Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 08:24:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Dumping Ban Urged for Australia’s Iconic Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/dumping-ban-urged-for-australias-iconic-reef/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 17:43:58 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136271 A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

A Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos) in host anemone. Pixie Garden, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Credit: Richard Ling/cc by 2.0

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Increased effort is needed to protect Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, which is in serious decline and will likely deteriorate further in the future, according to a new report.

“Greater reductions of all threats at all levels, reef-wide, regional and local, are required to prevent the projected declines,”said an outlook report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government agency responsible for protecting the reef.“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs.” -- Richard Leck of WWF-Australia

However, the same agency recently approved the dumping of five million tonnes of dredging spoil in the reef region. Scientists and coral reef experts universally condemned the decision.

Documents obtained by Australia’s ABC TV investigative programme this week revealed scientists inside the Park Authority also opposed the dumping inside the UNESCO World Heritage Area.

“That decision has to be a political decision. It is not supported by science at all, and I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard,”Charlie Veron, a renowned coral reef scientist, told ABC. Veron is the former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the world. Visible from space, it is a startlingly beautiful mosaic made up of thousands of reefs, sea grass beds, and islands running 2,300 km along the coast of the state of Queensland.

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The GBR from above. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

In 1981 UNESCO declared the GBR a World Heritage Area, calling it “an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration”. It was home to 10 percent of all fish on the planet. Dugongs and many varieties of dolphins and sea turtles were once abundant.

Although protected as a marine park for decades, more than half of the coral is dead.Without concerted action, just five to 10 percent of the coral will remain by 2020, according to a 2012 scientific survey reported by IPS.

“I’ve worked on the reef for over a decade and those survey results were absolutely stunning,”said Richard Leck, spokesperson for WWF-Australia.

“The GBR is likely the best monitored reef in the world and we’re seeing the impacts of massive coastal development,”Leck told IPS.

In 2010, the Australian government approved four massive liquid natural gas (LNG) processing plants with port facilities at the coal port of Gladstone in central Queensland. Extensive dredging resulted in the dumping of 46 million tonnes of material in the harbour and inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park boundaries.

Much of the most toxic dredging material was to be contained inside a huge retaining or bund wall in the Gladstone Harbour. It soon began to fail, eventually leaking as much as 4,000 tonnes of material daily. The impacts have been devastating.

“A thriving commercial fishery is gone, so are the dolphins and dugongs,”said Leck. “Gladstone was a clear failure by state and national governments.”

Local tourist operators say the water quality and clarity has declined significantly.

Queensland is also a major mining and export region, shipping 156 million tonnes annually, mostly to Asian markets. Now there are proposals to expand that output sixfold to nearly one billion tonnes annually by 2020.

India’s Adani Group plans to spend six billion dollars to build Queensland’s biggest coal mine, including a new town and a 350 km railway to connect to Port Abbot, near the tourist town of Bowen.

Other Indian miners, along with a number of Chinese mining interests, have locked up an estimated 20 billion tonnes of coal resources in central Queensland. Australian mining companies,including mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting, are also expanding their operations.

In December 2013, Australia’s Minister of Environment Greg Hunt approved a plan to create one of the world’s largest coal ports at Port Abbot. A few months later, and in spite of strong opposition from its own scientists, the Park Authority agreed to allow five million tonnes of dredged material from Port Abbot to be dumped in the GBR.

“The Park Authority was in a difficult position. Saying ‘no’meant rejecting the minister’s approval of the dredging,”said Leck.

Hunt told ABC TV that he’d conducted “a very careful and deep review”and concluded that “the unequivocal advice we received was: this can be done safely.”

There is substantial scientific literature showing sediment from dredging can smother and kill marine species. Sediment also reduces light levels, causes physiological stress, impairs growth and reproduction, clogs the gills of fish, and promotes diseases, said Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland.

Some dredge spoil is very fine sediment — tiny little particles suspended in the water column — readily dispersed by winds, currents and waves. Over a period of just a few months they can travel 100 kilometres or more, Hughes told IPS.

A recently published modelling study predicts that fine sediments in suspension can spread up to 200 kilometres from coal ports within 90 days. It also measured sediments found in coral reefs in the GBR near another coal port and found high levels of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are associated with coal dust.

Given the perilous health of the reef, which is also facing enormous threats from rising water temperatures and ocean acidity due to CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, Hughes and other scientists are calling for a complete ban on dumping in the GBR or anywhere near it.

The additional threat posed by coal ports and other industrial developments along the coast is so serious that UNESCO warned Australia it would change the reef’s prestigious World Heritage Site designation to a “World Heritage Site in Danger”.

The UNESCO decision is expected mid-2015, which is also when the Port Abbot dredging is scheduled to begin.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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UN AoC Focuses on Youth & Peace Buildinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/un-aoc-focuses-on-youth-peace-building/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-aoc-focuses-on-youth-peace-building http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/un-aoc-focuses-on-youth-peace-building/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 08:19:36 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136277 By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Speaking to 75 youths representing 75 countries, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson offered a sweeping assessment of the United Nations’ place in the world and outlined his hopes for the future.

“We are right now in a time when we are testing multilateralism [and] testing international cooperation,” Eliasson said. “The whole new global landscape is changing so quickly.”

According to Eliasson, the proliferation of information in today’s day and age has spurred expectations for immediate results.

“We have to deliver, both nation states and international organizations.”

Wednesday’s event, Youth and Peacebuilding at the United Nations, was organized as a part of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations – Education First (UNAOC-EF) Summer School.

Participants in the summer school were selected based on their involvement in intercultural and interfaith dialogue and youth issues. One third of the attendees came from countries in conflict, in a reconciliation process or at high risk of conflict.

In the face of the challenges confronting the United Nations, the Deputy Secretary General identified four sources of hope.

The first was sitting right in front of him. “You are the hope,” he said to the young people who had gathered to hear him speak.

He expressed his encouragement at the eagerness and capacity of new generations for positive change.

Women’s empowerment was the second reason why Eliasson expected the future to be brighter than today.

“This century… women will finally for the first time in history play the role that they deserve,” he said.

The advancement of science and technology and the promise of international institutions were his last two sources of hope.

The U.N.’s job, according to Eliasson, is to “make a little difference between the world as it is and the world as it should be. I won’t say that we can or should even try to close that gap, we won’t do that, but we should at least diminish that gap.”

Cecile Mazzacurati, Youth and Gender Policy Advisor at the U.N.’s Peacebuilding Support Office, also spoke at the event, directly addressing the topic of youth and peace.

Peace workers often think of young people as perpetrators or victims of violence instead of potential peacebuilders, she said.

“We tend to see… a large youth population as a potential threat and not as a resource and not a demographic dividend that we should build on.”

The Security Council has never addressed the nexus of youth, peace and security. However, Mazzacurati said that the Peacebuilding Support Office, along with civil society and NGOs, has created a set of guiding principles for youth participation in peacebuilding. She hoped that the topic would gain more prominence in the future.

UNAOC-EF Summer School participants asked the panellists a number of questions on topics such as violence against journalists, religious extremism, and how to get involved with the U.N., their curiosity and engagement further bolstering the panellists’ confidence in the new generation.

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UNICEF Offers Psychosocial Support to Traumatized Children in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/unicef-offers-psychosocial-support-to-traumatized-children-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unicef-offers-psychosocial-support-to-traumatized-children-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/unicef-offers-psychosocial-support-to-traumatized-children-in-gaza/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 08:17:57 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136276 By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Children in Gaza are in desperate need of psychosocial support to cope with the violence and destruction they have witnessed, both on a physical and emotional level, a U.N. official said Thursday.

Addressing a news conference here, Pernilla Ironside, head of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Gaza, told reporters: “We’re on a very slippery slope in terms of Gaza’s children, I would say we are possibly on a precipice.”

Currently, a total of 50 psychologists are on the ground providing counselling to 3,000 children. UNICEF estimates at least 373,000 are in immediate need of psychosocial first aid and it is likely that the programme will take years.

“We are still working with kids from the last conflict”, the U.N. official remarked, adding that a 7-year-old child would have experienced three conflicts by now.

Following the latest escalation of violence in Gaza, the death toll among children is 469, figure that includes the nine who were confirmed dead just in the last 48 hours. Over 3,000 children were injured and 400,000 people displaced.

The U.N. agency, which focuses on children, aims at re-instilling the sense of security they need. Kids feel there is no safe place in Gaza and their parents cannot help either, as they are traumatised too: every single family in Gaza, according to Ironside, has experienced direct loss.

The Fund is also providing water, blankets, some basic services and it is appealing for lifesaving drugs and vaccines. The situation reached a point where children wished they had died rather than enduring this continuing suffering, the UNICEF official said, recounting a conversation she had with a young girl. These children have lost hope.

Education has a very important role in these young lives in this delicate time when they are very impressionable. “We risk having children sliding to sentiments of intolerance and hatred and potentially even extremism unless we give them a reason to believe that there is a more hopeful future available for them”, Ironside warned.

Teaching should resume on 24 August but with more than 200 schools being used as shelters, this is impossible, she said. UNICEF and the Ministry of Education will launch a “back to school” campaign, to renovate school buildings and provide pupils with the necessary means to learn.

Children should not be reminded of the horror of the war when they go back to school, in the same premises where they fled looking for safety and found suffering and death instead.

Gaza’s economy is also depressed as the unemployment rate has kept soaring even before this conflict, with 80 percent of the people were dependent on some sort of aid.

Ironside called for a change in the current system of administration of goods in which Israel is strongly in control.

At the current state of things Ironside says that it would take 18 years to rebuild the 17,000 housing units that have been destroyed.

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Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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No Hope for AIDS-Free Generation in Uganda as Controversial HIV Bill is Signed into Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:43:19 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136256 Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

HIV/AIDS activists are adamant Uganda will not achieve an “AIDS-free generation” now a “backwards” HIV/AIDS Bill criminalising the “wilful and intentional” transmission of the disease has been signed into law.

The act, they say, will lead to people shunning testing and treatment, but will particularly drive sex workers and gay men underground, and make women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

News that the controversial law, adopted unanimously by Parliament on May 13, and assented to by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Jul 31, broke on social media only this week on Aug. 19.

The bill also allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent and prescribes mandatory testing for pregnant women, their partners, and victims of sexual offences.

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005.

But Museveni went against earlier promises to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) executive director and campaigners that he wouldn’t back the punitive law.

“This is a populist act,” Kikonyongo Kivumbi of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA-Uganda) told IPS.

“He knows what he’s doing is not the right thing in addressing the general public health concerns in this country.”

Kivumbi pointed out that according to the 2014 UNAIDS Global Progress report, Uganda was now the third country in the world contributing to sustaining the pandemic.

Other campaigners are “heartbroken” and “outraged” after the president approved the HIV Prevention and Control Bill.

The news broke as CSOs were still waiting for an audience with Museveni over the controversial bill, which has been slammed by Uganda’s own AIDS Commission and the AIDS Control programme of the Ministry of Health (MoH).

“Some bad news from Uganda. Please pray for us,” Jacquelyne Alesi, director or programmes at Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV & AIDS (UNYPA), said in an email to IPS.

The legislation prescribes a maximum 10 years in jail, a fine of about five million Ugandan shillings (1,980 dollars) or both for anyone who “willfully and intentionally transmitting HIV/AIDS to another person”.

Another provision of the law, drafted in 2008, provides for a fine or a maximum five years in jail for those convicted of “attempted transmission”.

According to the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey, overall HIV prevalence is higher among women (8.3 percent) than among men (6.1 percent).

“Usually HIV bears the face of a woman,” Dorcas Amoding, policy, advocacy and networking officer for Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA-U), told IPS.

“So if she has tested positive and perhaps the husband becomes aware of it…he might treat this as a very negative result as well and she can be attacked.”

Amoding added, “it even brings about a very huge burden in terms of women inheriting property, because some people still think HIV is a death sentence.”

“So if I say ‘I want to have my husband’s property for the children’, people are going to say ‘you’ll die tomorrow, you’re HIV positive.’”

Most LGBT people with HIV/AIDS already “die silently” and many were no longer going for services in the after the passing of the Anti-Homosexual Act, Bernard Ssembatya, from Vinacef Uganda, a sexual health and reproductive NGO focusing on HIV, told IPS. The anti-gay law was, however, declared “null and void” by the constitutional court on a legality earlier this month.

“Some of them are wary of going to health services, some health providers are also scared of delivering services,” Ssembatya said.

There will be “an increase in deaths from HIV, more infections” as a result of the HIV/AIDS law, he warned.

According to AIDS Free World, over 60 countries criminalise the transmission of HIV or the failure to disclose one’s HIV status to sex partners, or both. Global Commission on HIV and the Law members have highlighted Guinea, Senegal and Togo, which they say in recent years have revised existing, or adopted new laws which limit HIV transmission to exceptional cases of wilful transmission.

Guyana also rejected a criminalisation law. In the U.S, 34 states still have HIV specific criminal statutes, however, in May Iowa approved a law revising a HIV specific statute.

Kivumbi pointed out that criminalisation was an “agenda of the U.S. republican right”, who he accused of influencing political and public health appointments in Uganda.

“We need to tell U.S. republican extremists and evangelical Christians to leave managing the HIV pandemic to ourselves,” he said.

“Just because the U.S. gives us money it does not mean [they] can impose their extremist agenda on us.”

Uganda had deliberately chosen to “moralise the pandemic and response, emphasising abstinence at the expense of condom use and other scientifically proven interventions,” Kivumbi said.

“We have had cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and other people at senior government level saying that people who are HIV positive are morally bankrupt,” the activist said.

Kivumbi said there was an “element of politicking” on Museveni’s part in inking his signature on the bill. Uganda will be submitting a “concept note” to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Oct. 15, and wanted to get access to a 90-million-dollar loan from the World Bank that was suspended, he said.

One clause of the HIV/AIDS Bill seeks to set up an AIDS Trust Fund managed by the MoH, with money coming from foreign governments and international agencies, among other means.

Ironically, that loan was put on hold in February, just days after the president approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“I think that the president thought that by signing this law, which [sets up] the AIDS Trust Fund, the World Bank would give him money and the Global Fund would contribute,” said Kivumbi.

“Let the Global Fund and the World Bank not be fooled.

”This law tramples upon basic civil liberties and cannot be acceptable in a free and democratic society that Uganda aspires to be.”

Dianah Nanjeho, a communications consultant at Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), which works with a coalition of 40 organisations, told IPS the activists wanted the contentious clauses in the bill to be amended.

“The act in itself is a good act we don’t condemn it, we just want those one, two three things sorted out.”

She said the positive parts of the law were state obligations to provide care and treatment and the establishment of the AIDS Trust Fund.

Nanjeho said CSOs, who are still hoping to meet Museveni, hadn’t ruled out challenging the law in court, and would make a decision on this in the next few days.

“For now we are all weighing all options,” she said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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Zambia’s Cash Transfer Schemes Cushion Needy Against Climate Shockshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:30:59 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136248 Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

“Last season, I lost an entire hectare of groundnuts because of a prolonged drought. Groundnuts are my hope for income,” says Josephine Chaaba, 60, from Pemba district in southern Zambia.

A widow since 2002, Chaaba’s story is not unique in this part of Zambia.

Here, in what the Zambia Meteorological Department classifies as a region characterised by low rainfall, most families are entirely dependent on agriculture and have gone through similar hardships.

But when these disasters strike, families have proven resilient and are finding ways to cope.

“The rainfall pattern has been getting erratic with each passing season, and as a widow I decided to start a small business of selling tomatoes and vegetables to sustain my family,” Chaaba, who looks after her 17-year-old son and two grandchildren, tells IPS.

But with only a working capital of 200 Zambian Kwacha (about 35 dollars), Chaaba had to seek assistance from the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme.

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Stella Kapumo of the Social Welfare Department in Pemba district explains that “there are three schemes under which our department gives support to the vulnerable in the community.”

“The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme is where material support such as shelter and food aid are given, and there are two cash protection schemes – a social cash transfer and a social protection fund,” Kapumo tells IPS.

According to Kapumo, the cash transfer is a bi-monthly cash allowance of 25 and 50 dollars respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities. The social protection fund is a once-off grant of up to 670 dollars for viable business proposals.

“The cash schemes are the most popular and have proven to be a powerful relief to the socio-economic challenges of the vulnerable communities where they are being implemented.

“However, here in Pemba we are implementing the ‘social protection fund’  where we give cash grants targeting vulnerable families to either boost and/or venture into viable businesses,” Kapumo says.

Piloted in 2003 in Kalomo district, southern Zambia, the social cash transfer has expanded to 50 districts currently providing social protection to about 60,000 vulnerable households.

“I benefited from a grant of 1,500 Zambian Kwacha [250 dollars] to boost my business. I have since added fish to selling tomatoes and vegetables.

“I just have to work extra hard to grow my capital and then school fees will no longer be a problem. I am thankful to the government for this scheme,” Chaaba says cheerfully, adding that she would not be too worried if she were to suffer another crop failure in the near future as she now has an alternative livelihood.

Communities in Zambia that rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are already suffering the consequences of climate change due to their limited resource capacity to adapt.

But stakeholders here are still searching for adaptation options that can be brought within reach of the rural poor.

And social protection may be the key.

Mutale Wakunuma, Zambia coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, who has witnessed the positive impact of the Social Cash Protection Scheme across the country, believes the strategy is a key step towards transformation and climate change adaptation.

“We believe cash transfers offer flexibility to beneficiaries as compared to food aid or agricultural inputs, and we are encouraging people working on climate change adaptation to consider cash transfers as a coping strategy,” Wakunuma tells IPS.

As government targets to reach over 390,000 households by 2015 through its social cash transfer schemes, it is expected that social protection could become a major socio-economic intervention for the most vulnerable communities in Zambia.

Wakunuma, however, cautions that the social cash transfer is not a holistic social protection strategy when it comes climate change adaptation, although it plays a “significant role in cushioning climate shocks.”

Robson Nyirenda, the training and extension coordinator at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, argues for a knowledge-based approach in the fight against socio-economic challenges.

Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, a Catholic institute run by the Society of Jesus, promotes sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers in the surrounding community.

“We believe knowledge is sustainable and lasts a lifetime. However, we cannot run away from the fact that some people are more vulnerable and require assistance in form of cash or food aid for them to survive,” Nyirenda tells IPS.

“On our part, we have continued teaching farmers climate change adaptation through sustainable farming methods in our role to compliment government efforts in empowering vulnerable communities.”

Wakunuma tells IPS, “the role of social protection cannot be overemphasised but it has to be implemented with the seriousness it deserves.”

And 22-year-old Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba and a beneficiary of the social protection grant, agrees.

“For the past two seasons, we have had poor yields due to poor rainfall and it has been a struggle for me and my six siblings,” Malambo tells IPS.

“At 64, grandma has no energy to sustain us. But with this money, I am determined to achieve my dream of getting into college and I urge the government to invest more and help more young people, the majority of whom are unemployed,” he says of the 420 dollars he was awarded to support his poultry business.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on fphiri200@gmail.com 

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U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Treeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-brazil-nearing-approval-of-genetically-engineered-trees/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 23:35:52 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136255 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Technician Christine Berry checks on futuristic peach and apple “orchards”. Each dish holds tiny experimental trees grown from lab-cultured cells to which researchers have given new genes. Credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialise these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tonnes of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tonnes of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tonnes per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favour of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLP), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Stab in the Back for Painful Afghanistan Election Process?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:31:20 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136229 Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

A knife fight late Tuesday among several auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) still inspecting the results of the presidential elections held in mid-June could be the stab in the back for what has been a painful election process.

The vote audit process was resumed following a three-hour delay on Wednesday, a commission official said.

Two months after Afghans voted in a second runoff for election of the country’s president, ballots are being recounted amid growing questions on who is really arbitrating the process."What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed” – Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union

The four corrugated iron barracks east of Kabul that constitute the centre of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan in which the 22,828 ballot boxes are piled up, have become the Afghan insurgency´s main target.

In the June 14 runoff, presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won 56.44 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, received 43.56 percent, despite having been the most voted candidate in the first runoff on April 5.

The turnout was equally surprising: eight million out of 12 million voters, an unlikely figure given that most polling stations were reportedly empty on election day.

With Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of massive fraud having put the electoral process on the brink of collapse, the two candidates were persuaded to agree to a full ballot recount.

In an audit that started mid-July, the ballot boxes are being examined by a team formed by auditors of both candidates and members of the IEC. Afghan as well as European Union observers are also on the spot in a process closely monitored by U.N. assistants.

“I have spent the last two weeks taking part in this massive farce,” Abdullah Abdullah´s auditor Munir Latifi told IPS. “The United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission are working together so that Ghani takes the win but there´s nobody supporting us,” he said before returning to his seat.

Latifi has to discuss whether the handwritten “V”, “X” or a circle on each candidate´s tick box is repeated in several of the ballots, or if it is really “one person, one vote”. Boxes suspicious of fraud are put in quarantine and records are taken by hand in a notebook.

Resources may look scarce but Shazad Ayubee, a Pashtun from Paktiya in southeast Afghanistan and one of Ghani´s auditors, told IPS he was “a hundred percent” satisfied with the process, although “things would be smoother if Abdullah´s auditors didn´t struggle to delay the publication of the results by any means necessary.”

Similar handwriting among different ballots “doesn´t necessarily imply fraud,” he added. “In the most remote villages of Afghanistan almost everybody is illiterate. Families simply show up at the polling stations and the one who can write marks their ballots,” explained Ayubee during the lunch break.

The most suspicious ballot boxes are those that arrive unlocked, the ones that boast over the maximum of 600 ballots, or even random objects such as traditional felt hats or tobacco packets. Many auditors claim that full boxes arriving from Taliban-controlled areas should be systematically discarded because the Afghan armed opposition consistently prevents the population from taking part in elections.

But Ayubee says he knows the reason behind the unexpected turn out in Taliban strongholds: “Unlike Pakistani or Uzbek Taliban, the Afghan Taliban told people to vote for Ghani because he is a Pashtun – a majority of the Afghan insurgents belong to that ethnic group. Everyone knows that Ghani will defend their interests much better than a Tajik like Abdullah Abdullah.”

Mid-morning, Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the IEC, appears in the press room opposite the barracks and starts his speech with a “sincere commitment to democracy” as opposed to “unfounded rumours and lies over the development of the audit.”

The IEC spokesman describes a “joint effort of 220 IEC workers, 305 auditors for Abdullah, 306 for Ghani and 1014 international observers.”

Asked by IPS whether the auditors are skilled in graphology, Mohammad showed no sign of hesitation: “This is a process under the close guidance of the United Nations, which displays 50 advisors on a daily basis. Besides, it´s the United Nations which has the last word over the ballots.”

Final decision

Speaking to IPS by phone from his office in Brussels, Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union, told IPS that it was “too early” to take stock of the process. “What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed.”

Commenting on the fact that the United Nations was acting both as adviser for the electoral process and as arbitrator in the recount, Berman said that “in countries like Spain or Holland we would have relied on a fully external body but in the case of Afghanistan we are dealing with very young institutions that do not yet have a significant credibility.”

“I agree that the U.N. role can be criticised, but what is the alternative,” he asked before reiterating that the E.U. delegation is determined to conduct its work “even in the case that the United Nations does not fulfil its part.”

Despite repeated calls and emails from IPS, the U.N. spokesman only agreed to respond to a questionnaire sent via e-mail. Jeff Fischer, senior international expert on elections and head of the U.N. Independent Electoral Commission advisory team, labelled the scale and scope of the audit as “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.”

He stressed that all the auditors had received training on IEC procedures and invalidation and recount criteria before they could start working as advisors.

Confusion over who has the last word in the audit grows while pressure from the outside strives to break the poll deadlock.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has recently warned that the alliance will be forced to take a decision regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan unless the new Afghan president signs the security agreements.

According to Rasmussen, the NATO summit scheduled for September 4-5 in Wales would be “very close” to a deadline for taking that decision.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Commemorates World Humanitarian Day Paying Tribute to Aid Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-commemorates-world-humanitarian-day-paying-tribute-to-aid-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-commemorates-world-humanitarian-day-paying-tribute-to-aid-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-commemorates-world-humanitarian-day-paying-tribute-to-aid-workers/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:01:53 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136266 By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations Tuesday commemorated World Humanitarian Day paying tribute to aid workers who risk their lives to bring relief to those in need.

In 2013 alone, 460 aid workers suffered violence or attacks, and 155 were killed, according to a new report by the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA

 To highlight the plight of those working in the field, OCHA convened a panel discussion hosted by The Huffington Post.

The participants included former New York Police Department officer turned Peacekeeper, Ken Payumo, Syrian clarinettist Kinan Azmeh, former child soldier and now activist and actor, Emmanuel Jal, and Pernille Ironside , currently working in Gaza.

The panellists not only discussed what it meant to be a humanitarian worker, but also to recount personal experiences of working in the field.

Asked to define the duties of a humanitarian worker, Ironside, an aid worker with UNICEF equated it to “selflessness” and added that, “advocating for the protection of civilians at all times,” was a major characteristic of the job.

Payumo, a peacekeeper who was working in South Sudan at the brink of the conflict in 2013 recounted a harrowing verbal altercation with local forces when thousands of civilians sought refuge at the UNMISS compound he was working on.

“Impartiality is central to us,” Payumo added, emphasizing the need for aid workers to neither judge, nor condemn civilians who sought protection during times of unrest.

Jal, a rapper and peace activists offered his perspective on the recent crisis in South Sudan pointing out there was “no coup, it was something the government created.”

Asked what people could do to help the situation in his former country, Jal said lobbying, awareness and discussion were integral to addressing any kind of political, or social crisis.

By putting a spotlight on a “dark” place, local and national issues were brought to the forefront and governments would feel the pressure to handle them.

In a statement released here, the President of the General Assembly John Ashe said a people-centred approach to dealing with conflict seemed to be the important message for World Humanitarian Day.

“As we look to implement a new sustainable development agenda, eradicating poverty while maintaining peaceful societies based on an inclusive, people-centered approach will be essential components if we are to achieve success and build a just and prosperous future for all the world’s citizens.”

Ashe’s sentiments were echoed by all panelists when they were asked what citizens all over the world could do to be more of a humanitarian.

“Start at home,” Payumo asserted, implying that not all humanitarian workers needed to travel abroad to work in conflict zones to help others.

Ironside asked the audience to consider, “giving a voice to the voiceless or for those who feared to speak out.”

In the light of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where violence has escalated after an 18 year old unarmed Mike Brown was fatally shot by police, and in Gaza where tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis continues to claim the lives of men, women and children, World Humanitarian Day put a spotlight on the work that many undertake selflessly in hot spots.

As Ashe said in his statement: “World Humanitarian Day is not only an opportunity for our international community to celebrate the spirit of humanitarian work, but also to underscore the need to do more, as growing humanitarian crises continue to threaten millions of the most vulnerable communities where lives have been torn apart by war and other natural disasters.”

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UNFPA Supports Abducted Nigerian Girls’ Transition to Normal Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/unfpa-supports-abducted-nigerian-girls-transition-to-normal-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unfpa-supports-abducted-nigerian-girls-transition-to-normal-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/unfpa-supports-abducted-nigerian-girls-transition-to-normal-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:00:10 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136265 By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from their schools in Chibok, Nigeria last April, an international outcry was heard across the world under the slogan #bringbackourgirls.

They have not been brought back, but some of them have escaped and returned to their community.  While the search effort is mostly in the hands of the Nigerian government, the United Nations and relief organisations are looking after those who are back.

Explaining the role of the U.N., Ratidza Ndhlovu, head of the U.N.Population Fund (UNFPA) in Nigeria, said: “We are supporting girls who have returned and also pre-positioning and getting ready for the girls when they come out. [We are] also helping the communities to be ready to receive the children”

This translates into programmes targeting, for example, sexual and reproductive health. UNFPA has undertaken a screening plan for the girls and provided “home delivery kits” and means to restore the dignity of women.

“The issue of sexual violence is very serious” Ndhlovu said, as most of the girls have been raped “both by the insurgents and by other men who take advantage of the situation”.

UNFPA also provides education and brings mainstreaming family planning into an emergency response situation, in terms of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy.

“It is not the best time to be pregnant, when you can hardly sleep in your house, when there are no clinics, and when you are running all the time”, Ndhlovu said.

The community is still shaken by the insurgency and the violence, and is left with very little services.  The psycho-social support to the girls have achieved very good results, she said.

“Initially they didn’t want to hear anything about going back to school, because they were at school when [the abduction] happened”. But after less than two weeks of psychosocial counselling, they were ready to go back.

At the time, Malala , the Pakistani school girl who was shot by the Taliban, had just visited Nigeria, Ndhlovu added, and that helped the programme to be more effective.

She said counseling has been provided in order to prepare traditional leaders welcoming the girls back and not stigmatising them. Men and boys were also trained with regard to their responsibility towards the girls. A lasting hope, of course, is to see the rest of the girls back, she added.

 

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In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136217 People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Recurrent Cholera Outbreak in Far North Cameroon Highlights Development Gapshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:30:30 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136203 Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
DUMAI/YAOUDE, Cameroon, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Under a scorching sun, with temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees Celsius, Lara Adama’s family is forced to dig for water from a dried-out river bed in Dumai, in northern Cameroon. 

This is one of the rivers that used to flow into the shrinking Lake Chad but there is not much water here.

There has been a nine-month-long drought in the region and Adama tells IPS that her family “digs out the sand on this river bed to tap water.”

“We depend on this water for everything in the house,” Adama, a villager in Mokolo in Cameroon’s Far North Region, says.

A cholera outbreak has been declared in Adama’s village. But she and other community members have no choice but to get their water from this river.

The lone borehole in this village of about 1,500 people is out of use due to technical problems.

“Every family comes here to retrieve drinking water. Our animals too depend on this water source to survive. When we come after the animals have already polluted a hole, we simply dig another to avoid any health problems,” she says.

This region is threatened by extreme water shortages and climate variability. Barren soils constitute some 25 to 30 percent of the surface area of this region. Lake Chad is rapidly shrinking while Lake Fianga dried up completely in December 1984.

Gregor Binkert, World Bank country director for Cameroon, tells IPS that a water-related crisis is prevalent in the north and there is an increased need for protection from floods and drought, which are affecting people more regularly.

“Northern Cameroon is characterised by high poverty levels, and it is also highly vulnerable to natural disasters and climate shocks, including frequent droughts and floods,” Binkert explains.

The protracted droughts in Far North Region have triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases. The outbreak is mainly concentrated in the Mayo-Tsanaga region as all its six health districts have cases of the infectious disease. The current outbreak has already resulted in more than 200 deaths out of the 1,500 cholera cases reported here since June.

According Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health Andre Mama Fouda, “poor sanitation and limited access to good drinking water are the main causes of recurrent outbreak in the Far North. A majority of those infected with the disease are children under the age of five and women.”

Since 2010 three cholera outbreaks have been declared in Far North Region:
  • In 2010, a cholera outbreak spread to eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions, resulting in 657 deaths – 87 percent of which where were from the Far North Region.
  • In 2011, 17,121 suspected cholera cases, including 636 deaths, were recorded in Cameroon. Again a majority of those who died were from the Far North.
  • The latest cholera case in Far North was registered on Apr. 26, when a Nigerian family crossed into Cameroon to receive treatment. Neighbouring Nigeria has reported 24,683 cholera cases since January and the first week of July.

Poor hygiene practices

“Cholera in this region is not only a water scarcity problem, it also aggravated by the poor hygienic practices that are deeply rooted in people’s culture. Water is scarce and considered as a very precious commodity, but handling it is quite unhygienic,” Félicité Tchibindat, the country representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Cameroon, tells IPS.

Cultural practices are still primitive in most villages and urban areas.

Northerners have a culture where people publicly share water jars, from which everyone drinks from.

“These practices and many others make them vulnerable to water vector diseases. [It is the] reason why cholera can easily spread to other communities. Cholera outbreaks are a result of inadequate water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices,” Tchibindat says.

Open defecation is also common in the region. According Global Atlas of Helminth Infections, 50 to 75 percent of the rural population in Far North Cameroon defecate in the open, compared to 25 to 50 percent of people in urban areas.

Access to good drinking water and sanitation is also very limited. Two out of three people do not have access to proper sanitation and hygiene. While about 40 percent of the population has access to good drinking water, this figure is much lower in rural areas. In rural Cameroon only about 18 percent of people have access to improved drinking water sources, which are on average about over 30 minutes away.

Development challenges

Water sanitation and health (WASH) is vital for development, yet Far North Region has some of the most limited infrastructure in the entire nation, coupled with security challenges as the region is increasily throated by Nigeria’s extremist group Boko Haram.

Poverty is high in the region, UNICEF’s Tchibindat says. And the security issue in neighbouring countries has not helped Cameroon provide proper access to medical services here.

According to UNICEF, major challenges abound in Cameroon. There is a low capacity of coordination for WASH at all levels, and poor institutional leadership of sanitation issues. The decentralisation of the WASH sector means there is no proper support with inequitable distribution of human resources in regions.

“The government and many development partners have provided boreholes to communities and the region counts more than 1,000 boreholes today,” Parfait Ndeme from the Ministry of Mines, Water Resources and Energy says.

But about 30 percent of boreholes are non-functional and need repair, according to UNICEF.

Ndeme explains that, “the cost of providing potable water in the sahelian region might be three times more costly than down south. Distance is one major factor that influences cost and the arid climate in the region makes it difficult to have underground water all year round.”

A borehole in the northern region costs at least eight million Francs (about 16,300 dollars) compared to two million Francs (about 4,000 dollars) in other regions.

Health care challenges are prominent.

“The Far North has limited access development which also has a direct influence of the quality of health care,” Tchibindat says.

The unavailability of basic infrastructure and equipment in health centres makes it difficult to practice in isolated rural areas. Consequently, most rural health centre have a high rate of desertion by staff due to the low level of rural development, she adds.

Most of Cameroon’s health workers, about 59.75 percent, are concentrated in the richest regions; Centre, Littoral and West Region, serving about 42.14 percent of Cameroon’s 21 million people.

According to the World Health Organisation:

  • 30.9 percent of health centres in Cameroon do not have a medical analysis laboratory.
  • 83 percent of health centres do not have room for minor surgery.
  • 45.7 percent of health centres have no access to electricity
  • 70 percent of health centres have no tap water.

“Due to lack of equipment in hospitals, the treatment might only start after a couple of hours increasing the probability of it spreading,” Peter Tambe, a health expert based in Maroua, the capital of Far North Region, tells IPS.

“Report of new cholera cases are numerous in isolated villages and the present efforts by the government and development partners are not sufficient to treat and also monitor prevalence,” Tambe says.

Since the discovery of cholera in the region, the government and UNICEF and other partners have doubled their services to these localities to enforce health facilities and provide the population with basic hygiene aid, water treatment tablets and free treatment for patients, regardless of their nationality, along the border with Chad and Nigeria.

“Despite insecurity challenges facing this region, the government and its partners have embarked on information exchanges with Niger, Chad, and Nigeria to avoid further cross-border cases,” Public Health Minister Fouda tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at nformonde@gmail.com

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OPINION: Violations of International Law Degenerate U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/un-tv-special-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-tv-special-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/un-tv-special-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:07:39 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136233 By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights. To meet that objective, the Preamble of the UN Charter provides “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

 The United Nations has played a major role in defining, codifying, and expanding the realm of international law – which defines the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries.

Historically, violators of international law are not only the countries branded as evil and belligerent but also countries that preach democracy and human rights. That undermines the efforts of the United Nations to maintain law and order.

Since the Second World War, these good and evil countries have waged hundreds of wars in which nearly 50 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved. No part of the world has escaped the scourge of war. The countless mechanisms enshrined in the UN Charter to resolve conflicts by peaceful means have rendered useless.

Let’s forget Hiroshima, Vietnam, Korea and a few other major disasters. Let’s look at what happened after the Cold War ended in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – leaving the United States as the only Super Power.

The mass murders in Rwanda and Sudan proved that neither the United Nations nor superpowers wished to intervene. Wars in the Balkans, and fragmentation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are now forgotten history.

US and NATO authorized bombings in Kosovo and Serbia in the 90’s. Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen is over. International law was violated in all these instances, and these countries now are in disarray.

United States has been criticized for turning away from internationalism by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, refusing to sign the Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and condoning the continued Israeli violence against Palestinians in occupied territories.

In 2011, following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration embarked on a strategy of unilateralism, disregarding the UN and international law. Worst of all is its military strategy of “pre-emptive strikes” which defies the UN Charter by allowing the US to use illegal force against other states.

Despite UN opposition, the Bush administration took a series of unilateral actions. The most damaging was the war in Iraq waged on bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the war in Afghanistan.

After a decade of devastation, the expectations of democracy, freedom and human rights have vanished – and there are no winners in these wars despite continuing mayhem and casualties.

US President Barack Obama revealed that the two wars have cost US taxpayers over $1 trillion. A study by American researchers (including Noble Laureate Joseph Stieglitz and experts from Harvard and Brown), estimate that the costs could be in the range of $3-4 trillion.

A major challenge to international law today is the US policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in US drone strikes since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians.

UCLA believes that “The US policy instigated in 2006 is violating universally recognized customary international law on numerous counts: failure to discriminate between military and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, extrajudicial executions, attacks against places of worship.

Ironically, the drone strikes could actually be classified as “international terrorism,” since they appear to have been often intended to coerce the civilian population and to influence the Pakistani government.”

Another major obstacle to peace in the Middle East and world security is the Israeli Occupation and expansion of settlements in occupied territories – acts that undermine International Law.

According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — to which both Israel and the United States are signatories — prohibits any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Also, a landmark 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice confirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements.

Since 1948, the UN has passed scores of resolutions declaring that all Israeli settlements outside of Israel’s internationally recognized borders are illegal but blatantly ignored by Israel.

Condemning the recent Israeli attacks on homes, schools, hospitals, and UN shelters in Gaza that killed thousands of innocent civilians – a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.”

Pillay said she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

Another inconspicuous violation is the application of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) approved by the UN, in 2005, which is now subtly used for regime changes.

The US and NATO invoked R2P for military intervention in Libya on the pretext of a “no-fly zone” but ended in regime change. Today Libya is fragmented and is in the hands of rebels forcing United States to evacuate its embassy staff and other foreign personnel in Libya.

US attempted to invoke R2P mechanism in Syria even though there was no proof that Assad regime killed its own people with chemical weapons.

President Obama was about to wage a war against Syria when a last minute solution was found by the Russians to avert the war by removing Assad’s chemical weapons. War weary people all over the world (including Americans) are deeply divided over the use of unilateral (even lawful) military force to solve international problems.

But the US and its allies showed no interest in invoking R2P in the case of Darfur or in Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza where over 2000 civilians were killed.

Also no one is screaming to invoke R2P in East Ukraine despite the fact that already over 2000 Ukrainians have been killed by Ukrainian military forces.

The United Nations has not played a fair role when invoking the Responsibility to Protect.

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with a mandate to consider genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. But it is unfortunate that ICC mainly focuses on criminal cases in Africa, without looking at so many breaches of the law elsewhere.

United States is not a signatory to the ICC but it cannot escape from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another.

Actions of many powerful countries prove that they are sticking to the Rule of Power instead of enhancing the Rule of Law.

For over 200 years, America has been a devout apostle of equality and freedom – defending peace, democracy, justice and human rights. It is in this sense that a few former US Presidents believed in peace and not war.

President Truman said, “The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world” and President Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

It is inconceivable that America, today, with its democratic history and unrivaled power constantly violates International Law instead of morally guiding the world towards peace, justice and prosperity.

Such actions, not only erode the prestige of the United States and violate the UN Charter, but also the effectiveness of the United Nations.

(Somar Wijayadasa is a former Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations)

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