Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:20:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139976 More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. --Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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Former Military Man Declares Victory in Nigerian Pollshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:31:24 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139973 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Showing a “commendable determination to register their vote and choose their leaders,” Nigerians by the hundreds of thousands lined up at polling stations across the country to select the next president and National Assembly of their country, U.S. and British witnesses to the hotly-contested presidential polls observed.

In a joint statement by the British Foreign Secretary and the U.S. Secretary of State, the observer governments “welcomed the largely peaceful vote on March 28.”

Concerns over the possibilities of fraud were quietly swept away when the national election commission called the winner of the country’s presidential poll as Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Buhari edged out his rival by around two million votes. A phone call from the defeated president, Goodluck Jonathan, reached Buhari’s headquarters about five minutes before five with congratulations on the victory.

After 35 of the 36 states’ vote totals were tallied, Buhari appeared to have captured 14.9 million votes compared to Jonathan’s 12.8 million.

The massive balloting and collection was marred by missteps as the new voter cards failed, sensitive materials were snatched, election officials were held captive, and protestors were tear-gassed.

Thousands of ballots were rejected and some polling stations were closed without notice including in major cities such as Lagos.

Even before preliminary tallies were recorded, the opposition APC rejected the process in Rivers state and denounced the vote there as “a sham and a charade”.

A similar complaint came from Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who complained of soldiers harassing voters, shootings, ballot boxes mishandled, and the arrest of his senior special advisor. “This is the worst act of militarisation of democracy,” the governor said.

The new imported biometric machines “largely failed to read voter cards,” commented Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Even the president was affected as three machines failed to recognise the fingerprints of Goodluck Jonathan and his wife.

Unlike in previous years, social media captured many of the conflict images, which were quickly uploaded on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This moved one commentator, Daniel M. Bijimi, to call out on Twitter: “Everyone with an internet enabling phone is now a journalist in #NigeriaDecides and #Nigeria2015!”

Among the citizen photos were two from Rivers state where women are seen in clouds of teargas as they struggled to reach the office of INEC to demand suspension of the electoral commissioner who they claimed was rigging the election for the outgoing president.

In southern Akwa Ibom state, citizen journalists captured the governorship candidate from the opposition displaying sheets of ballots discarded allegedly by rogue staff of INEC and officials of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The number of rejected ballots around the country was disturbingly high. Nassarawa, in the nation’s center, registered 10,094 rejected ballots – enough to put either of the candidates way over the top.

In the final hours before victory was called, the major contenders – President Jonathan of PDP, seeking re-election, and Muhammadu Buhari of APC, an ex-military man seeking a return to power – were running neck and neck.

In addition to the PDP and APC, 13 other parties were vying for the nation’s top job in polls across 36 states and 68 million registered voters.

Among those commenting on the polls was Nigeria’s foremost man of letters, Wole Soyinka, who lamented: “This has been one of the most vicious, unprincipled, vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed…I just hope we won’t go down as being the incorrigible giant of Africa.”

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A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139953 Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014."Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent" – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Staffers Caught in Deadly Crossfire in Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:13:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139957 This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The deadly Syrian military conflict – now entering its fifth year – which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 mostly civilians, including women, children and aid workers, has not spared the United Nations either.

The world body has been mourning the loss of 17 of its staffers, with an additional 30 missing, probably held in detention either by the Syrian government or by rebel forces battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Unfortunately, we're no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.” -- Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)
The agency most affected is the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which has lost 14 of its staff, including five of them killed last year.

Asked if they were singled out because of their affiliation with the United Nations, Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson and director of advocacy and strategic communications, told IPS the staff killed in Syria died in many different ways “caught up in this pitiless conflict”.

“We have no evidence that they were singled out and killed because they work for the U.N. But their deaths illustrate the price UNRWA staff have paid for their dedication to the humanitarian cause.”

He said they were all local Palestinian staff, while the 18,000 civilians trapped in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are a mixture of Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Many Palestinian refugees have been killed or seriously wounded, including in incidents that affected UNRWA installations.

“But UNRWA is not in a position to verify figures on the total numbers of Palestinian refugees killed,” said Gunness, on the eve of the third international conference on humanitarian aid to Syria to be hosted by the government of Kuwait.

The ongoing civil war in Syria – and the spreading conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen – has made it increasingly difficult for U.N. staffers in humanitarian missions aimed at providing food, medicine and shelter to the ever-growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS, “Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.”

At the same time, he said, the U.N. has a policy of “stay and deliver” meaning that it is reluctant to pull out of conflict zones. This means it has a very real duty to protect its staff.

While security in the field is taken more seriously than before, the U.N. and its member states could do much more, Richards added.

“One example that we are keen to highlight is that the warring parties in Syria who kill or kidnap U.N. staff get their financing and support from sources located in U.N. member countries, yet this is rarely brought up.”

The treatment of local staff is also a worry, he said.

The U.N. argues that in contrast to international staff, local staff and their families were already located in the conflict zone.

However, by working for the U.N., local staff and their families are seen as a legitimate target, especially by some of the groups operating in Syria.

“Therefore the U.N. does need to do more for local staff and their families,” Richards noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a recent memorial ceremony to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia, he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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There’s No Such Thing as Equality in India’s Labour Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:04:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139948 Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

It calls itself the ‘world’s largest democracy’ but the 380 million working-aged women in India might disagree with that assessment.

Recent research shows that only 125 million women of a working age are currently employed, with the number of women in the workforce declining steadily since 2004.

"It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we [must] work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential." -- Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi
Experts say these figures should serve as a wake-up call for Asia’s third largest economy, adding that unless this nation of 1.2 billion people begins to provide equal opportunities for women, it will miss out on vital development and poverty-reduction goals.

According to a report released earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is amongst the lowest among emerging markets and peer countries.

India’s FLFP – the share of employed women or job seekers among the working-age female population — is 33 percent, almost half of the East Asian average of 63 percent and well below the global average of around 50 percent.

The IMF’s findings amplify what has been already been identified as a disconcerting trend in India lately – the absence of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

A debate is currently raging across the country about the skewed gender balance in Indian corporate boardrooms where women hold barely five percent of seats – lower than all the other countries that comprise the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

A progressive new law was passed in 2013 that requires all companies listed on the national stock exchange to have at least one female board member by August 2014. However, the deadline had to be extended to April 2015 as only a few companies came forward to appoint women to these top positions.

The lack of women workers in India is a “huge missed opportunity” for the country’s economic growth, lamented IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on a recent trip to this country of 1.2 billion people.

Gender diversity in the workplace isn’t just about political correctness; it is an economic imperative, economists say.

A study undertaken by the IMF in 2013 proves that India’s growth has been stunted by women’s exclusion from the workforce.

“Assuming the gender gap is halved by 2017 and cut to one-fourth of its 2008 value in 2027, India’s per capita income could be 10-13 percent higher than under the baseline scenario of unchanged gender inequality in 2020 and 2030, respectively,” the report stated.

Counting and accounting for women’s labour

Some say the primary explanation for the apparent ‘absence’ of working women is a dearth of national-level data on the informal sector. Since a majority of women perform mostly unpaid, domestic labour on a regular basis, their contribution to the economy does not ‘count’ when the country tallies up its records of the formal labour market.

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“A woman’s work in her own household is not counted as an economic activity, and does not get factored into the national income statistics,” explains Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi.

“This situation is even worse than the case of services by a paid domestic help, which is at least considered an economic activity and is counted in the country’s income.”

Rustagi tells IPS that this is unfortunate, as women’s domestic duties in India cover a range of responsibilities like cooking, caring for the elderly, and rearing children, all work that is crucial to the economy and all of Indian society.

In the villages, women additionally engage in the vital task of animal husbandry, which is also excluded from enumeration, elaborates Rustagi.

Cultural norms also scupper women’s entry into the formal workforce, say analysts.

“The entrenched Indian patriarchal culture idealises women in, and restrict them to, the roles of housewives and mothers. Notions of socio-ritual superiority of a group or family can be directly linked to higher restrictions on women including their physical mobility and work outside homes,” explains Bhim Reddy, associate editor of the Indian Journal of Human Development who has researched extensively on recruitment practices in labour markets.

Reddy adds that a higher school enrolment rate, especially for women between the ages of 14 and 21, has also contributed to an asymmetrical workforce.

“A large section of females in this age group that used to be part of the work force earlier is now in schools and colleges, and this is getting reflected in a drop in the female LFPR,” elaborates Reddy.

But research by Everstone Capital, an investment management company, shows that while the number of women enrolling in college has grown manifold, it has not translated into a proportionate increase of women graduates in the workforce.

At 22 percent, the rate of India’s female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding jobs.

Worse, participation of Indian women in the workforce plummeted from 33.7 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2012, according to United Nations statistics. In 2011-12, less than 20 percent of the total workers in non-agricultural sectors was women.

Surprisingly, female labour participation has been found to be particularly low even among urban, educated women — a demographic typically assumed to experience fewer social barriers.

According to government statistics, in 2009-10, the proportion of those attending to domestic duties (and therefore out of the formal labour force) was 57 percent among urban females with graduate degrees or higher, compared to just 31 percent among rural females with primary or middle school education.

Experts say the advent of mechanisation and incorporation of new technologies in agriculture and the construction industry have led to the ‘masculinisation’ (or preference for males for a certain job profile) of employment patterns.

Exploitation and harassment in the workplace have worsened the situation. India passed a new law against sexual harassment last year, under which organisations with more than 10 workers have to set up grievance committees to investigate all complaints.

However, according to a study by Jawaharlal Nehru University, less than 20 percent of employers in the capital, New Delhi, comply with the rules.

Household surveys show that a more welcoming environment would compel many stay-at-home women to take on regular work. At present, issues of transport, workplace safety and hostile attitudes result in many women opting out of full-time employment.

Apart from sensitisation campaigns, activists advocate greater investments in infrastructure, safe public transportation, better childcare facilities at work and tax breaks to lure Indian women into the workforce.

“It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we then work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential,” says Rustagi.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Crisis Resolution and International Debt Workout Mechanismshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139924

In this column, Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, looks at the role of international debt workout mechanisms in debt restructuring initiatives and argues, inter alia, that while the role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible, it cannot be placed at the centre of these debt workout mechanisms because its members represent both debtors and creditors.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Debt restructuring is a component of crisis management and resolution, and needs to be treated in the context of the current economic conjuncture and vulnerabilities.

International debt workout mechanisms are not just about debt reduction, but include interim arrangements to provide relief to debtors, including temporary hold on debt payments and financing.

They should address liquidity as well as solvency crises but the difference is not always clear. Most start as liquidity crises and can lead to insolvency if not resolved quickly.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

Liquidity crises also inflict serious social and economic damages as seen in the past two decades even when they do not entail sovereign defaults.

International mechanisms should apply to crises caused by external private debt as well as sovereign debt. Private external borrowing is often the reason for liquidity crises. Governments end up socialising private debt. They need mechanisms that facilitate resolution of crises caused by private borrowing.

Only one of the last eight major crises in emerging and developing economies was due to internationally-issued sovereign debt (Argentina). Mexican and Russian crises were due to locally-issued public debt; in Asia (Thailand, Korea and Indonesia) external debt was private; in Brazilian and Turkish crises too, private (bank) debt played a key role alongside some problems in the domestic public debt market.

We have had no major new crisis in the South with systemic implications for over a decade thanks to highly favourable global liquidity conditions and risk appetite, both before and after the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, due to policies in major advanced economies, notably the United States.

But this period, notably the past six years, has also seen considerable build-up of fragility and vulnerability to liquidity and solvency crises in many developing countries."There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure”

Sovereign international debt problems may emerge in the so-called ‘frontier economies’ usually dependent on official lending. Many of them have gone into bond markets in recent years, taking advantage of exceptional global liquidity conditions and risk appetite. There are several first-time Eurobond issuers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

In emerging economies, internationally-issued public debt as percentage of gross domestic product has declined significantly since the early 2000s. Much of the external debt of these economies is now under local law and in local currency.

However, there are numerous cases of build-up of private external debt in the foreign exchange markets issued under foreign law since 2008. Many of them may face contingent liabilities and are vulnerable to liquidity crises.

An external financial crisis often involves interruption of a country’s access to international financial markets, a sudden stop in capital inflows, exit of foreign investors from deposit, bond and equity markets and capital flight by residents. Reserves become depleted and currency and asset markets come under stress. Governments are often too late in recognising the gravity of the situation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending is typically designed to bail out creditors to keep debtors current on their obligations to creditors, and to avoid exchange restrictions and maintain the capital account open.

The IMF imposes austerity on the debtor, expecting that it would make debt payable and sustainable and bring back private creditors. It has little leverage on creditors.

There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure; and risks are created for the financial integrity of the IMF.

Many of these problems were recognised after the Asian crisis of the 1990s, giving rise to the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, originally designed very much along the lines advocated by the U.N. Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) throughout the 1980s and 1990s (though without due acknowledgement).

However, it was opposed by the United States and international financial markets and could not elicit strong support from debtor developing countries, notably in Latin America. It was first diluted and then abandoned.

The matter has come back to the attention of the international community with the Eurozone crisis and then with vulture-fund holdouts in Argentinian debt restructuring.

After pouring money into Argentina and Greece, whose debt turned out to be unpayable, the IMF has proposed a new framework to “limit the risk that Fund resources will simply be used to bail out private creditors” and to involve private creditors in crisis resolution. If debt sustainability looks uncertain, the IMF would require re-profiling (rollovers and maturity extension) before lending. This is left to negotiations between the debtor and the creditors.

However, there is no guarantee that this can bring a timely and orderly re-profiling. If no agreement is reached and the IMF does not lend without re-profiling, then it would effectively be telling the debtor to default. But it makes no proposal to protect the debtor against litigation and asset grab by creditors.

There is thus a need for statutory re-profiling involving temporary debt standstills and exchange controls. The decision should be taken by the country concerned and sanctioned by an internationally recognised independent body to impose stay on litigation.

Sanctioning standstills should automatically grant seniority to new loans, to be used for current account financing, not to pay creditors or finance capital outflows.

If financial meltdown is prevented through standstills and exchange controls, stay is imposed on litigation, adequate financing is provided and contractual provisions are improved, the likelihood of reaching a negotiated debt workout would be very high.

The role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible. However, the IMF cannot be placed at the centre of international debt workout mechanisms. Even after a fundamental reform, the IMF board cannot act as a sanctioning body and arbitrator because of conflict of interest; its members represent debtors and creditors.

The United Nations successfully played an important role in crisis resolution in several instances in the past.

The Compensatory Financing Facility – introduced in the early 1960s to enable developing countries facing liquidity problems due to temporary shortfalls in primary export earnings to draw on the Fund beyond their normal drawing rights at concessional terms – resulted from a U.N. initiative.

A recent example concerns Iraq’s debt. After the occupation of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement stay on the enforcement of creditor rights to use litigation to collect unpaid sovereign debt.

This was engineered by the very same country, the United States, which now denies a role to the United Nations in debt and finance on the grounds that it lacks competence on such matters, which mainly belong to the IMF and the World Bank.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This article is partly based on South Centre Research Paper 60 by Yilmaz Akyüz titled Internationalisation of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies.

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Singapore Arts Fest Pushes Boundaries Beyond Traditionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:27:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139929 A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 29 2015 (IPS)

As Singapore mourns the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the late former prime minister’s vision of a dynamic and vibrant state is being reflected in a major arts festival in France.

‘Singapour en France – le festival’ was launched Mar. 26 in Paris, against the backdrop of a massive out-pouring of grief in Lee’s homeland, following his death three days earlier.

“As Singaporeans grieve and reflect on our loss, we continue to honour Mr. Lee’s vision of establishing Singapore on the international stage,” said Rosa Daniel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, who delivered a speech on behalf of her chief Lawrence Wong at the opening of the festival.“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic. Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra ... And we have resident writers and artists” – Lee Kuan Yew, late former Prime Minister of Singapore

The event, which will run until Jun. 30, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Asian city state’s independence, as well as 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and France. It aims to showcase the art, culture and heritage of Singapore through more than 70 activities in cities throughout France.

“We’re a young nation … but we’re bold, modern and willing to experiment,” said Daniel, adding that the festival would also highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries.”

Lee himself recognised that Singapore had made its “share of mistakes” in the cultural heritage area by destroying buildings in its rush to modernise, but in his later political years he emphasised the importance of safeguarding this heritage and of having a “top-class” arts and entertainment sector.

“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic,” he said in 2010. “Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra … And we have resident writers and artists.”

Some of those artists travelled to France for the opening of the festival and gave a view of the changing art scene in Singapore, pushing the boundaries in a region noted for traditional values and not particularly famous for freedom of expression.

In ‘Secret Archipelago’ at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo modern art museum, visitors can view a range of experimental and contemporary work, created by Singaporeans and artists from other Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

“Their works represent a bridging of the gap between past and future and the creative tension between memory and tradition on the one hand and contemporary Western influences on the other, while bringing their own particular languages to modern art,” say the curators.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France – le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

AnGie seah, an artist who includes performance in her work, embodies these concerns – literally – in her presentation titled ‘Howl of the Hallows’ in the Palais de Tokyo’s huge basement gallery.

Here visitors can listen to the screams of various people through a headphone while watching seah (who prefers her name to be lower-cased) perform the screams on video.

“I think the human voice is powerful and I like to use it in my art,” said the artist, who has travelled around France asking people to scream for her, and taping the results.

Her installation included “mini shrines” with pottery or terra cotta representations of body parts such as a hand, with the middle finger sticking up. The shrines give the installation a traditional yet avant-garde feel, inviting visitors to question the symbolism.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself,” seah told IPS.

Not far from her exposition, Vietnamese artists and twin brothers Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai, who go by the name of Le Brothers, showed a long rectangle of video screens with military-clad characters in a variety of activities. They told IPS that their work is a call for peace through the depiction of war and soldiers in their self-performed films.

Describing their art further, Singaporean curator Khairuddin Hori said it dissects and questions post-war consciousness of North and South Vietnam, as the brothers “exploit their twin identity as mirror and metaphor.”

Other artists incorporated everyday items such as plates and household figurines to question identity while also re-affirming their history and culture. An artist from Malaysia said he had listened to senior citizens and used their stories to create his installation, which covered a large part of one wall.

Alongside the ‘Secret Archipelago’ exhibition, the opening of the festival included a five hour-long multi-media performance titled ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’, with sound, dance, film, fashion and photography.

Specially commissioned for the festival, this ultra-modern work by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen features huge video screens, music technicians and live performances in a kind of visual and acoustic cacophony that still transmits harmony.

“Real-life border crossers who have never acted before are invited to be performers in this piece,” said the creator. “Sharing their everyday stories as incredible adventures, they inhabit the installation as singing, dancing and re-performing pioneer travellers.”

The “show” is described as an artwork that “envisions communications in a not-so-distant future megapolis.”

The visitor cannot help thinking that it captures something essential about Singapore, with its multi-ethnic population, its vibrant history as a trading post and its sometimes controversial efforts to build a cohesive, economically strong nation. The show also seems to evoke the late Lee’s vision of his homeland.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The U.N. at 70: U.N. Reform Must Benefit All Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 Jayantha Dhanapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139927

This is the first in a series of articles on the U.N. turning 70 this year. Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.N. Office in Geneva 1984-87; Director of UNIDIR,1987-92; and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs 1998-2003.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

U.N. anniversaries are occasions for stocktaking – not all of it positive. But there is a lot of good that the U.N. has done and is doing and there are many good, dedicated people working silently but effectively within the U.N. system where I have also worked for a part of my long diplomatic career.

It is however, sadly, not always the moral compass of humankind such as when raisons d’etat dictate the U.N. Security Council resolutions to maintain international peace and security and vetoes frustrate the search for a wise consensus.

Credit: cc by 2.0

Credit: cc by 2.0

The Intellectual History Project of the U.N. led by Sir Richard Jolly and others has documented the ideas launched by the U.N. system in the area of economic and social development alone.

It is a glimpse of the remarkable vision and creativity of the founders of the U.N., which must remain to inspire us and guide us. It shows how the U.N. in its economic and social development work – especially through its specialised agencies – has often been significantly ahead of governments, academia and other international institutions that later adopted its ideas. The capacity to generate these ideas must continue.

As the U.N. Intellectual History Project stated in 2001 “Ideas matter. People matter”- and ideas that benefit the peoples of the United Nations matter the most. The U.N. is uniquely situated to be a vanguard of global public opinion.

Transcending individual state-centred approaches, the U.N. can take a synoptic view of issues highlighting a multilateral perspective with global interdependencies clearly delineated. And because these synoptic views are based on consensus, broader public acceptance is made easier.Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Over the seven decades of the U.N.’s existence we have seen many successes although major challenges remain. The achievement of the decolonisation of scores of Asian and African countries; the focus on human rights and its mainstreaming in international relations; the emphasis on environment and sustainable development; on gender issues and the shaping of a co-ordinated response to globalisation, to terrorism, climate change and other global challenges like HIV/AIDS are some of them.

At the same time the U.N. has been engaged in the prevention of conflict and, where conflict has broken out, in peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace building and disarmament.

This is truly a collective achievement. But it also derives from a value base of the organisation. Legitimacy and universality are the two pillars of the U.N. Beginning with the Charter which sets out the purposes and principles of the U.N. in Chapter 1 there has also been an ethical foundation built over the years.

The Millennium Declaration adopted in September 2000 identified the shared values of the U.N. community as Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Tolerance, Respect for Nature and Shared Responsibility.

No change can affect these values, which represent powerful forces motivating humankind through history. They provide what might be called the collective legitimation of the U.N. helping the global body to build a normative structure.

They have been the accelerators of human progress and the benchmarks for assessing the performance of the U.N. The U.N. is not merely a platform or a forum. It is a depository of values and ideals and an incubator of ideas. It has to generate new thinking constantly and for this an effective Secretariat is essential.

There has also been a consensus established that the core areas of the U.N.’s work are in peace and security, human rights and development and that all three of these areas are interconnected and interlaced so that you cannot have one without the other. The budget of the U.N. must reflect this for the U.N.’s institutions to function effectively.

There is another guiding principle that must remain with us as we change the U.N. to make it a more effective vehicle of multilateral action. I am deeply convinced that the architects of the U.N. wisely built into the organisation an indispensable equilibrium amongst the principal organs of this world body benefiting from the experience of the League of Nations.

Thus while the General Assembly functions as the Parliament of Nations based on the democratic principle of the sovereign equality of nations (Article 2:1) making recommendations on a wide range of issues and approving the budget, it is the Security Council that acts on behalf of the U.N. members in its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security using the powers vested in it under Chapter VI – Pacific Settlement of Disputes – and Chapter VII – Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression.

Amidst the unfulfilled demands for the reform of the Security Council, and especially its enlargement, tensions appear to have grown between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The current debate on U.N. reform has been seriously complicated by deep-seated concerns that, under the guise of reform, attempts are being made to change the equilibrium that is inherent in the Charter. The need for change is recognised.

That however should not be an occasion for a struggle for power over the organisation by one group of countries over the other. Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Another important principle that has to be observed in implementing change is the need for equity as far as the member states are concerned. Changing the U.N. is not the object of one country or group of countries. It is the collective wish of the entire membership and consensus documents vouch for this.

Change must therefore benefit all countries. It is for the purpose of making the U.N. deliver public goods in a more efficient and effective manner. If changes are perceived as being asymmetrical in the benefits they will confer on the member states they will be controversial, as indeed some of them have been.

Often the problem is in the perception and that arises from the atmosphere of mistrust that prevails among the groups notably between the developing and developed countries.

Urgent confidence-building measures are necessary and they can be designed and led by a group of middle ground countries that enjoy the trust of all member states.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Activists Protest Denial of Condoms to Africa’s High-Risk Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139919 Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

Tatenda Chivata, a 16-year old from Zimbabwe’s Mutoko rural district, was suspended from school for an entire three-month academic term after he was found with a used condom stashed in his schoolbag.

Regerai Chigodora, a 34-year-old prisoner at a jail in Harare, had his 36-year sentence stretched to 45 years after he was caught with used condoms in prison early this year.

With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered,

“It will be hard for Africa to win the war against HIV/AIDS if certain groups of people like students and prisoners are being skipped from preventive measures,” Tamasha Nyerere, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor based in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, told IPS.

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe say more cases of youths like Chivata and prisoners like Chigodora may be going unreported in countries where condom use in jails and schools is anathema.With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered.

“It’s indeed disturbing how hard we have worked as Africa to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS yet we have not been so pragmatic in our bid to institute preventive measures in schools and jails, where most of our African governments have vehemently refused to allow condoms to be distributed with the common excuse that they promote homosexuality in jails and sexual immorality in schools,” Elvis Chuma, a gay activist in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, told IPS.

Zimbabwean prisoner Chigodora agreed, telling IPS that “whether or not authorities here like it, homosexuality is rife in jails and even if we may smuggle in condoms to use secretly, if you get caught like in my case, you will be in for serious trouble.”

Schoolchildren in Africa like Zimbabwe’s Chivata have to contend with secret use of condoms in school. Their only crime is that they are underage, said Chivata.

“I’m serving a suspension from school because I was caught with a condom I used during sex with my girlfriend, but the same teachers teach us about use of protection if we get tempted to engage in sex. Now I’m wondering if I was wrong using a condom. Perhaps I could have gone undetected if I had opted to have unprotected sex,” he told IPS.

Under Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, any Zimbabwean under the age of 18 years is a minor, while a person between the age of 16 years and 18 years is defined as a young person under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

Sodomy is also a punishable offence in Zimbabwe, which rights activists say, makes it difficult for this Southern African nation and other African nations to distribute condoms in prisons.

“African countries like Zimbabwe are being cornered by their own laws which bar them from dishing out condoms to prisoners and school children,” Tonderai Zivhu, chairperson of the Open Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a lobby group in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, told IPS.

South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails.

In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, giving children 12 years and older the right to obtain contraceptives. The country’s Department of Correctional Services also provides condoms to inmates.

In Namibia, the country’s policy on HIV/AIDS states that all convicted prisoners awaiting trial and inmates are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing, means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

Other African countries, however, seem unclear about their position on condoms use in jails and schools.

Last year, the government of Rwanda confirmed the prevalence of homosexuality in prisons, but was non-committal on whether or not it would start distributing condoms in its correctional facilities.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told parliament that parents were free to pack condoms for their children in their schoolbags, but that the government would not allow them to be openly distributed at schools.

“We must say children are in school to learn and be initiated for certain life skills, and when it comes to condoms, you are the guardian of your child and you must have an intimate connection with your child so that when you pack their school luggage and prepare their books you can also pack condoms,” Dokora had said.

This laissez-faire approach has incensed certain African indigenous pro-culture activists who have been vocal in their calls against condom distribution in prisons and schools.

“Distributing condoms in prisons and in schools will render African governments accomplices to the commission of the crime of sodomy and sexual immorality among school-going children, which is against our cultural values and norms as Africans,” Bupe Mwansa, head of the Culture and Traditions Conservation Association in Zambia, an indigenous pro-culture lobby group, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 3.2 million children lived with HIV at the end of 2013, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 145,000 HIV-positive children from Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) states that Zimbabwe has a total of 18,000 prisoners, with 28 percent of these living with HIV and AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 41.4 percent of that country’s 166,267 prisoners are also living with HIV/AIDS, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health there, despite the country being the only African nation that does not outlaw homosexuality.

Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them.

“School children engage in premarital and often unprotected sex, yes we know, and prisoners also have unprotected anal sex, but presently there is nothing we can do as government to address these challenges because our laws do not allow underage children to engage in sex while homosexual, now rife in our jails, is also unlawful,” a top Zimbabwean government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told PS.

But for human rights doctors like Nomalanga Zwane in Johannesburg, fighting HIV/AIDS in schools and jails requires drastic measures.

“If school kids are left on their own with the belief that they are not engaging in sex because they are barred by being underage, we are fighting a losing battle against HIV/AIDS because the same school pupils will spread the disease even outside school while prison inmates with no access to condoms will also one day come out of jail and further spread the disease,” Zwane told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s ex-convicts like 37-year-old Jimson Gwatidzo, now an ardent campaigner for the distribution of condoms in jails after he contracted HIV in jail, sees no credible reason why some African governments forbid condoms in prisons “in the face of rampant rape-induced HIV/AIDS infections behind prison walls.”

“It is time for governments across Africa to scrap anti-sodomy laws to allow for the distribution of condoms in prisons and be able to fight HIV/AIDS spread in jails without legal barriers,” Gwatidzo told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Dr. Randy Rydell, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” Dr. Rydell said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Rydell, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Impunity Fuels Abuse in Immigrant Detention Centres in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:50:43 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139911 Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

“They mistreat you, they don’t respect you. I’ve seen beatings, suffering, and you can’t defend yourself. When you’re locked in there it’s as if you were in another world,” Salif Sy, a Senegalese man who in 2011 spent eight days in an immigrant detention centre (CIE) in Madrid, told IPS.

Behind the walls of Spain’s eight CIEs, immigrants are frequent victims of abuse and mistreatment by the national police, who are in charge of guarding them, national and international human rights organisations warn.

They also complain about hurdles thrown in the way of investigations of reports of abuse, and about the prevailing impunity.

In the southern city of Málaga, five police officers are on trial for alleged sexual abuse of women held in the local CIE, in 2006. The centre operated in an old military garrison and was shut down when the dilapidated building was condemned in June 2012. A hearing of the trial was held Mar. 5.“Those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.” -- Carlos Villán

“The police would hold parties, where they would take advantage of the inmates sexually. It’s disgusting,” Jaime Ernesto Rodríguez, the attorney for three women who are protected witnesses in the case, told IPS. The accused face possible sentences of 27 years. The verdict is expected in April.

“Two of the agents had access to the lists of women who were coming in and they would choose,” said the lawyer for the three women, from Brazil, Honduras and Venezuela, who were deported to their home countries in 2006, despite the opposition put up by their attorney and several organisations.

Spain’s immigration law states that the CIEs are “public establishments of a non-penitentiary nature…for the detention and custody of foreigners subject to deportation orders.” It stipulates that no one can be held for more than 60 days.

But non-governmental organisations say the CIEs are “prisons in disguise,” where human rights violations are rampant.

Their demand that the centres be shut down was bolstered by the position taken by the new government of Greece.

The deputy interior minister of Greece, Yannis Panousis, announced Feb. 14 that the five immigrant detention centres in his country would gradually be closed, after a 28-year-old Pakistani citizen committed suicide in one of the centres the day before.

The latest accusation in Spain was filed on Feb. 3 for the alleged torture of Mohamed Rezine Zohuir of Algeria and Ben Yunes Sabbar of Morocco, who were detained in January in the CIE of the southeastern city of Valencia, lawyer Andrés García Berrio of the legal team of the campaign Tanquem Els Cies (Close the CIEs, in the Valencian language), told IPS.

He said the case is under investigation and that there are photos documenting injuries on the two men’s heads and faces, which the CIE authorities claim were self-inflicted.

In 2014, immigrants held in the CIE filed 40 formal complaints of abuse by police.

“Any complaint of mistreatment should be promptly, exhaustively and impartially investigated,” Amnesty International Spain’s head of domestic policy, Virginia Álvarez, told IPS. “We are concerned about the lack of adequate oversight and accountability mechanisms.”

In November 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked the Spanish government for explanations in the cases of alleged mistreatment in the CIEs and excessive use of force by the immigration authorities.

Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, denied in a Feb. 22 interview that there were cases of torture in the CIEs.

“How could torture happen in the CIEs?” he said. “I would bet my life on the fact that no torture is being committed. And if anyone did commit such a barbaric act, they would be committing a crime. False reports have been made.”

But according to García Berrio, “there is no willingness on the part of the Interior Ministry to resolve this situation.” He also complained about “hurdles being set in the way of the investigations,” citing as examples two cases in which security camera footage that served as evidence “went missing due to supposed technical problems.”

In the CIEs there have been “aberrations,” said Rodríguez, the lawyer. He mentioned the case of the Brazilian immigrant, who is one of the protected witnesses in the trial against the police officers in the Málaga CIE. When she was taken to the centre, she had a high-risk pregnancy, and suffered a miscarriage while awaiting deportation.

Rodríguez filed a complaint against the police for omission of duty to aid a person in distress, which was thrown out.

“Impunity surrounds abuses by police in the CIEs,” the president of the non-governmental Spanish Association for the Human Right to Peace, Carlos Villán, told IPS. He said the agents “have not received adequate training, and they are not warned that torture and mistreatment are prohibited by both Spanish and international law.”

People held in the CIEs have died due to “inadequate detention conditions and lack of medical care,” said Villán, who did not mention a precise number.

“There have been suicides, rapes,” activist Luís Pernía, president of the Platform of Solidarity with the Immigrants of Málaga, an umbrella group made up of some 20 organisations, told IPS. “Many people have suffered all kinds of abuse in Málaga’s CIE for decades, and there is a legal vacuum.”

On Mar. 14, 2014, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved the regulations for the operation of the CIEs. Until then the inmates were in a legal vacuum without specific regulations such as those used to guarantee the basic rights of inmates in prisons.

But Villán believes that despite the regulations, “those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.”

“There is racism and a lot of suffering in the CIE,” said Salif Sy, who reached Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, from Senegal, in a boat in 2006.

A few weeks before he was detained in 2011, Sy, who was heavily involved in different associations where he was living in the southeast Spanish city of Albacete, played King Balthazar in the city’s traditional Three Wise Men parade. Pressure from different organisations and his many friends blocked his deportation.

“We are all immigrants, we are all equals, I have to keep fighting for the people who will come after me,” said Sy, who is married to the Spanish woman who was his girlfriend when he was picked up by the authorities in their home in 2011.

Of the 49,406 foreign nationals detained in 2013 for breaking Spain’s immigration law, 9,002 were held in the CIEs and 4,726 were finally deported, according to the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture report published by the ombudsperson’s office in 2014.

Amnesty International’s Álvarez said people are detained in the CIEs “in the full knowledge that they cannot be deported if there is no repatriation agreement with their countries, along with people who are sick, possible victims of people trafficking, or potential asylum seekers; their human rights are being violated.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Israel Using Live Ammunition for Palestinian Crowd Controlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/israel-using-live-ammunition-for-palestinian-crowd-control/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:24:39 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139906 Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli sniper using live ammunition – Ruger rifle with 0.22 mm calibre bullets – against Palestinian stone throwers. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A Palestinian youth lost his fight for life this week after lying critically injured in Ramallah Hospital for days after Israeli soldiers used live ammunition as a method of crowd control against stone-throwing Palestinians near a Palestinian refugee camp.

“Ali Safi had critical injuries to his kidneys, spinal cord, lungs and spleen,” Dr Sami Naghli, who runs Jelazon refugee camp’s medical relief services, told IPS.

Seventeen-year-old Safi was shot last week by an Israeli sniper armed with a Ruger rifle during clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers.

The bullet which hit him was a 0.22 inch calibre bullet, which is considered less lethal than ordinary bullets of 5.56 mm calibre.“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately” – orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat

There has been a recent increase in the use of this kind of bullet against Palestinian demonstrators by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) despite disagreement within the Israeli military about the use of this controversial weapon for riot control when the lives of Israeli soldiers are not endangered.

The head of Israel’s security department in the Operations Directorate stated in 2001 that the Ruger could not be considered a non-lethal weapon and could only be used in circumstances which justified the use of live fire.

Due to the large number of Palestinians injured and killed by 0.22 bullets, the use of this ammunition was suspended during the second Intifada, or uprising, from 2001 to 2008.

However, they are once again being used by the Israelis and the number of Palestinians seriously injured by them is growing, with at least two deaths in the last several months.

“Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch calibre bullets. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes,” reported Israeli rights group B’tselem in January.

“Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets,” said B’tselem.

The humanitarian organisation has also said it witnessed cases of Israeli soldiers provoking clashes in order to fire live ammunition at protesters.

The reintroduction of this controversial weapon prompted B’tselem to complain to Israel’s Military Attorney General (MAG), who responded confirming that “the Ruger and similar means are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances.”

Dr Naghli told IPS that the Israeli soldiers are also using a kind of bullet which fragments on impact, causing severe trauma and damage to bones, organs and nerves, although he could not confirm if this was a 0.22 or another type.

“During the last three months there have been over 40 wounded from these types of gunshots,” said Naghli.

Over the last few weeks, IPS has witnessed Israeli snipers firing repeatedly at Palestinians during several clashes in the West Bank when stones thrown landed at a distance away from the soldiers presenting no danger.

IPS also visited some of the wounded in Ramallah Hospital and spoke to orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ahmed Barakat who was treating them.

“Many of the wounded have been shot at close range and it appears as if the soldiers are shooting to kill. In my five years as a surgeon, the situation has been getting progressively worse, especially lately,” Dr Barakat told IPS.

In a related development, the IDF has also temporarily suspended the use of attack dogs when arresting Palestinians, most accused of stone-throwing.

This follows a video, which went viral and caused an outcry, of 16-year-old Hamzeh Abu Hashem, 16, of Beit Ummar near Hebron in the southern West Bank, being savaged by two dogs as soldiers arrest him.

A subsequent IDF investigation found that while the use of dogs in confrontations “could be justified, in the case in question, the youth could have been arrested using other means.” Abu Hashem has been incarcerated since the incident.

Meanwhile, torture of Palestinians in detention by Israeli security services has been on the rise since the second half of 2014, according to the Public Committee Against Torture (PCAT) in Israel, an attorney representing Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz daily.

“In years past there were a few rare cases of torture. But something has changed,” the attorney told Haaretz.

In all of 2014, 23 Palestinians filed a number of complaints of torture by the Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic intelligence agency).

Until 1999, thousands of Palestinian prisoners were tortured every year. PCAT estimates that most Palestinians questioned had experienced at least one kind of torture.

In September 1999, following a petition to the High Court of Justice, the court prohibited the systematic use of torture, but left a small opening for interrogators

This opening applied to cases known as “ticking time bombs” where the use of force is permitted to obtain crucial information.

However, critics have pointed out that what constitutes a “ticking time bomb” is open to interpretation as well as the fact that Palestinian prisoners who have been tortured have sometimes given false information just to stop the torture.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Turkey Investing in Coal Despite Cheaper Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:09:02 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139900 By Sean Buchanan
GENEVA, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In response to rising demand for electricity, pressure to keep prices affordable and a need to maintain energy security, the Turkish government plans to increase electricity generation from coal.

According to a report on ‘Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey’ released on Mar. 24,

Turkey already spent more than 730 million dollars in subsidies to the coal industry in 2013.

This figure, says the report, does not even count subsidies under the Turkish government’s ‘New Investment Incentive Scheme’, which provides tax breaks and low-cost loans to coal projects, so the true figure is likely to be even higher.

The report, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), says that the Turkish government is planning to triple generation from coal by 2030 despite the fact that renewable energy is already cheaper than coal when external costs, such as health and environmental damage caused by burning coal, are taken into account.

According to the report, the country has developed a strategy “focusing on developing domestic coal resources, such that growth in coal-fired power generation is expected to be highest of all Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.”

Nevertheless, this strategy “also acknowledges the importance of environmental protection and emissions reduction, and foresees a much larger role for renewable energy in the energy future.”

The report comes at a time when public and private institutions are under mounting pressure to stop investing in coal mining companies.

“Subsidies for coal lock in coal power for another generation when renewable sources of energy are less costly for society in economic, social and environmental terms,” said Sevil Acar, Assistant Professor at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University and one of the report’s authors.

The report says that when the costs of coal are compared with the costs of wind and solar energy, taking into account environmental and health costs, electricity from wind power is half the cost of electricity from coal, and solar power is also marginally cheaper than coal.

“This study provides further evidence to support the case for eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies once and for all,” said Peter Wooders, director of IISD’s Energy Programme. “As a G20 country that has already committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies, this is a call to action for Turkey.”

According to the report, just over half of Turkey’s subsidies are used to provide coal to low-income households and while these serve the important goal of improving energy access, they come at a high health cost and are no replacement for social security programmes.

The report recommends a gradual phase-out of these subsidies in favour of more efficient measures to support access to energy and support social welfare.

Meanwhile, notes the report, coal also remains a significant employer in many areas, and any moves away from coal use would need detailed planning to ensure that affected communities can benefit from compensation measures and additional job creation from new technologies.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Decent Employment Opportunities for Young People in Rural Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/decent-employment-opportunities-for-young-people-in-rural-africa/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:46:18 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139897 Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

Subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young Africans. Photo credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

Over half of the African continent’s population is below the age of 25 and approximately 11 million young Africans are expected to enter the labour market every year for the next decade, say experts. 

Despite strong economic growth in many African countries, wage employment is limited and agriculture and agri-business continue to provide income and employment for over 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population.

However, laborious, subsistence-oriented small-scale agriculture is often not the preferred choice of work for many young people.

In an effort to reap this demographic dividend and attract young people into the agri-food sector, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have launched a four-year project to create decent employment opportunities for young women and men in rural areas.

The four million dollar project, funded by the African Solidarity Trust Fund, aims to develop rural enterprises in sustainable agriculture and agri-business along strategic value chains.

Speaking at the project signing ceremony on Mar. 25, NEPAD’s chief executive officer, Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, said: “The collaboration between NEPAD and FAO will go a long way in ensuring that the youth, Africa’s future, are not forgotten.

“It is by creating an economic environment that stimulates initiatives – particularly by conducting transparent and foreseeable policies – and at the same time by regulating the market in order to deal with market failures that we will attain results and impact through the new thrust given to our farmers, entrepreneurs and youth.”

The project – which is expected to see over 100, 000 young men and women benefit in rural Benin, Cameroon, Malawi and Niger – is anchored in the Rural Futures Programme of NEPAD, which is centred on rural transformation in which equity and inclusiveness allow rural men and women to develop their potential.

FAO Assistant Director General for Africa Bukar Tijani said that the project “marks an important milestone in moving forward and upward in terms of empowering youth in these four countries – especially women, as 2015 is the African Union’s Year of Women’s Empowerment.”

The project is seen as part of a drive to stimulate the agriculture and agri-business sectors into becoming more modern, profitable and efficient, and capable of providing decent employment opportunities for Africa’s young labour force.

In 2012, the African Union Commission, NEPAD Agency, the Lula Institute and FAO formed a partnership aimed at ending hunger on the continent. A year later, the four partners organised a high-level meeting of ministers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leading to a declaration to end hunger and a road map for implementation.

This declaration was subsequently endorsed at the 2014 African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and incorporated into the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods as the “Commitment to Ending Hunger in Africa by 2025”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Kenya Struggles with Rising Alcoholismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/kenya-struggles-with-rising-alcoholism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-struggles-with-rising-alcoholism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/kenya-struggles-with-rising-alcoholism/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:39:49 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139894 A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A crowd gathers to watch an intoxicated youth as a police officer comes to his rescue in Nyeri town, Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

Despite legislative attempts to curb drinking, Kenya is still facing its greatest threat from alcohol abuse. Calamities associated with excessive intoxication – dementia, seizures, liver disease and early death – have done little to deter users.

Not even confirmed reports by the Ministry of Health and government agencies such as the National Authority for Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) that illicit brewers have been turning to lethal embalming fluid used in mortuaries have cut the rate of abuse.

“Patrons want to spend as little as possible but drink as much as they can, so they opt for cheap illicit brews, especially spirits,” says Nduta Kamau, who brews home-made alcohol in the sprawling Mathare slums in Nairobi.The [Kenyan] Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

According to Kamau, those who brew illicit alcohol also spend as little as possible “in time and money but produce as much alcohol as they can”, while chemicals used in the mortuary speed up the production process, “so we are able to produce a lot of alcohol in a very short time.”

Kamau adds that illicit brews from dens in the slums are bottled, labelled and sold in pubs across the country. A series of police raids in these dens have found women’s underwear and dead rats in the brew.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act of 2010 restricts the sale of alcohol to between 5 pm and 11 pm, but drinkers are finding their way around the curfew.

Data collected by Euromonitor International, a market research firm, revealed that alcohol bought in shops or off trade beer sale during the curfew in December 2012 rose by 4.35 percent to 26.4 million litres.

“They [patrons] lock themselves up in pubs and drink during curfews or they buy the alcohol and drink in their homes exposing their children to alcohol from a very young age,” says Dave Kinyanjui, a bar owner in Nairobi’s downtown area.

The Alcoholic Drinks Control Act was substantially weakened in 2013 with the introduction of “devolved government”. This system of ‘home rule’ means that each county government must ratify the act – an uphill battle because some county leaders are also the owners of bars.

Increased drinking has meant higher profits for commercial brewers. A report last month by the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) noted an average 11 percent increase in profit from beer sales.

According to EABL, the highest growth in sales – at 67 percent – was in spirits, mainly targeting the lower income earners, who are also the target for the many brands from informal sources.

Another report released by Euromonitor International confirmed the steady growth in alcohol consumption, which could rise as the economy improves further, saying that “the alcoholic drinks market is set to expand over the forecast period as the economy is expected to grow tremendously during this time due to bright prospects of oil in Kenya and political stability.”

With the availability of non-returnable bottles and cans, it has never been easier to carry alcohol to the house.

A 2012 national survey by NACADA showed that alcohol is now the most abused substance in the country and of the different types of alcoholic drink, traditional liquor is the most easily accessible, followed by wines and spirits and last but not least Chang’aa (which literally means ‘kill me quick’).

According to an “Alcohol Situation Analysis” for 2012 by the regional office of IOGT-NTO, a global temperance movement: “out of the number of people interviewed, 63 percent had used alcohol and 30 percent had more than five alcoholic beverages per sitting, which is heavy episodic use. Teenagers between 14-17 years of age are having two alcoholic beverages per sitting.”

Government statistics also show that alcohol and drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 15 to 29 years and lowest among adults of 65 years and older.

Under-age and rural children have not been spared. According to NACADA, rural children are more likely to have consumed traditional liquor and Chang’aa than urban children.

David Ogot, national coordinator of Alcohol Awareness in Kenya and a recovered alcoholic, told IPS that “excessive drinking is often viewed as a passing problem until it really gets out of hand, at which point most families hide the issue due to shame.”

He said that there is now a great need to address “alcoholism and to stop justifying the behaviour of an alcoholic.”

Alcoholics wanting to end their addictions have little recourse, according to Dr William Sinkele, Executive Director of Support for Addictions Prevention and Treatment in Africa (SAPTA). While Kenya has over 70 in-patient treatment centres, only three are government-run, he told IPS – Mathare Hospital (with an addiction unit), Coast General Hospital and Portreitz Hospital. The rest are privately owned.

“While is it is good that we have this many treatment centres, most are concentrated around the Nairobi area.  We do not have many centres outside Nairobi.  The average Kenyan with an alcohol or drug problem cannot afford treatment,” he said.

Meanwhile, many of those fighting alcohol abuse in Kenya point an accusing finger at the global alcohol industry which has a big foothold in Kenya and has undermined proper implementation of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act with aggressive advertising and promotion through musical and artsy events.

A press release from financial advisors KPMG, titled “Incredible Growth of Kenya’s Beer Market“ noted: “Driven by strong population growth, a growing middle class and a dynamic private sector, the beer industry in Kenya has taken off in impressive ways, and is promising of even further developments in the coming decade.” Only inflation and tax increases could diminish this rise, it said.

“To expand its customer base, “the company has accordingly invested in marketing and sales capabilities in this area.”

Meanwhile, in a blog on the IOGT International temperance website,  Brenda Mkwesha wrote: “The odds seem to be against us, but we have heart-driven teams who aren’t willing to stand by while we flush our lives down the toilet. Here’s to a Life Set Free!”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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