Inter Press Service » North America News and Views from the Global South Fri, 12 Feb 2016 16:40:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2 Billion Couples and 10 Relationship Challenges Wed, 03 Feb 2016 19:48:47 +0000 Joseph Chamie Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division. ]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: World Health Organization.

Source: World Health Organization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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CoP 21: The Start of a Long Journey Thu, 14 Jan 2016 14:58:45 +0000 Rajendra Kumar Pachauri

Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, is the Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and Former Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2002-2015

By Rajendra Kumar Pachauri
NEW DELHI, Jan 14 2016 (IPS)

The agreement reached in December, 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a major step forward in dealing with the challenge of climate change. The very fact that almost every country in the world signed off on this agreement is a major achievement, credit for which must go in substantial measure to the Government of France and its leadership. However, in scientific terms, while this agreement certainly brings all the Parties together in moving ahead, in itself the commitments that have been made under the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are quite inadequate for limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri

Any agreement on climate change has to take into account the scientific assessment of the impacts that the world may face and the risks that it would have to bear if adequate efforts are not made to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Scientific assessment is also necessary on the level of mitigation that would limit risks from consequential impacts to acceptable levels. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has come up with a clear assessment of where the world is going if it moves along business as usual. The AR5 clearly states that without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st Century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally. Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Correspondingly, substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st Century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.

In the AR5, five Reasons For Concern (RFCs) aggregate climate change risks and illustrate the implications of warming and of adaptation limits for people, economies and ecosystems across sectors and regions. The five RFCs are associated with: (1) Unique and threatened systems, (2) Extreme weather events, (3) Distribution of impacts, (4) Global aggregate impacts, and (5) Large scale singular events. These RFCs grow directly in proportion to the extent of warming projected for different scenarios.

Substantial cuts in GHG emissions over the next few decades can substantially reduce risks of climate change by limiting warming in the second half of the 21st century and beyond. Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Limiting risks across RFCs would imply a limit for cumulative emissions of CO2. Such a limit would require that global net emissions of CO2 eventually decrease to zero and would constrain annual emissions over the next few decades. But some risks from climate damages are unavoidable, even with mitigation and adaptation. This results from the fact that there is inertia in the system whereby the increased concentration of GHGs in the earth’s atmosphere will create impacts which are now inevitable.

The Paris agreement is an extremely significant step taken by the global community, but to deal effectively with the challenge ahead, a much higher level of ambition would be required by all the countries of the world than is currently embodied in the INDCs. A review of the INDCs is due to take place only in 2018 and 2023. This may be too late, because a higher level of ambition will need to be demonstrated urgently, if the world is to reduce emissions significantly before 2030. Delaying additional mitigation to 2030 will substantially increase the challenges associated with limited warming over the 21st century to below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. And, if the global community is serious about evaluating the impacts of climate change within a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, then stringent mitigation actions will have to be taken much earlier than 2030. If early action is not taken, then a much more rapid scale up of low carbon energy over the period 2030 to 2050 would become necessary with a larger reliance on carbon dioxide removal in the long term and higher transitional and long term economic impacts.

In essence, Paris has to be seen as the beginning of a journey. If the world is to minimize the risks from the impacts of climate change adequately, then the public in each country must demand a far more ambitious set of mitigation measures than embedded in the Paris agreement. That clearly is the challenge that the world is facing, and the global community must take in hand urgently the task of informing the public on the scientific facts related to climate change as a follow up to Paris. Then only would we get adequate action for risks being limited to acceptable levels.


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Syria: Minding the Minds II Tue, 12 Jan 2016 19:03:04 +0000 Johan Galtung Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’]]>

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

By Johan Galtung
OSLO, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Baher Kamal, in … And All of a Sudden Syria!: “The “big five,” the United Nations veto powers, have just agreed United Nations Resolution 2254 of 18-12-2015, time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy; they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed and 4.5 million humans lost as refugees and homeless at home, hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily U.S., British, French and Russian bombing carried out.” No Chinese bombing.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

One term in the resolution, road map, already spells failure. There is another reason: missing issues. But something can be done. Roads twist, turn and may be far from straight. Traveling a road is a linear, one step or mile-stone after another, process, by the map. The West loves linearity; as causal chains, (falling dominoes,) from a root cause; as deductive chains from axioms; as ranks from high to low.

However, is that not how the world is, moving in time, causes-effects, axioms-consequences, rank, power, over others? Are roads not rather useful? They are. Is there an alternative to a road map? There is.

One step after the other in time is diachronic. An alternative would be synchronic; at the same time. Let us call it a cake map.

A cake is served, cut in slices, each party takes a slice, waits till all are served to start together. By the road map, first come first served first to eat. Or, highest rank eats first, down the line. The cake map stands for togetherness, simultaneity, shared experience. Not necessarily good: it was also used by the West to carve up Africa.

The cake is an issue; the slices are aspects. How it is defined, how it is cut, who are invited is essential. Basic to the cake map is equality among parties and slices: all get theirs at the same time.

For the Syria issue the Resolution lists the aspects on the road:
• 25 January 2016 (in two weeks) as the target date to begin talks;
• immediately all parties stop attacking civilians;
• within one month: options for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism;
• within 6 months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”;
• within 18 months “free and fair elections–by the new constitution”.

Kamal mentions many actors and crucial problems with this agenda. The focus here is on the linearity: ceasefire-governance-constitution-free and fair elections. Why stop attacking civilians who can become or are combatants? Why should actors agree to a ceasefire before their rights are guaranteed in a constitution? Why non-sectarian “governance” in a sectarian country? Each step presupposes the next. The “peace process” can be blocked, at any point, by any one party. Like a road.

Proposal: On 25 January, appoint four representative commissions– one for each of the four aspects–with mechanisms of dialogue for all six pairs and plenaries. Then report on all aspects on the agenda.

Back to the cake, “Syria.” Does “Syria” exist? Once much of the Middle East, the name was used for the French “mandate” carved out of the vast Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1916 when ended by Sykes-Picot. A commission on the Ottoman period, exploring millets for minorities, is indispensable. So is a commission on the Sykes-Picot trauma, also with Turkey as a member; hopefully with UK-France-Russia apologizing.

We have seen it before. The US was a major party to the conflict and the UN conference manager 2013-14. There are now more parties: Jordan has identified up to 160 terrorist groups (Kamal), probably not counting state terrorists. And today the UN is the conference manager.

This column at the time (27 Jan 2014) identified seven Syria conflicts:
1 Minority/majority, democracy/dictatorship, Assad/not Assad in Syria;
2 Sunni/Shia all over, also with “Sunni Islamic State Iraq-Syria ISIS”;
3 Syrians/minorities “like Turks and Kurds, Maronites and Christians”;
4 Syria/”those who, like USA and Israel, prefer Syria fragmented”;
5 Syria/Turkey with “neo-Ottoman expansionist policies”;
6 USA-UK-France/Russia-China “determined to avoid another Libya”;
7 Violent perpetrators of all kinds/killed-bereaved-potential victims.

All seven are still there. They have become more violent, like the second, between Saudi Arabia–also financing IS–and Iran. But the resolution focuses on the first and the last. All parties mentioned should be invited or at least consulted publicly. Last time Iran was excluded, defined as the bad one; this time IS(IS), today called Daesh.

A process excluding major process parties is doomed in advance.

However, imagine that the cake is defined as, “the conflict formation in and around Syria”; that the slices are the seven conflicts indicated with one commission for each; that around the table are the actors mentioned, some grouped together. The Resolution aspects are on their agendas; with commissions on the Ottoman Empire and Sykes-Picot.

What can we expect, what can we reasonably hope for, as visions?

“Mandate”, “colony”: there is some reality to Syria (and to Iraq). The borders are hopeless and should be respected, but not for a unitary state. For something looser, a (con)federation. Basic building-blocs would be provinces from Ottoman times, millets for smaller minorities, and cantons for the strip of Kurds along the Turkish border. The constitution could define a national assembly with two chambers: one territorial for the provinces, and one non-territorial for nations and faiths with some cultural veto in matters concerning themselves.

There is also the Swiss model with the assembly being based on territorially defined cantons, and the cabinet on nations-faiths: of 7 members 3 speak German, 1 Rheto-roman, 2 French and 1 Italian (4 Protestant and 3 Catholic?). Not impossible for Syria. With the Kurds as some kind of Liechtenstein (that is where con-federation enters).

In addition to parallel NGO fora. There is much to articulate.

Assad or not? If he is excluded as punishment for violence, there are many to be excluded. A conference only for victims, and China?

Better see it as human tragedy-stupidity, and build something new.

The violent parties will not get what they want. The victims can be accommodated peacefully in this looser Syria. Moreover, the perpetrators should fund reconstruction proportionate to the violence they wrought in the past four years. As quickly as humanly possible.

Syria offered a poor choice between a minority dictatorship with tolerance and a majority dictatorship–democracy–without. Violence flourished, attracting old suspects for proxy wars. “Bomb Syria” was the panacea, after “bomb Libya”. What a shame. Bring it to an end.

*Johan Galtung’s editorial originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 January 2016: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Syria (Minding the Minds II)

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Syrian Government to Allow Aid, Loosening the Stranglehold on Madaya Fri, 08 Jan 2016 22:25:56 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The Syrian government says it will allow humanitarian aid into the besieged rebel-held town of Madaya, according to the United Nations, following reports and horrific pictures of residents starving to death. Aid is expected to reach the area by Monday, but for some it is too little and too late.

The plight of Madaya’s citizens only came to the world’s attention when residents somehow managed to get video out to Britain’s independent television network, ITV. The images of skeletal children and babies rocked the world’s conscience. The report said many were reduced to eating dirt and grass. Some, it said, had eaten cats and dogs.

“The people of Syria are on their knees. The economy has collapsed, essential infrastructure like water and power networks are hanging by a thread, and on top of that a very cold winter is bearing down,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “12 million people inside Syria are in dire need for help.”

The United Nations and ICRC was granted access yesterday but the operation isn’t expected to happen before Sunday or Monday. The ICRC in Syria said details are still being sorted out. The United Nations World Food Programme, WFP, said it expected food convoys to make it to the area by Monday.

The ICRC said its priority, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is to bring assistance to 500,000 people living in besieged or difficult to reach areas, such as Madaya, Zabadani, Foua and Kefraya.

“Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation. The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. On 5 January 2016, a 53- year old man reportedly died of starvation while his family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition,” a UN statement said on Thursday.

The UN said it had government permission to access Kefraya and Foah in the north of the country besieged by rebel forces while Madaya and Zabadani are besieged by government forces.

Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need.

Medicins Sans Frontieres, (MSF), called the noose around Madaya, “a total stranglehold siege.” It said, “Around 20,000 residents of the town are facing life-threatening deprivation of the basics for survival, and 23 patients in the health centre supported by MSF have died of starvation since December 1. MSF welcomes reports that the Syrian government will allow food supplies into the area, but urges that an immediate life-saving delivery of medicine across the siege line should also be a priority, and calls for sick patients to be allowed urgent medical evacuation to safe places of treatment.”

Of the 23 people who died, said MSF, six were under one-year old, five were over 60, and the other 12 were between five and 60. It said this shows the situation is affecting all age-groups.

The last aid trucks took in medical and humanitarian supplies to the village in October, and then some people were evacuated in December but there has been no new humanitarian access since despite repeated requests.

“Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need,” said the U.N. statement. “The ongoing conflict continues to hamper the humanitarian response and freedom of movement is restricted by the presence of armed actors and landmines.”

The new head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, said on Thursday that with record numbers of refugees and displaced people worldwide there needs to be greater diplomatic effort to find solutions to conflicts and abuses driving people from their homes.

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” said Filippo Grandi at his debut press conference after taking office on January 1. “We owe it first and foremost to the forcibly displaced themselves, but we also owe it to States…States are desperately looking for solutions to situations involving refugees,” he declared, and stressed: “Even under more desperate circumstances we have to think of solving displacement.”

Grandi stressed that countries which host especially large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, now home to over one million Syrians, need better help. He also highlighted resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as tools which can allow refugees to find safety in other countries, “not through trafficking but by what we call legal pathways.”

Aid agencies are stretched with no respite in the streams of people leaving conflict areas and seeking assistance. WFP said on Wednesday that it has sufficient funding to provide food assistance to 526,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Jordan for the first five months of the current year.

“This is the first time since December 2013 when we managed to receive enough funding to secure assistance over the next five months,” said Shaza Moghraby, WFP’s spokesperson in Jordan.


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UN Discovery of Secret Detention Centre Revives Nightmares Mon, 21 Dec 2015 10:26:31 +0000 Amantha Perera 0 Cubans Want to Know When They Will Feel the Effects of Thaw with U.S. Wed, 16 Dec 2015 17:54:34 +0000 Patricia Grogg A group of women wait their turn to buy rationed food that is sold at subsidised prices, at a government shop in Havana, Cuba on Nov. 21, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A group of women wait their turn to buy rationed food that is sold at subsidised prices, at a government shop in Havana, Cuba on Nov. 21, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2015 (IPS)

While the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is moving ahead, and the U.S. and Cuban flags have been proudly waving in Havana and Washington, respectively, since last July, the year gone by since the thaw has left many unanswered questions.

“You shouldn’t ask me, because in my view, nothing has changed,” one slightly angry middle-aged man told IPS while waiting his turn in a barbershop. In a nearby farmers’ market, a woman asked, loudly so that everyone could hear, why a pound of tomatoes cost 25 pesos (nearly a dollar).

Many Cubans feel that they don’t have much to celebrate this Dec. 17, the first anniversary of the day Presidents Raúl Castro of Cuba and Barack Obama of the United States took the world by surprise with their decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, severed in January 1961.

People who got excited about the idea that their daily lives would begin to improve after more than half a century of hostile relations are ending the year with public sector salaries that do not even cover their basic food needs.

The Cuban press reported that Marino Murillo, minister of economy and planning and vice president of the Council of Ministers, admitted at a recent session of the provincial legislature of Havana that the overall economic indicators in the capital had improved, but that this has not yet been reflected in the day-to-day lives of local residents.

The thaw has, however, had a positive impact on tourism, by giving a boost to emerging private enterprises like room rentals and small restaurants, options chosen by many visitors interested in getting to know Cuban society up close.

According to official statistics, in the first half of 2015 this country of 11.2 million people was visited by 1,923,326 people, compared to 1,660,110 in the first half of 2014. Visitors from other parts of Latin America can be frequently heard saying that they wanted to come to Cuba before the “invasion” of tourists from the U.S.

People from the United States can only travel to Cuba with special permits, for religious, cultural, journalistic or educational purposes, or for “people-to-people” contacts. Experts project that 145,000 people from the U.S. will have visited the country this year – 50,000 more than in 2014.

Two primary school students walk by a group of foreign tourists in a plaza in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two primary school students walk by a group of foreign tourists in a plaza in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The ban on travel to Cuba for the purpose of tourism and the embargo that Washington has had in place against this socialist country since 1962 are among the pending issues to resolve in the process of normalisation of ties promoted over the last year by official visitors to Cuba who have included Secretary of State John Kerry, two other members of Obama’s cabinet, and three state governors.

“Beyond a number of grandiloquent headlines, everything remains to be done,” Cuban journalist and academic Salvador Salazar, who is earning a PhD in Mexico, told IPS. In his view, only the first few steps have been taken towards “what should be a civilised relationship marked by talking instead of shouting, and debating instead of attacking.”

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas, concurred that after 55 years of hostile and dangerous relations, the governments of the two countries are learning how to respect each other.

“…[I]f 2015 was about both governments learning to treat each other with dignity and respect, 2016 has to be about building on that progress and using diplomacy to create lasting benefits for both countries in order to make the changes we are seeing irreversible and the further changes we want inevitable,” she told IPS by email.

In September, a binational commission created after the official restoration of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies defined the issues for starting talks aimed at clearing the path towards normalisation, including communications, drug trafficking, health, civil aviation and maritime security.

Human rights, human trafficking and demands for compensation by both sides were other questions on the agendas outlined by the delegations from the two countries. The list also includes immigration, an issue that has been discussed for years in periodic talks held to review progress on agreements signed in 1994 and 1995.

The talks about the agreements aimed at ensuring “safe, legal and orderly” immigration are not free of tension, given the Cuban government’s frustrated demand for the repeal of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy and other regulations that according to authorities here encourage illegal migration.

Washington has reiterated that it will not modify its immigration policy towards Cuba. The anniversary of the start of the thaw finds some 5,000 Cuban immigrants stranded at border crossings in Costa Rica without any apparent solution, in their quest to reach the United States by means of a route that takes them through Central America and Mexico.

John Gronbeck-Tedesco, assistant professor of American Studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey, believes the Obama administration is doing its part to clear the way towards reconciliation, and says the talks held so far have calmed the “anti-normalisation rhetoric.”

But the academic says he does not yet see a climate favourable to the lifting of the embargo, which can only be done by the U.S. Congress, “especially” given the fact that 2016 is an election year.

According to the Cuban government, the embargo has hindered this country’s development and has caused 121.192 billion dollars in damages over the past five decades.

“I think that before Congress takes up the matter, however, the significant issue of debts still owed will need to be settled more clearly,” added the analyst, referring to the question of compensation that the two countries began to discuss in a Dec. 8 “informational” session in Havana.

“The U.S. has a price for Cuban American property and investments lost (nationalised) due to the revolution, and Cuba has a number in mind regarding the economic harm caused by the embargo. These debts are as politically symbolic as they are materially real for both interested parties,” added Gronbeck-Tedesco, without mentioning specific figures.

In an interview with the press published Monday Dec. 14, Obama reiterated his interest in visiting Cuba, although only if “I get to talk to everybody”.

He said that in his conversations with Castro he has made it clear that “we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

The two leaders have spoken by phone at least twice and met in person for the first time on Apr. 11, at the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama. And on Sep. 29 in New York they held the first official meeting between the presidents of the two countries since the 1959 Cuban revolution.

*With reporting by Ivet González in Havana.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Paris Agreement Leaves Climate Funding in Limbo Mon, 14 Dec 2015 20:43:35 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described climate change as one of the “defining priorities” of his nine-year tenure as UN chief, went into raptures over the Paris agreement concluded on Saturday.

“It’s a monumental triumph for people and planet”, he said – even as civil society groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from developing countries expressed strong reservations over an agreement which left the key role of climate funding in political limbo.

“It is a health insurance policy for the planet”, Ban told reporters at a news briefing Monday.

As a first step in implementing the agreement, the UN will host a high-level signing ceremony by world leaders on April 22 next year, followed by a summit meeting of government, business and civil society leaders on May 5-6.

Ban summed up the agreement as having “solid results on all key points.” The agreement demonstrates solidarity, he said, and “it is ambitious, flexible, credible and durable.”

All countries have agreed to hold global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. And recognizing the risk of grave consequences, you have further agreed to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, he declared.

But what was left unsaid was one of the key challenges in fighting climate change: how soon will the international community, and specifically the world’s rich nations and the private sector, succeed in raising the estimated 100 billion dollars per year needed by 2020.?

Prerna Bomzan, policy advocate at LDC Watch, representing the interests of the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), told IPS the key obligation under the 1992 climate convention of “new and additional” climate finance no longer exists in the agreement.

“This is a major loss for developing countries, considering that climate finance should not be clubbed together with official development assistance (ODA).”

She said paragraph 54 of the agreement states that “developed countries intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025″ and prior to 2025, shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of 100 billion dollars per year.

“This means no money on the table pre-2020, just intention of mobilization. The agreement doesn’t even mention the 100 billion dollars,” she pointed out.

The only mention of the much-touted 100 billion dollar figure is in the preamble to the agreement—reducing it to a passing political footnote.

A critical component of the Paris agreement was always that finance for developing countries would be ramped up, according to civil society groups.

In concluding the talks, French President Francois Hollande spoke proudly about the 100 billion “floor” in finance, but observers have pointed out that the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric.

Meena Raman, Legal Adviser at the Malaysia-based Third World Network said the 100 billion per year by 2020 is now extended to 2025 and a new goal is to be set after that.

“So developed countries have obtained another five years to deliver what they agreed to do. It is regrettable that this has happened as it delays action in developing countries who are in need,” she said.

Ban said the Paris agreement ensures sufficient, balanced adaptation and mitigation support for developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Developed countries, he said, “have agreed to lead in mobilizing finance and scale up technology support and capacity building.”

And developing countries have assumed increasing responsibility to address climate change in line with their capabilities, the secretary-general added.

Doreen Stabinsky, Visiting Professor of Climate Change Leadership, Uppsala University, Sweden and Professor of Global Environmental Politics, at College of the Atlantic, Maine, USA, said the price tag for climate damages this century will be in the trillions, with much of that damage in poor and vulnerable countries.

“The US is responsible for much of that toll, but they don’t care and they won’t pay. With arm twisting of developing countries, they have language now protecting the richest and heaping devastating costs onto the poorest,” she said

In a statement released Monday, Oxfam International said the Paris climate deal has brought the world’s powers together but has short-changed the poorest and most vulnerable people as they struggle with the burgeoning reality of rising sea-levels, floods and drought.

The deal is a land-mark step but has not done enough to ensure that a 3°C world will be avoided or secure sufficient climate funding for vulnerable communities to adapt to increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather.

More than 190 countries have for the first time committed to climate action and the summit has created momentum throughout the year, with countries and parts of the business community making announcements toward tackling climate change, Oxfam added.

But the ambitious speeches from world leaders opening the summit were not sustained to the end game, it said.

Oxfam Executive Director Helen Szoke said: “This deal offers a frayed life-line to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Only the vague promise of a new future climate funding target has been made, while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall a climate change catastrophe, she added, pointing out that “this will only ramp up adaptation costs further in the future.”

The final Paris agreement is a nail in the coffin for justice for LDCs”, said Azeb Girmai, climate lead for LDC Watch.

“We have gradually seen the text change from the long-standing ‘polluter pays principle’, where developed countries are obliged to finance adaptation and mitigation to help developing countries deal with climate chaos to one where the wealthiest countries simply refused to commit any climate finance.

In the final agreement, she said, “new and additional” climate finance committed in the 1992 Convention has now been dropped out”.

In a statement released Monday, the world’s 48 poorest nations classified as LDCs, said: “So we see a future in which, if there is no meaningful change by developed countries, the LDCs will be submerged, flooded, made into arid deserts, with no money to prevent or compensate this”.

LDCs being least responsible for the climate mess are thus unjustifiably bearing the brunt of being most impacted.

“However, while this is a very sad day for LDCs, we are determined to continue working for climate justice. While we may have lost this battle, we have not lost the war,” LDC Watch declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Silence, Please! A New Middle East Is in the Making Mon, 14 Dec 2015 15:20:21 +0000 Baher Kamal Baher Kamal, a Spanish national of Egyptian origin presents his views on the current Middle East situation and its future. Read The Over-Written, Under-ReportedMiddle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslims and Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude ]]>

Baher Kamal, a Spanish national of Egyptian origin presents his views on the current Middle East situation and its future. Read The Over-Written, Under-ReportedMiddle East – Part I: Of Arabs and Muslims and Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 14 2015 (IPS)

When, in June 2006, former US National Security adviser and, later on, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spelled out the George W. Bush administration new, magic doctrine for the Middle East, tons of ink was poured and millions of words said in a harsh attempt to speculate with what she really did mean by what she called “Creative Chaos.”

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

Most Middle East analysts concluded then that the new doctrine would lead to or build upon a new wave of conflicts and violence in the region.

Whether they were right or not, this is at least what has been happening. No Need to recall what is now going on in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and even Tunisia and Egypt-–the so-called “Arab Spring” countries.

Now another U.S. neo-liberal, neo-conservative Republican “hawk,” John R. Bolton, has just come out with a new vision that might explain the rational behind that “Creative Chaos” doctrine.

“Create a New State”

In his recent article in the New York Times, published on 25 November 2015 under the eloquent header “To Defeat ISIS, Create a Sunni State” this scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and former US ambassador to the United Nations (August 2005 to December 2006), poses this question: “What comes after the Islamic State?
Bolton then explains that “Before transforming Mr. Obama’s ineffective efforts into a vigorous military campaign to destroy the Islamic State, we need a clear view, shared with NATO allies and others, about what will replace it. It is critical to resolve this issue before considering any operational plans…

Iraq and Syria Are Gone!

According to Bolton -who could hold a key post in the US coming administration should a Republican like Donald Trump be elected- “Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone…

He then says that defeating the Islamic State means restoring to power President Bashar Assad in Syria and Iran’s puppets in Iraq, and “that outcome is neither feasible nor desirable… Rather than striving to recreate the post-World War I map, Washington should recognize the new geopolitics.”

The best alternative to the Islamic State in northeastern Syria and western Iraq is a new, independent Sunni state.

An Oil Producer “Sunni-stan”

Bolton explains further: This “Sunni-stan” has economic potential as an oil producer (subject to negotiation with the Kurds, to be sure), and could be a bulwark against both Mr. Assad and Iran-allied Baghdad. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states, who should by now have learned the risk to their own security of funding Islamist extremism, could provide significant financing. And Turkey — still a NATO ally, don’t forget — would enjoy greater stability on its southern border, making the existence of a new state at least tolerable.”

He believes that the Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia “must not only fund much of the new state’s early needs, but also ensure its stability and resistance to radical forces. Once, we might have declared a Jordanian “protectorate” in an American “sphere of influence” for now, a new state will do.”

Bolton’s visionary plan for the new Middle East would then explain what has been behind the “Creative Chaos” doctrine. And it would clearly revamp the nearly 100-year-old Sykes-Picot map (link to Middle East Part II – 99.5 Years of (Imposed) Solitude

Such vision would be just another step on the successive US-West roadmaps for the region. In fact, in addition to the “Creative Chaos” doctrine, the George W. Bush second term administration came out with a new name for the region: the “Greater Middle East,” which would include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Cyprus, Somalia, and eventually also Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Middle East Is “Served”, the “Creative Chaos” Has Worked

The “Creative Chaos” has turned to be a reality. The whole region has been boiling specially over the last five years. Violence, death and terrorism have been rapidly growing everywhere: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, even in Tunisia. Tensions between Arabian Peninsula kingdoms and principalities and Iran,all of them oil producers, have been ramping.

Mercenary groups, under a more than doubtful religious flag have been gradually dominating the region and tragically though sporadically also some Western countries.

In short, the scenario could not be more “chaotic”. The new Middle East has been served.

The Doors of Hell Are All Open

Though Bolton’s vision should not be taken for “biblical,” things could well go in that direction.

For now, (Shii-ruled) Iraq has warned (Sunni) Turkey against deploying its troops in the DAESH-controlled Mosul area; Washington paves the ground for further military actions in conjunction with the axis Paris-London; (Sunni Wahhabi Saudi Arabia works intensively with (Sunni) Egypt for setting up a joint Army/military intervention force to fight terrorism, and (Shii) Iran warns that any attempt to remove Assad in (Alaui) Syria is a “red line”, etc.

One last question, for now: where would DAESH go once it has been militarily defeated? Libya would appear to be the next DAESH stronghold. After all, this country lacks stability, is full of weapons (up to 25 million arms) out of the government’s control, it is a big oil producer, and DAESH has an active operational branch there.

And, should this be the case, would DAESH further expand its deadly operations from Libya to neighbouring countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, in addition to some Africans countries in conjunction with Nigerian Boko-Haram?


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Paris Delivers Historic Climate Treaty, but Leaves Gender Untouched Sun, 13 Dec 2015 10:34:00 +0000 Stella Paul UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figures with the COP21 President Celebrate the Adoption of Paris Agreement. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figures with the COP21 President Celebrate the Adoption of Paris Agreement. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PARIS, Dec 13 2015 (IPS)

After 2 weeks of intense negotiations, on Saturday evening, the 21st UN climate conference (COP21) in Paris finally delivered a historic agreement that, for the first time, promises to keep the global warming under 2 degrees Celsius. The treaty, consisting 31 pages and signed by by 196 countries, include the big five steps of climate action:

Climate Change Mitigation (Article 2 and 4): The agreement includes a series of goals to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to accompany the current hard limit of 2 degrees. Following this treaty, countries will pursue the mitigation plans laid out in their domestic climate commitments, which will go into effect in 2020.

Long-Term Goal (Article 4): The overall aim specified in the agreement is to peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and undertake rapid reductions so as to achieve a balance between emissions by anthropogenic sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.

The specificity of this long term goal is such that, when coupled with the goal of limiting warming to 2 Celsius countries would be de facto required to completely decarbonize the global electric sector by 2050, according to the IPCC.

Adaptation (Article 7): Developed countries will provide financial and technological support to help developing countries adapt to impacts of climate change, building resilience and preventing further damage (also in COP Decision Section III, Paragraphs 42-47).

Loss and Damage (Article 8): The Paris Agreement includes a section directing countries to create a special process to address the losses and damage that stems from unavoidable climate impacts which overwhelm the limits of adaptation (e.g. sea level rise), as well as follow the procedures laid out in the Warsaw Mechanism. The COP Decision explicitly excludes liability or compensation for losses and damages (COP Decision Section III, Paragraph 52)

Finance (Article 9): The COP Decision text reiterates a global finance pledge with a floor of 100 billion dollars per year in climate financing from developed countries by 2020 (Section III, Paragraph 54), and expands the donor pool post-2020 to encourage other countries to voluntarily provide additional financial support (Article 9.2). Countries have agree to set a new global, collective climate finance goal for 2025 that increases upon the 100 billion dollar target for 2020 (COP Decision Section III, Paragraph 54.

Scientists at the COP approved the agreement. Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre called the agreement a “turning point” that would ensure a “1.5-2 Celsius safe operating space on Earth”.

“To have a good chance of staying below 2 degrees, we need to aim for 1.5 degrees anyway, and it is sensible to acknowledge that 2 degrees itself is hardly safe. So, all told, a great outcome,” said Miles Allen, scientist from the Oxford University.

Women’s leaders recognized the progress but said that there were still miles to go to make the fight against climate change truly gender inclusive.

Titi Gbemisola Akosa, Executive Director of the Centre for 21st Century Issues in Lagos, Nigeria said that under the agreement developed and industrialized countries are not held liable for global warming and will not pay any compensation to those who are the victims of climate change. This will drive women, especially those from the climate vulnerable regions of Africa into deeper poverty.” The provision of liability and compensation could have helped women mitigate some of the climate change affects, but now their future become more uncertain,” said Akosa.

Both Akosa and Cherry however agreed that the agreement gave a foothold for women leaders to demand greater equality. “It’s a work in progress. In next COP, we will have to keep pushing for greater inclusion of women in all process – in negotiation, and in the climate agreement text,” said Cherry.

Gender was earlier mentioned only in the preamble. This time, they have mentioned in the main text of the draft – in the Adaptation (of climate change) and in the “capacity building” sections. This is good. But we still need inclusion of gender in several key areas, especially in finance, said Flavia Cherry of St. Lucia who represents 17 Caribbean nations for CAFRA (Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action).

But for Indigenous groups, the agreement has been more of a disappointment than a hope.

“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatise, commodity and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south,” Said Alberto Saldamando, Human Rights expert from Alaska.

The next climate conference will be held in Morocco in 2016.


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Paris Delivers the Promised Climate Deal to Resounding Cheer and Applause Sun, 13 Dec 2015 10:20:00 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz 1 Climate Change and Women Across Three Continents Sat, 12 Dec 2015 09:05:02 +0000 Dizzanne Billy, Domoina Ratovozanany, and Sohara Mehroze By Dizzanne Billy, Domoina Ratovozanany, and Sohara Mehroze Shachi
PARIS, Dec 12 2015 (IPS)

The link between women in climate change is a cross-cutting issue that deserves greater recognition at climate negotiations. It is pervasive, touching everything; from health and agriculture to sanitation and education.

Women from developing countries witness the nexus between climate change and gender issues on a first-hand basis. They are oftentimes highly dependent on the land and water resources for survival and are left in insecure positions. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, but links to social justice, equity, and human rights, all of which have gender elements.

A female perspective is critical to the success of the 2015 Climate Conference (COP21), which strives to find a global agreement to tackle climate change. In order for it to be effective, it must integrate gender equality, particularly women’s empowerment and gender responsiveness to the vulnerability of rural women.

During the back-and-forth iterations of the climate agreement’s draft, of which several versions were published in the last two weeks, gender was treated as an accessory element that could be removed and bargained with, and all but a handful of parties ignored it. They are wrong.

Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa are three of the most climate vulnerable continents in the world and although they contribute the least to climate change, the women in their countries endure the brunt of its severe impact.

Millions of people in Asia are extremely vulnerable to climate change, especially women because of their traditional, gender-prescribed roles. In many rural areas the mobility of women is very limited, as women working outdoors is often frowned upon due to conservative social perceptions. So while men from climate change-affected areas often migrate to cities and less climate vulnerable regions in search of work, women are left to take care of the homes and children. This confinement to houses translates to economic dependence and lack of access to information such as early warning, which contributes to increasing women’s vulnerability.

Women in Asia usually have more climate sensitive tasks, such as fetching water and preparing food, which increases their vulnerability in the context of climate change. The UN Development Program (UNDP) field research has shown that fetching water involves women and girls commuting over long distances. With the increasing frequency and intensity of floods, women regularly have to navigate through waterlogged areas for fetching water and cooking, which exposes them to the risks of drowning, snakebites, and skin diseases.

Halfway around the globe, women face similar climate-related issues. Caribbean households are largely matriarchal and women find themselves at the frontline of the need for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Women have the prime responsibility of taking care of everyone in the home and are affected by food security and water scarcity. Rural women are particularly vulnerable, especially smallholder producers, marginalised farmers, and agricultural workers living in rural areas.

Whether the food or water shortages are due to the increased amount and intensity of hurricanes or drought, their chances of living decent lives are not high and aren’t getting better. Understanding this point of view is important for successful formulation and execution of climate adaptation strategies.

According to Mildred Crawford, President of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers,” Agriculture needs more visibility in the negotiations. Women are actors in the food chain and need finance to assist small farmers to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Women groups are already organised; so incentives can be given to them to control carbon from waste in their community.”

The Caribbean is in its worst drought in the past five years. According to Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland, and also former head of t UN’s High Commission on Human Rights, the climate draft needs to have a sharper gender focus in order to ensure that women have greater access to climate finance, renewable technologies and adaptation capacity. Indeed, climate campaigning should not be narrowed to emissions reductions, carbon trading and transfer of technology, but it should strive to go beyond.

Along with these, it should take note of the fact that most farmers in developing countries are women and therefore adaptation applies strongly to them. Gender applies across the board, it is not something to be used conveniently.
Women from developing countries need to be empowered to play major roles in the climate change fight as they stand to lose so much.

Kalyani Raj, member in charge of All India Women’s Conference, argues that it is crucial to give vulnerable women a voice and include them in policy planning.

“A lot of women have developed micro-level adaptation approaches, indigenous solutions and traditional knowledge that are not being replicated at the macro level,” she said. “So policies should be focused on upscaling these instead of proposing one-size-fits-all measures for climate change adaptation.”

In Africa, the climate change impact on gender issues is mainly linked to agriculture, food security and natural disasters. According to the 2011 Economic Brief of the African Development Bank (AFDB), out of Africa’s 53 countries, women represent 40 percent or more of the agricultural workforce in 46 of them. This sector is characterised as vulnerable because generally it does not comprise formal sector jobs with contracts and income security.

“The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women,” pointed out UNFPA in the 2009 State of World Population report. Furthermore, in a sample of 141 countries over the period 1981–2002, it was found that gender differences in deaths from natural disasters are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights. In inequitable societies, more women than men die from disaster.

As young women from these three vulnerable continents, we are calling for proper representation of women in the climate agreement. The cry of the rural woman is a reality that we must all face. However, we must recognise that women are not just victims, we are powerful agents for change. Therefore, women need to be included in the decision-making processes and allowed to contribute their unique expertise and knowledge to adapt to climate change, because any climate change intervention that excludes women’s perspective and any policy that is gender blind, is destined to fail.


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Honour Our Right to Exist, Say Pacific Island Leaders at COP21 Thu, 10 Dec 2015 23:16:52 +0000 Stella Paul 2 Opinion: Retirement Unlikely Option for Most People Wed, 09 Dec 2015 07:36:22 +0000 Joseph Chamie

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

By Joseph Chamie
Dec 9 2015 (IPS)

Pensionable retirement ages and government pension programs have been established for men and women in countries around the world. Nevertheless, retirement remains an unlikely option for most people.

Nearly half – 48 per cent – of all people above pensionable age do not receive a pension, according to the International Labour Organization. And for many who do, the pension levels are inadequate. Consequently, the majority of world’s elderly, especially women who more often work outside the formal labor force, lack income security, have to work as long as they can and in many instances are obliged to rely on family for support and assistance.

Old age pensionable retirement is a relatively recent social institution. Throughout most of the past workers by and large continued to work until death or major disability. They were obliged to continue working to due to the absence of pension systems, little accumulated personal savings and low life expectancies.

In 1889 Otto von Bismarck introduced the world’s first national pension program for workers, setting the pensionable age at 70, many years beyond the Germany’s life expectancy at birth. In 1935 the United States established its social security program with the normal pensionable age set at 65, or about three years beyond U.S. life expectancy at that time.

Today virtually all countries recognize in principle the right to income security in old age, including the right to an adequate social security pension. And nearly all governments have established pensionable retirement ages and pension programs that vary considerably by eligibility, scope, contributions, credits, coverage, benefits, taxes, bonuses, penalties, etc.

The current range of normal, pensionable retirement ages worldwide covers a span of 20 years, varying from a low of age 50 to a high of 70 years. Most of the retirement ages, however, are concentrated at 60 and 65, and also 55 for many women (Figure 1).

Source: U.S. Social Security Administration.

Source: U.S. Social Security Administration.

The lowest pensionable retirement ages of 50 and 55 are typically in developing countries with comparatively low life expectancies. In about twenty countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, retirement ages exceed life expectancies at birth.

Also in high mortality countries, such as Angola, Chad, and Nigeria, the chances of a 15-year old dying before reaching age 60 are about 1in 3. And in some extreme cases, such as Lesotho and Swaziland, more than half of 15-year olds are not expected to survive to age 60.

The highest pensionable retirement ages of 65 or older are in wealthy developed countries with high life expectancies at birth. In many instances, life expectancies at birth in developed countries are more than ten years greater than the retirement ages.

The chances of a 15-year old not reaching age 60 in the low-mortality countries, such as Italy, Japan and Sweden, are comparatively low, about 1 in 20. In addition, average life expectancy at age 65 among the more developed countries is 17 years for men and 21 years for women.

Due to their lower mortality rates, women typically live longer than men. However, in no country are pensionable retirement ages higher for women than for men. In about two-thirds of the countries or roughly half the world’s population, including Australia, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and United States, women and men have the same retirement ages.

In contrast, one-quarter of the countries, including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Poland, Russia and Saudi Arabia, have set women’s retirement age five years less than men’s. In the remaining countries, which include Bangladesh, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Turkey and United Kingdom, women’s retirement ages are one to four years less than men’s.

A possible explanation for lower pensionable retirement ages of women is to permit couples to retire at approximately the same time given that women are usually younger than their spouses. However, women’s lower retirement ages are not advantageous in terms of pension benefits, especially as many women have work histories interrupted by childbearing and family responsibilities and consequently accumulate fewer pension-contributing years than men.

In countries providing general social security pensions for their elderly, government budgets have remained largely in the black during past decades. This is primarily due to favorable population age structures, which provided many pension-contributing people in the working ages and relatively few elderly persons drawing benefits.

For instance, whereas developed countries in the mid-20th century had more than eight people in the working ages (15 to 64) for each elderly person (aged 65 and older), the current ratio is slightly less than four. By the year 2050 the ratio for the developed countries is projected to fall to two working age people per elderly person.

With the changing demographics, notably fewer workers per elderly person and increasing longevity, many governments are concerned that red ink budgets for the elderly are arriving in the near term. Avoiding the red ink threat to the sustainability of retirement systems poses major social, economic and political challenges, especially for many of the oldest countries, such as Greece, Italy, Japan and Spain.

A general aim of governments is to control the growing expenditures for the elderly. More than half of all countries and most developed countries have adopted changes during the past five years to increase the pensionable retirement age or reform pension systems, including reducing retiree benefits, increasing contribution levels and rates, encouraging work beyond normal retirement age, and linking retirement ages to life expectancies.

Continuing to increase retirement ages would certainly reduce governmental pension expenditures for the elderly. Among the OECD countries, for example, retirement ages have increased by several years, with 67 becoming the new 65 in many countries. Some countries are also considering moving towards a retirement age of 70, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom.

However, such increases in pensionable retirement ages are generally not sufficient in themselves to offset the effects of population ageing and increasing longevity. In order to maintain today’s ratios of workers to the elderly, retirement ages would need to be raised by more than just a few years, which would be very difficult politically.

An important consequence of recent pension reforms has been transferring more of the costs directly to the elderly. Unfortunately, most of the world’s elderly and near elderly do not have sufficient financial resources in savings, investments or private pension schemes that would permit them to retire adequately.

Over the past century noteworthy progress has been made globally in establishing pensionable retirement ages and tax-financed pension programs for the elderly. However, for most of world’s population these pension programs are either unavailable or insufficient to meet their needs in old age.

Consequently, except for the well off, men and women should expect to continue working well beyond normal pensionable retirement ages in order to have sufficient income for old age. Succinctly reflecting this retirement predicament facing people worldwide, one comedian aptly remarked, “I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need, if I die by 4 o’clock.”


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Climate Talks in Final Phase With No Resolution on Funding Mon, 07 Dec 2015 15:27:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the Paris climate talks move to its conclusion Friday, civil society groups are expressing serious concerns about the continued deadlock on a proposed package for funding amounting to about 100 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Celine Charveriat, director of Advocacy and Campaigns at Oxfam International said any step closer to the 100 billion mark is to be welcomed, but with the accounting being driven by donors and reflecting their choices on what and how to count, funds destined for the most vulnerable appear higher than they actually are.

Failure to place poor people front and centre risks making the adaptation gap even bigger, she added.

At this point of the Paris climate talks, Charveriat said, rich countries must at the very least respond to the recent proposal put forward by some African countries and commit to a substantial increase of adaptation support over the next five years.

“This will build trust and help the difficult negotiations on climate finance for after 2020. Climate finance, as part of the overall Paris deal, remains the ominous anomaly that can no longer be neglected if we are to get a strong agreement for poor people and the rest of the world.”

Climate funding remains in the slow lane, with little progress on how much will be available for the world’s poorest people to adapt to climate change once the Paris deal comes into force in 2020, according to Oxfam.

Prerna Bomzan, Policy Advocate for LDC Watch, representing the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), told IPS: it’s important to focus on the nature of finance which doesn’t get talked about at all and which is as important as actual figures.

“It’s imperative that climate finance be public finance and in the form of non-debt creating grants. It’s unacceptable that the least responsible LDCs should carry additional debt when they are already burdened with an unsustainable debt,” she added.

In a statement released Monday, Oxfam said announcements made ahead of the Paris talks were welcome, but they offer little comfort for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people who desperately need funding to adapt and protect themselves from climate change.

Despite living in the face of rising sea-levels, hunger and increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather, they have so far been left out in the cold.

Oxfam estimates that the new pledges would lead to only between 5.0 billion and 8.0 billion dollars in adaptation grants by 2020.

Martin Kaiser, International Climate Negotiations Head at Greenpeace said “at this point during climate talks in Copenhagen (in December 2009), we were dealing with a 300 page text and a pervasive sense of despair”.

“In Paris, we’re down to a slim 21 pages and the atmosphere remains constructive. But that doesn’t guarantee a decent deal. Right now the oil-producing nations and the fossil fuel industry will be plotting how to crash these talks when ministers arrive next week,” he added.

He said the enemies of a decent deal know they have one week to kill words in the text that commit the world to ‘full decarbonization’.

“They know that would set us on a path towards 100 percent renewables by the middle of the century. Those regressive forces will fight instead for words that call for a ‘low emission transformation’, knowing that such a watered down phrase will do almost nothing to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

There is a whole heap of work still to do here in Paris, but as things stand our report card reads: optimistic about the process, less so about the content, Kaiser added.

Meanwhile, in a report released last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there are number of solutions for mobilizing investments to accelerate action on climate change.

First, the study recommends that national governments adopt policies and incentives that encourage cities to invest in low-emission and climate-resilient infrastructure.

Second, it urges cities to adopt frameworks that put a price on carbon, such as cap-and-trade mechanisms or traffic congestion charges.

Third, it recommends strengthening banks and institutions that will support cities to develop climate-related projects.

Finally, the report calls for creating an innovation network for new financial instruments and funding models.

The writer can be contacted at

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Making the Case for Caribbean Fishers at Paris Climate Conference Sun, 06 Dec 2015 08:29:56 +0000 Desmond Brown 0 Antigua: Surrounded by Sea but Catchments are Empty Sat, 05 Dec 2015 07:25:04 +0000 Kenton X. Chance 0 Climate Showdown Starts in Paris Mon, 30 Nov 2015 23:28:29 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz 0