure in Yemen will reverberate regionally and globally, emboldening and empowering extremists. Victory will send a powerful message beyond our shores that Yemenis are committed to defend their inalienable right to self-determination, to prosper in peace and to project those values throughout the Middle East.


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Opinion: People-Powered Data Set to Transform Dull Statistics Mon, 26 Oct 2015 15:35:40 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

Dr Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah is the Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

You probably didn’t notice it was World Statistics Day last week because, let’s be honest, statistics don’t have the most exciting reputation. Thankfully, I have a feeling this is about to change, big time.

Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah

Dhananjayan (Danny) Sriskandarajah

We are witnessing a radical democratisation with regard to how information is being produced. New technologies are revolutionising the way that data is produced, used and understood, and this will have profound impacts on how citizens approach statistics.

For those of us who work in civil society, particularly in international development, things are going to change dramatically – and not a moment too soon. The companies that sell us shampoo, the pollsters who advise our politicians and the national security agencies who monitor our movements have already learned to use data in fascinating and sometimes scary ways. Yet the global development community has lagged behind.

For example, in analysing the Millennium Development Goals, we rely on patchy, often outdated data that was as much as five years old, often collected using retrospective household surveys. This need no longer be the case.

Everywhere we look, we see armies of people equipped with tools they can use to monitor and report on every aspect of human development, from corruption to health services and education: a new ecosystem of many and varied players producing and curating data. This sort of people-powered accountability will become a crucial driver of progress towards the new Sustainable Development Goals.

We need no longer set our course and fly blind, landing only once every few years to check our co-ordinates and refuel. It is possible to have the data at our fingertips that will enable us to continually reassess priorities and re-allocate targeted resources.

In order to translate such possibility into reality, CIVICUS has joined forces with more than 20 other international organisations, including governments, the United Nations and private sector bodies, in a Global Partnership on Sustainable Data. For our own part, we are pioneering, an initiative designed to build the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations in creating and using citizen-generated data to monitor development progress, demand accountability and campaign for transformative change.

Global and multi-sectoral partnerships like this one will be crucial in driving investment in official government produced statistics, in funding innovation and in improving data literacy and use. One of our biggest challenges will be to plug traditional sources of data in much more innovative and effective ways into the wealth of data already being produced by the private sector, by citizens, by universities and by NGOs. We live in a data-rich world. Yet too often banks of data exist in silos, isolated by their disparate formats. Difficult to access and still more difficult to interpret, these become data graveyards.

Of course, our efforts to resurrect this data and to bring into play the many new sources of information available in pursuit of global development goals, are not without dangers. Issues of privacy and public trust are foremost. Safeguarding against potential abuses of data will be fundamental to the success of this revolution.

We must also be prepared for statistics to become a politically sensitive battleground. For example, the recent Tanzanian Statistics Act could make it illegal to describe any data that has not been approved by the government as “official.” The official intention – if I can describe it as such – is to support a more robust statistics body at government level, rather than to prohibit free speech. But the move points towards a more profound struggle to control who narrates the story of progress.

As civil society groups drive an increased demand for and use of data, they are achieving changes in government policy, a fundamental power-shift in the relationship between the state and its citizens. Statistics might seem dull, but there is little doubt that they wield enormous power.

Fifteen years ago, as an intern at UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, I remember feeling proud that we were talking about measuring progress in ways that went beyond the gross domestic product (GDP). Since then of course, we’ve seen the development of numerous wellbeing, happiness and social progress indices. But I’ve also come to realise the true limitation of all these metrics: almost all of them rely on experts, most often sitting in London or New York, to define the parameters of social progress; to decide who and what matters enough to be counted; to decide which story to tell.

In the next few years, I hope that we will move towards a more democratic (crowd sourced?) model of defining human development and, in so doing, paint a far richer, more nuanced picture of social progress.

Five years ago, the theme for the first official World Statistics Day was “celebrating the many achievements of official statistics.” This year it was about “better data; better lives.” It is an indication of how far we have already come. By the time World Statistics Day comes around in 20 October 2020 – get it in your diaries now – we will have seen far-reaching changes in the way we curate statistics to both shape and reveal the story of sustainable development.


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Opinion: The Nuclear Deal’s Impact on Iranian Domestic and Foreign Policy Mon, 19 Oct 2015 16:08:02 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the final of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Oct 19 2015 (IPS)

As in most countries, in Iran too there are hardliners and moderates. All polls show that a large majority of Iranians support the nuclear deal (or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany), while a small but powerful group of hardliners opposes it. The Iranian parliament has finally approved the deal, but after a great deal of controversy and with some reservations.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

Despite the fact that in the 2013 presidential election, in which 72 per cent of eligible voters participated, more than half of the electorate voted for Hassan Rouhani, a centrist and moderate cleric, hardliners have a tight grip over practically all other branches of power in Iran.

Hardliners control the judiciary, and have a majority in the current Majles or Iranian Parliament. They control the Assembly of Experts that has the power to elect the Supreme Leader’s successor, the Guardian Council that acts as a second chamber, the National Broadcasting Organization that has a virtual monopoly of all radio and television broadcasting, and many other organizations.

However, with President Rouhani’s election, the dominance of hardliners over the executive branch came to an end, and elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts are due on 26 February 2016, and they could alter the internal balance of power. The nuclear agreement has begun to swing public support back to the reformists.

After the initial revolutionary upheaval that isolated Iran from most of the world, and after 36 years of estrangement from the West, this landmark agreement has ushered in a new era of relations between Iran and the West. While most analysts in the West are primarily concerned about its effect on Iran’s foreign relations, for most Iranians its significance lies in what it can do to improve the economic and political situation at home.

The fact of the matter is that Iran has made many concessions, but its nuclear program has received the seal of approval from the Security Council and the West. Even above and beyond the nuclear issue, the JCPOA has opened the prospect of the reintegration of Iran into the global economy and of it playing a much more prominent role in world affairs.

This is precisely what the hardliners fear, because they are worried that Iran’s revolutionary values would be undermined and that Western values would weaken Islamic sentiments. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards chief warned of “nuclear sedition,” aimed at derailing the Islamic Republic from its revolutionary path.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also warned against “infiltration” attempts by the West and has banned further negotiations with Washington.

The main question is whether Iran still wishes to remain in the past and retain its revolutionary zeal, or whether she feels confident enough to look forward and embrace change. It is quite clear that the majority of Iranians have shown that they are in favor of change and coexistence with the rest of the world, while also retaining their distinct religious and cultural values.

Most Iranians are strongly opposed to regime change in the way that has happened in a number of neighboring countries. They are in favor of evolution and reform, rather than revolution and violence. Nevertheless, they have a number of legitimate demands that cannot be suppressed by force.

President Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to expand political and social freedoms for all Iranians, including freedom of expression. Although some restrictions have been eased, the pace of change has been far too slow. Iran still has one of the largest numbers of executions per capita in the world, and one of the highest numbers of political prisoners. Iranian women still do not enjoy equality with men.

It is true that the government does not have much control over the judiciary or security organizations, but it cannot use this excuse to shirk its responsibilities towards the Iranian people. It must understand that the maintenance of the status quo is not an option. If change is not to be imposed through violence or from outside, the government with the support of the majority of the population must bring about meaningful change.

The JCPOA has opened new horizons for Iran. In the foreign policy field, it has lifted the shadow of war and has made Tehran the diplomatic and economic capital of the Middle East. Now, it is time for Iranian leaders to begin a new chapter of relations with the world. As Ambassador John Limbert, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran and a former US hostage during the Iranian hostage crisis, has said: “Both sides, after 34 years, have made a very startling discovery, that diplomacy ­ long-neglected tools of listening, of seeking small areas of agreement, of careful choice of words ­ can actually accomplish more than shouting insults, making threats and the wonderful self-satisfaction of always being right.”

The same principle also applies to the domestic situation. Iranian leaders will be surprised to see how much small areas of agreement and small but steady steps towards greater freedoms and democracy can accomplish in putting an end to the alienation between the people and the government, and allow Iran to find its rightful place in the world, and avoid the chaos rampant in many neighboring countries. It is time to use this great opportunity to move forward both at home and abroad, confident in the common sense and patriotism of Iranian people.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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In Hawaii, Concern Rises about Use of Farm Pesticides Fri, 16 Oct 2015 21:32:24 +0000 Christopher Pala Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house.  The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala.  Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

Tammy Brehio of Kihei, Hawaii, pointing from her back balcony to a Monsanto cornfield a few hundred yards from her house. The inset photo, taken by Tammy, shows a Monsanto tractor spraying pesticides. Credit: Photo by Christopher Pala. Inset photo by Tammy Brehio.

By Christopher Pala
KIHEI, Hawaii, Oct 16 2015 (IPS)

Tammy Brehio stood on the back balcony of her home in Kihei on the island of Maui and pointed to a brown field a few hundred yards away.

“That’s where they spray the pesticides, even when the wind is blowing directly at us,” said the 40-year-old year mother of three small children. “Ever since we moved here, we all have sore throats and we cough all the time.”

She and a neighbour, who declined to be identified because he works for an agricultural company and feared losing his job, said the spraying often takes place at night. “It wakes me up, it smells really strong and it’s hard to breathe,” Brehio said.

“We do not apply pesticides at night,” said Monica Ivey, the spokeswoman for Monsanto, which grows genetically modified corn on the field. “Monsanto complies with all federal and state laws that govern responsible pesticide use.”

Whether or not the companies respect these laws, which forbid allowing pesticides sprayed on a field to drift beyond it, has become one of the biggest controversies in Hawaii in the past few years.

Over the past decade or so, Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical of the United States, Bayer and BASF of Germany and Syngenta of Switzerland have more than doubled their acreage in Hawaii. Attracted by a year-round growing season that cuts in half the time it takes to bring a new variety to market, they have turned the Aloha State into the epicentre of corn grown with genes modified in laboratories – designed mostly to tolerate the pesticides the companies produce and sell to farmers with the corn.

The kernels grown in Hawaii are sent the mainland United States, where they are planted and harvested. Those kernels are then sold to farmers, whose production ends up mostly as cattle feed and ethanol. The corn sold as food is known as sweet corn and constitutes perhaps one percent of the industrial variety, which is known as field corn.

The agro-chemical companies now own or lease about some 25,000 acres on the islands of Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Oahu – about 2 per cent of the land area. Because the islands are mountainous and farmland is scarce, the fields often abut homes, businesses and schools. Most of these fields were previously used to grow sugar cane and pineapple, and the towns grew around them in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At any given time, about 80 per cent of the fields are bare and brown. The crops are grown in small patches of a few acres and sprayed often with pesticides, which residents complain that they often are forced to inhale.

Even a mile from the nearest cornfield in downtown Waimea, on the island of Kauai, Lois Catala, 75, reports that the pesticide clouds percolate into her home with no warming. “All of a sudden, your eyes are burning and you’re itching all over, and you hear everybody complaining,” she said. A local doctor says she stopped biking to work on a road that bisects cornfields because she went through clouds of pesticides too many times. Other residents interviewed told of similar experiences.

Testing new varieties of pesticide-resistant field corn and growing seed corn from them requires 17 times more restricted-use insecticides and more frequent applications than farmers in the US use for their crops, a study by the Center for Food Safety has concluded. Court documents filed by attorneys for Waimea homeowners who successfully sued DuPont for pesticide and dust impacts to their homes show the company sprayed 10 times the mainland average, based on internal pesticide records obtained from DuPont.

The frequent, sometimes daily, sprayings have led to a spate of complaints that the companies violate with impunity federal and state laws.

The laws say that commercial applicators who spray pesticides that winds carry out of their property is liable for a $25,000 fine and/or six months in jail. The pesticides receive approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency only after being tested for their legal use, which does not include human inhalations.

In 2006 and 2008, Howard Hurst was teaching special-education classes at Waimea Middle School, on Kauai, when clouds of what he believes were concentrated pesticides blew into the school from an adjoining field operated by Syngenta. “It feels like you have salt in your eyes, your tongue swells, your muscles ache, it’s awful,” he said in an interview at the school. Both times, the school was evacuated and several students were treated at the nearest emergency room.

But the state authorities, instead of prosecuting the Swiss company, which denied that it was spraying on those days, insisted that the evacuations were caused by mass hysteria triggered by an onion-like plant called stinkweed.
Without ever accepting responsibility, Syngenta stopped using the field adjacent to the school. The closest is now a half-kilometer away. Hurst said pesticide odors have become much less frequent.

In 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when. A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, a pediatrician said in an interview that he’d noticed a statewide spike in another birth defect called gastroschisis, in which the baby is born with the abdominal organs outside.

“Data suggest that there may also be an association between parental pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes including physical birth defects,” the American Academy of Pediatrics reported this year.

“I think it’s serious,” says Bernard Riola, a pediatrician in Waimea. “We need an in-depth epidemiological study. Right now, we just don’t know” if the pesticides are causing the birth defects. Another doctor at the hospital said he tried to get the state to do just such a study, to no avail.

Bennette Misalucha, the head of the agro-chemical companies trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, dismissed the doctors’ concerns. “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims,” she wrote in an e-mail after declining to be interviewed.

The companies she represents strongly opposed the buffer-zones and disclosure law, which resembled others passed in 11 other states. They argued that it would drive away the companies and cause job losses, and that critics of the pesticide-drift problem were simply victims of scare-mongering by opponents of genetically modified food.

They sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, reported here that it effectively does not.

In Maui and Molokai, which form one county, a bitterly fought ballot initiative was approved by the voters in November 2014 banning genetically modified agriculture until an Environment Impact Statement is performed and proves the industry is safe.

The companies spent $8 million to fight it, reportedly the most spent on any political campaign in Hawaii history. Another federal judge struck it down on the same grounds as the Kauai ordinance: that only the state can regulate pesticide use. Both rulings are being appealed.

Back in Maui, Brehio, the mother of three who says she is dispirited by the lack of progress in curbing illegal pesticide drift, was remodeling her kitchen with her husband and preparing to sell their house. “This is a not a safe place for me and my family,” she said.

Meanwhile, construction has started on a strip of land between her house and the Monsanto field for a 660-unit affordable-housing development where the cheapest units will be right against the Monsanto fields.

“This report was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.”

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Opinion: Will the SDGs Serve to Bridge the Gender Gap? Fri, 16 Oct 2015 15:53:17 +0000 Paloma Duran SDG Fund Gender

By Paloma Duran

Increasingly gender equality, rooted in human rights, is recognized both as a key development goal on its own and as a vital means to helping accelerate sustainable development. And while the field of gender has expanded exponentially over the years, with programmes focused exclusively on women and girls and greater mainstreaming of gender into many development activities, a range of challenges remain.

Women are still facing unequal access to economic and environmental resources. They often face numerous barriers linked to clear discrimination as well as bear the burden of low wages or unpaid work, and are susceptible to gender-based violence.

So despite the significant advances for women, the fact is that unless women and girls are able to fully realize their rights in all facets of society, human development will not be advanced. The year 2015 is a crucial time to further equality and if the new post-2015 development agenda is to be truly transformative, women must be at the front and also at its centre.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain a stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. All the goals are intrinsically interrelated and interdependant – and ideally gender will be adressed and mainstreamed amongst all goals. SDG 5 calls on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

The proposed targets include ending violence, eliminating harmful practices, recognizing the value of unpaid care, ensuring that women have full participation – and equal opportunities – in decision-making, and calling for reforms to give women equal access to economic resources. The new post-2015 agenda is a universal idea with high hopes to “leave no one behind,” but to make this a reality, we must keep pressure on governments to follow through on their commitments.

The Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund) has placed gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of its efforts to acceleterate progress towards the SDGs. By directly empowering women and by bringing a gender perspective to all development work we can build a more equitable, sustainable future for all.

Stemming from the comitments established in 1995 at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the SDG Fund adopted a dual strategy for advancing gender equality to support both gender-targeted programmes while simultaneaously mainstreaming gender as a cross-cutting priority. Gender mainstreaming entails transforming existing policy agendas by integrating a gender perspective into all policies and programming.

There is no set recipe to creating programmes that will solve gender inequality and perhaps it would be good if there was one single universally applicable and empirically proven method for achieving gender equality in every country around the world. A multi-dimensional issue such as gender inequality is deeply rooted in economic and cultural structures of society and it requires comprehensive approaches. Furthermore, one needs to explore the issue in the specific context of the country in question to effectively improve the quality of life for women and girls everywhere.

The private sector, together with NGOs and governments, are key actors in addressing the variable causes of gender inequality. In other words, achieving equality and empowerment for women is a challenge that requires the synergistic intervention of multiple actors.

For example, the Fund is working in Bangladesh, where women are employed at the lower end of the productivity scale. Labor force participation of rural women is only 36.4 per cent compared to 83.3 per cent of men. Creating employment and income generating opportunities for women as well as enhancing women’s access to social protection will help reduce gender disparities which are exacerbated by women’s poverty and vulnerability.

The SDG Fund programme entitled “Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities” is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), local governments and private partners with the overall goal to assist 2,592 women from ultra-poor households. As part of a pilot programme, women are trained in maintenance or rehabilitation of key community assets, public works and community service activities.

Furthermore, the programme is targeting 2,600 women in Kurigram District which has the highest incidence of poverty in Bangladesh. In particular, it aims to assist those who are alone because they are divorced, have been abandoned by their husbands or widowed and/or with low economic status including those with no assets or forced to beg due to poverty. The results will be replicated, targeting 1,900 women, in Satkhira district and the government is further committed scale-up this pilot in a further 20 districts. Overall, the 18 month programme is designed to:

– Helping primary beneficiaries permanently move out of poverty.
– Support human capital with activities to boost knowledge, skills, and confidence.
– Enhance economic inclusion with vocational skills training linked to viable job placement.
– Provide livelihoods options that are resilient in the face of climate change.
– Encourage wage saving or issued as a graduation bonus.
– Facilitate partnership linkages with small and medium enterprises and public-private partnerships to hire participant women after the programme ends.
– Integrate social protection, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
– Enhance good local governance and develop the capacity of local government institutions.
Gender equality is often seen as the key to addressing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals and accelerating global development beyond 2015. There is strong evidence that closing gender gaps accelerates progress towards other development goals. Poverty, education, health, jobs and livelihoods, food security, environmental and energy sustainability will not be solved without addressing gender inequality.

Urgent action is needed to empower women and girls, ensuring that they have equal opportunities to benefit from development and removing the barriers that prevent them from being full participants in all spheres of society. In the words of UN Women’s Executive Director, “equality for women, is progress for all” and so let us embark on this journey together.


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Opinion: Africa’s Agricultural Potential Begins on the Ground Fri, 16 Oct 2015 12:31:57 +0000 Howard G Buffett

Howard G. Buffett is a farmer and Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. He has farmed for over 35 years, and the Foundation has invested over $150 million in research to improve agriculture and an additional $350 million in agriculture-related programs globally.

By Howard G. Buffett
LONDON, Oct 16 2015 (IPS)

My friend Kofi Boa is a Ghanaian agronomist who is probably the biggest advocate for conservation farming in Africa. For decades, Kofi has taught farmers how to increase their yields using no-till, cover crops and other techniques.

He once showed me a demonstration plot I’ve never forgotten: it was a sloped field planted with corn, divided into three equal areas. On the first section, he used traditional plowing and at the bottom were five barrels full of soil – the run-off from a single rainy season. The second plot he strip-tilled, and there was one barrel of soil that had washed down. On the third section he never tilled the soil at all. That field had a strong harvest – its soil run-off barrel was almost empty.

Kofi’s demonstration is one that every farmer and everyone working in agricultural development needs to see, understand and appreciate. I have heard philanthropists and others say things like “Africa can feed the world,” but it’s vital that we first focus on Africa feeding itself. Growing sufficient food for Africa’s fast-rising population demands preserving and enriching its fragile soils.

The continent is home to dramatically diverse landscapes from the vast Tanzanian Serengeti savannahs; to the hilly, volcanic, jungle landscape of the Democratic Republic of Congo; to the Afromontagne and coastal forests that span the entire continent. But what’s often overlooked is that less than 10 percent of Africa has what are considered high-quality soils for agriculture.

When you see photographs of dense jungle or animal migrations, it can be hard to imagine that Africa has such poor soils. The fact is that during early periods of soil formation while glaciers deposited valuable minerals and rich sediments in regions such as the American Midwest, the Ukraine, and Argentina, Africa was shortchanged. It is home to some of the oldest and most weathered stretches of land anywhere. While there are some regions with good soils in lower West Africa, and within several countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, most of Africa’s 54 countries did not receive equivalent soil resources.

And unfortunately, the picture for soil never improved: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 65 percent of agricultural land throughout Africa has been degraded by human activity, including farming and overgrazing. Recently the Montpellier Panel, a prominent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe, estimated that these degraded soils are too damaged to sustain viable food production.

There is no quick fix. Reversing this picture means overcoming physical, cultural, and political impediments. The history of Africa’s soils and land use also complicates the picture. For example, while visiting Eastern Congo last month, I stood on a high ridge overlooking the Virunga National Park. The air was hazy and the landscape was dotted with several dozen or more small, smoky fires that signal the practice of “slash and burn” agriculture, which is widespread in Africa. For centuries people have used fire to convert jungle and forests to farmland and to burn crop residues. Unfortunately, this destroys important ecosystems, offering only a few seasons of fertility before farmers must keep slashing into surrounding forests to find land with enough nutrients to support a crop.

Understanding these complex dynamics is essential to making a real, practical difference. Many one-size-fits-all plans are designed by academics, bureaucrats and others with little or no input from farmers themselves. Above all, we must beware of solutions that involve simply transplanting Western farming techniques. Generally speaking, approaches that reduce diversity and rely heavily on synthetic fertilizer, hybrid seeds, and expensive equipment are not practical for millions of Africa’s smallholder farmers, at least not today.

Western farming is also focused on a small number of staple crops such as corn and soybeans. Pushing African farmers toward mono-cropping systems can actually increase hunger. More research aimed at improving African seed types is important, but many crops Africans rely on are not on the list of the 20 crops with historical importance in the world. Therefore they are largely ignored by researchers and seed companies.

As Kofi proves every day, however, there are immediate tools available to help solve Africa’s challenges. At our foundation, we look at Africa’s potential for agriculture through a different lens than some in development. We are focused on what we call a “Brown Revolution.” That means a heavy emphasis on protecting and remediating soils. Regardless of terrain, crops, wildlife, culture, or history, every farmer in the world needs productive soil to grow food. The critical element is to appreciate the unique conditions on the ground in each region. In the Eastern Congo I reviewed soil maps of a relatively small region where the soil quality ranged from nearly “dead”—lacking organic matter and key nutrients—to very rich. Each of those different soil profiles requires a different recipe of ideal crop rotations and farming techniques to achieve maximum production from the land.

This work demands good information about where we are today and the communication of practical ideas for improvement. Our foundation has produced an in-depth analysis that we hope achieves both goals, called Africa’s Potential for Agriculture, now available for download at We shared this publication at the 2015 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue where Kofi and I joined Imperial College’s Sir Gordon Conway and Argentinian agronomist Alejandro Lopez to talk about the importance of soil health and the role of conservation agriculture. Food security is one of the most fundamental challenges the world faces and these are critical conversations.

When I travel to Africa I always visit with smallholder farmers who, despite backbreaking work every day, frequently experience hunger. There is something terribly ironic about farmers who are hungry. In many parts of the world, farmers farm to survive, not for profit. We must realize these different dynamics and risk profiles when proposing solutions that are realistic and applicable in situations that are quite different from our own.


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Opinion: Having to Choose, A Nation’s Agonizing Immigration Duty Thu, 15 Oct 2015 13:21:21 +0000 Peggy Sands Orchowski

Peggy Sands Orchowski Ph.D. has covered immigration reform in Washington for the last 10 years and is the author of the new book, The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

By Dr. Peggy Sands Orchowski
WASHINGTON DC, Oct 15 2015 (IPS)

It’s auniversally acknowledged truth that no nation can sustain open borders. Even the wealthiest, most popular “nations of immigrants” like the US cannot possibly accept everyone who wants to immigrate here or even qualifies to do so.

Peggy Sands Orchowski

Peggy Sands Orchowski

Nations have the core right and duty to choose who can immigrate: come in, stay, work and become a citizen. They do it through immigration laws established and enforced by democratic representative governments. Saying that, immigration decisions certainly are some of the most difficult any nation state must make.

Think of the US and other highly desired immigrant host countries as a popular public college. Millions of people qualify for entry but college administrators get to and must choose who is accepted for admission. They are making life changing decisions for the applicants, and often agonizing ones for the colleges trying to be fair and diverse.

As a result, responding to changing conditions, college admission requirements usually change over time, as do immigration laws. But the admission policies in place at any one time have to be upheld and enforced (allowing for some flexibility in special cases) or there is chaos.

The US 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is 50 years old this year. It is the most liberal immigration law in the world, the legacy of Ted Kennedy and the last major Great Society bill to be passed by the “fabulous 89th Congress.” It truly changed the diversity of America. But it did not allow open borders. Instead it imposed a complicated 7 per cent formula.

Still today, immigrants from any nationality can apply for a green card. But no nationality will get more than 7 percent of all the permanent immigration visas granted in one year (currently about 1.2 million annually). Surplus applicants from that nation are placed on a waiting list. Every nationality is to be treated equally with no discrimination against and no preferences for (a political exception was made for Cubans in 1966).

The INA also changed another traditional admission priority for immigrants. Instead of basing admission on the individual migrant’s ability to work, as had been the case since earliest days of the nation (remember, handicapped and ill migrants were turned away at Ellis Island no matter now close a family member they were), the INA gave a priority for green cards to extended family members. “Family unification” not “work ableness” is still the top qualification for a green card today.

Significantly, the Congressional jurisdiction for immigration also changed from the Labour Committee to the Judiciary committee. Immigration suddenly took on the tenor of social justice and even a sacred civil right — which it isn’t of course. Now millions of people feel qualified to immigrate to the United States. Millions apply. The US simply can’t take them all.

The agonizing universal truth about immigration is that immigrants get to apply but the nation state gets to decide based on national immigration laws. Those laws have two roles: to bring in the fresh new eager labour and energy of new immigrants that most every nation now wants to add to their growth and prosperity; and to protect the integrity, national identity and labour standards of the host country’s citizenry.

That difficult choice becomes a most terrible dilemma when facing millions of desperate migrants at the borders with their families. Humanitarian and ethnic supporters demand their right to immigrate. But even a collective of small well off nation states like the EU can’t provide enough housing, services and jobs for them all.

They can’t expect that hundreds of thousands of migrants from vastly different cultures will integrate within a reasonable time into their national cultures — ones based especially on freedom for women. Who among them should be chosen? What happens to the vast majority who aren’t?

Obviously massive permanent immigration is not a solution. It is unreasonable to expect nation states to do it and unfair to call them “anti-immigrant” when they won’t. Another process other than massive immigration will have to be negotiated to help citizens of failing states find refuge, peace and prosperity.


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Only 1325 National Plans will trigger the Resolutions Implementation Wed, 14 Oct 2015 16:29:35 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

This week, the United Nations Security Council is holding an open debate to undertake its High Level Review of the 15 years of implementation of the landmark Resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security.”

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Resolution 1325 is very close to my intellectual existence and my very small contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, 15 years ago, on the International Women’s Day in 2000, as the President of the Security Council, following extensive stonewalling, I was able to issue an agreed statement that formally brought to global attention the unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued contribution women have always been making towards the prevention of wars and building peace.

The Council recognized in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels. That is when the seed for Resolution 1325 was sown. Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.

In choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee’s citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.” The committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” Resolution 1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in the citation of the Nobel Prize.

Thanks to 1325, the Security Council is gradually accepting that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives and participation in peace processes. The Council has also met with women’s groups and representatives of NGOs during its field missions on a fairly regular basis.

Much, nevertheless, remains to be done. We continue to find reports that women are still very often ignored or excluded from formal processes of negotiations and elections and in the drafting of the new constitution or legislature frameworks. The driving force behind 1325 is “participation.”I believe the Security Council has been neglecting this core focus of the resolution. There is no full and equal participation of women at any level. There is no consideration of women’s needs in the deliberations.

The main question is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making and as peacekeepers to ensure real and faithful implementation of 1325.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations related Security Council resolutions, reports and missions. A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. As a matter of fact, I would recommend that all prospective peace-keepers must pass the “1325 test” before they leave their countries and there should be no relaxation with regard to this qualifier. Troop contributing countries should be aware that repeated violations by their contingents would put them on a global blacklist.

I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words saying “Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.” It is a reality that politics, more so security, is still a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts. Here I would add emphatically that, to be true to its own pronouncements, I believe it is absolutely high time that in its seven decades of existence, the United Nations should appoint the first woman as the next Secretary-General.

After 15 years of the adoption the UNSCR 1325, our sole focus should be on its true and effective implementation. In real terms, the National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of Resolution 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 50 out of 193 UN Member-States have prepared their plans after 15 years – a dismal record. There has to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs – for example, setting a target of 100 NAPs by 2017. UN Women needs to work more proactively with the Member States so that their 1325 NAPs are commenced and completed without any further delay.

Anniversaries are meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. Coming months will tell whether 1325’s 15th anniversary has been worthwhile and able to create that energy.


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Opinion: Turn Words into Action Involving Women for Lasting Peace Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:15:33 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

We have recently celebrated the peace deal struck between the government in Colombia and the main guerrilla group. The deal reached on justice issues represents the clearest sign yet of a possible end to five decades of conflict.

Less is said about the multiple constructive ways in which Colombian women have participated in, and influenced, these negotiations or mobilized for peace, including the many meetings held by women survivors with the women in both negotiating teams.

Similarly, few people know that last year also saw the end of another decade-long conflict in the Philippines between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the result of peace talks where more than a third of negotiators were women. This was far from the norm of official peace talks, which are typically either all-male affairs or include very few women.

Their participation was built on a long history of women’s leadership at the local and national levels in the Philippines over the years, including under the leadership of two women presidents who both invested political capital in resuming negotiations with the rebel group.

As tensions threaten Burundi’s fragile peace, Burundian women quickly organized themselves in a nationwide network of women mediators to quell or mitigate the myriad local disputes and prevent escalation. In 129 municipalities across the country, they addressed, by their count, approximately 3,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015, including mediating between security forces and protesters, advocating for the release of demonstrators and political prisoners, promoting non-violence and dialogue among divided communities, and countering rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information to prevent widespread panic. UN Women has been proud to support these efforts.

These are not isolated stories.

A comprehensive study prepared for the 15th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, a landmark resolution that recognized the role of gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security, makes the strongest case to date that gender equality improves our humanitarian assistance, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks and the sustainability of peace agreements, and accelerates economic recovery after conflict.

It compiles growing evidence accumulated by academic researchers that demonstrates how peace negotiations influenced by women are much more likely to end in agreement and to endure. In fact, the chances of the agreement lasting 15 years goes up by as much as 35 per cent.

Where conflict-affected communities target women’s empowerment they experience the most rapid economic recovery and poverty reduction and greatly improved broad humanitarian outcomes, not just for women and girls but for whole populations.

In a world where extremists place the subordination of women at the centre of their ideology and war tactics, the international community and the UN should place gender equality at the heart of its peace and security interventions. Beyond policies, declarations and aspirations, gender equality must drive our decisions about who we hire and on what we spend our money and time.

It is clear that we must strive for tangible changes for women affected by war and engage the grossly underused capacity of women to prevent those conflicts. Countries must do more to bring women to the peace table in all peace negotiations. Civil society and women’s movements have made extraordinary contributions to effective peace processes.

We know that when civil society representatives are involved in peace agreements, the agreements are 64 per cent more likely to be successful and long-lasting. It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace. It is time to stop the under-investment in gender equality.

The percentage of aid to fragile states targeting gender equality as a main goal in peace and security interventions is only 2 per cent. Change requires bold steps, and it cannot happen without investment.

Now that time has come. On 25 September, the countries of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which expresses determination to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality” and to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence”.

Two days later, 72 Heads of State and Government attended our Global Leader’s Meeting to underline top-level support for gender equality and commit to specific action. And on 13 October, the Security Council will celebrate the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325 and inject new energy, ideas and resources into women’s leadership for peace.

In a world so afflicted by conflict, extremism and displacement, we cannot rely only on the ripples of hope sparked by the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. We need the full strength of our collective action and the political courage of the leaders of the international community. Anniversaries, after all, must count for more than the passing of years. They must be the moment for us to turn words into action.


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A New Framework in an Age of Migration Mon, 12 Oct 2015 19:36:48 +0000 Alejo Carpentier By Alejo Carpentier
ROME, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

With the worldwide numbers of displaced people at all-time highs, migration has become the watchword for humanitarian crises.

Given the cost in economic, political and moral terms of coping with mass migration – and particular the experience of what has been unfolding this year in Europe – the need for a universal set of rules and principles is increasingly evident. So is the desire to keep people safely in their homes.

Several European politicians have insisted that greater aid and investment in the originating countries can stem the tidal movements of people. Even Matteo Salvini, an opposition leader in Italy who is hostile to refuge being offered by his own country, is a stated believer in the idea of that development will keep people from coming.

But few understand how practically difficult it has proven to fund such development. First, increasing amounts of official aid flows are tagged to humanitarian crises, reducing the funds available for sustainable development plans. Second, much of the promised aid never materializes, for a host of reasons.

Take Nepal. Less than half the reconstruction aid pledged in the wake of that country’s earthquake in April has been delivered, according to UN officials. Controversies over the Himalayan nation’s new draft constitution are hardly encouraging to donors. The result is that the disaster may translate into a longer-lasting catastrophe than it had to be, ultimately crimping economic opportunity and food security.

Or take Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a large donation for humanitarian operations there, even though it is engaged in the military conflict that has exacerbated displacement and poverty.

Meanwhile, amid the horror stories of refugee mistreatment in Europe, Tunisia is now building a moat along its border with Libya, demonstrating fears of its own.

It’s pretty evident that the combined sums spent on deterring migration and humanitarian aid to refugees makes talk of encouraging growth in the source countries an exercise in pure optimism.

That may now change. The global community today gathered at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and voted to approve the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises. The agreement, brokered by the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), aims to stitch together the increasingly dysfunctional separation of humanitarian and development aid budgets.

As the signatories represent state and non-state donors and actors, the agreement should make it much easier to ensure resources can push past political and bureaucratic barriers to get where they are direly needed.

Take Syria, where more than half the population is displaced, conflict is rampant and the European Union took months to agree to accept less than 5 per cent of the refugees than are now camped in Lebanon and Turkey. Many refugees, terrified that dismal conditions in neighboring countries will become permanent and discouraged from seeking protection further west, are in fact returning to Syria despite the dangers.

That may be an international diplomatic failure – and many of the returnees say they blame the United Nations for their plight.

But it is a practical issue, and that is where the new Framework may help.

FAO, for its part, has already begun acting as if the agreement were in place. This summer it partnered with the International Organization for Migration to help smallholder agricultural production in Syria by around 500 families who returned. The aid consists of seeds, farm tools and ready-made poultry farms, all aimed at providing for the families themselves but also helping pre-empt the agricultural desertion of a conflict-racked country.

The budget resources here are going to what has long been a no man’s land. It’s a small step towards keeping development alive amid an overriding humanitarian emergency.

“Supporting agricultural based livelihoods can contribute to both helping people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so and to create the conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

To be sure, the Framework was devised to deal with protracted crises – places where food insecurity has been reported on a nearly perpetual basis for at least a decade. There are 21 such places today. But most such crises take place in fragile states, where conflict is rife either as a cause or an effect.

As things stand, a third of the world’s hungry outside of India and China live amid protracted crises. And while agriculture accounts for a third of GDP in those countries, it receives less than 4 per cent of external assistance funding, according to Luca Alinov, a FAO officer based in Kenya. Thus the Framework paves the way for resources to flow to the agricultural sector – where returns in terms of food security are highest – precisely where it is most neglected.

It is widely felt to be high time to break down the increasingly archaic distinction between humanitarian and development assistance – and with it the distinct official channels through which resources are doled out.

“Rural development and food security are central to the global response to the refugee crisis,” Graziano da Silva said.

To be sure, how to carry this out in practice may vary, but the Framework’s genesis as the fruit of multi-stakeholder dialogue is likely to broaden the toolkit. Again, FAO has already been doing spadework, such as partnering with MasterCard to provide people in refugee camps in Kenya with prepaid cards allowing them to purchase local goods, a scheme that lends itself to adaptation to varying circumstances.

While state-backed social protection programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program, which helped Ethiopia become the only protracted-crisis country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of populating suffering from hunger, are ideal, the institutional and political stability required for that is often lacking.

That is perhaps where the new Framework may prove most innovative, according to Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University. In line with the universal bent of the Sustainable Development Goals, it suggests going beyond reliance on state building as the sanctioned channel of intervention and points to consensus that strengthening livelihoods should be the priority.

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Opinion: International Day of the Girl Must Start with Good Laws Mon, 12 Oct 2015 09:57:11 +0000 Shelby Quast

Shelby Quast is Director, Americas Office for Equality Now.

By Shelby Quast
NEW YORK, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

Everyday should be about girls, but yesterday, October 11, was dedicated especially to them. International Day of the Girl is yet another opportunity to put girls at center stage.

For many girls, their childhood and adolescent years are shaped by harmful experiences such as sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex trafficking.

Understanding that a lack of support systems can leave girls without the means to speak out against abuses and seek help, Equality Now’s #JusticeForGirls program uses strategic litigation and related advocacy to ensure a level playing field for girls – particularly during their critical adolescent years.

This year, Equality Now announced an exciting new additional component to this initiative. The GENEROSITY of GIRLS Fund supports programmes that directly impact the lives of girls. Initial recipients are partner organizations that work on the front lines with adolescent girls: Safe Hands for Girls in the U.S., The Girl Child Network in Uganda and the Rural Education & Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP) in Kenya.

Founded by FGM survivor Jaha Dukureh, Safe Hands for Girls supports and empowers girls at risk of FGM by providing culturally appropriate support groups, economically empowering girls and supporting their goals for higher education. The Girl Child Network in Kampala, Uganda, empowers girls to develop their own curricula for more than 20 after-school clubs.

With support from the GENEROSITY of GIRS Fund, The Girl Child Network has the opportunity to empower 500 girls. The REEP initiative empowers girls in Busia County, Kenya, where Equality Now recently supported a sexual violence case and brought 70 similar cases to the attention of local law enforcement. With support from the fund, REEP will reach 1,000 girls.

Ensuring that strong laws and access to justice is the first step towards making gender equality a reality. Yet many countries, such as Liberia and Mali, have yet to put in place laws which ban FGM, a severe form of violence that is likely to affect up to 30 million girls over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be born a girl in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, you still have no legislative protection against child marriage. Other countries have laws against such abuses but fail to implement them.

In Saudi Arabia, we worked with Fatima, a 12-year-old married to a 50-year-old man with a wife and 10 children. Her father received the equivalent of US$10,000 for her, which he spent on a car. Fatima’s husband gave her a PlayStation for her wedding gift. We worked with a Saudi lawyer to help Fatima and the resulting publicity helped put pressure on her husband, who finally consented to a divorce.

Sexual violence continues to be an epidemic in every country in the world. Awareness has increased over the past 15 years but enforcing the rule of law continues to be a problem for most governments. The law provides a framework that determines a person’s worth.

In Morocco, Amina Filali was raped when she was sixteen. But a loophole in the law exempted rapists from punishment if they marry their victims. Instead of punishing rapists, judges forced girls to marry them.

Amina could not bear a lifetime of being raped, so she took her own life swallowing rat poison. Other girls have done the same. We campaigned very actively with Moroccan groups to change the law. While the change came too late for Amina, it can hopefully protect other girls.

And this is not just an issue for the economically developing world. Half a million women and girls in the US have undergone, or are at risk of undergoing, FGM. In fact, no country has reached gender equality.

But things have at least started to change. Twenty years ago, FGM was seen as a cultural practice, but it is now widely recognized as violence and as a violation of human rights. There are now laws banning it in the majority of those countries where it is most prevalent. Two decades ago, the media did not really cover violence against girls as an issue, but that is changing by the day.

The sexual violence epidemic against girls around the world is no longer a hidden issue and almost two million people signed a petition to ensure #JusticeForLiz, a 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped and left for dead in Kenya, which led to the arrest and conviction of the rapists.

At a global level, the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals include women and girls throughout the agenda. We now need to ensure that progress toward achieving these goals, such as ending FGM and child marriage, are implemented and measured wherever women and girls are affected – not just in select countries.

October 11 was for all of the world’s girls, but the benefits are much more extensive. If every girl is valued and given the same opportunities as boys; if she is free from all forms of violence and discrimination, amazing things can happen – not only for the girl whose life is changed forever but for her the community and the whole world which becomes safer, happier and more balanced.


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