Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations News and Views from the Global South Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:38:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why Polio Campaigns Must Reach Every Last Child in Kenya Fri, 20 Jan 2017 09:23:32 +0000 Rudi Eggers and Werner Schultink Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2011/MODOLA


By Rudi Eggers and Werner Schultink
NAIROBI, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

For a long time, no person in Kenya suffered the devastating disability that is caused by polio. In fact, the only reminder in the early 2000s was the victims in the streets of Nairobi, many of whom had been paralyzed as children and adults. Their lives were ravaged by this terrible, vaccine-preventable disease.

A five-day polio campaign that started on 18 January, 2017 targets more than 2.9 million children below the age of 5 years in fifteen counties. Children in high-risk areas -- some of whom have never had access to immunization services before -- will have an opportunity to be vaccinated against polio.
Sadly, in 2013 a large outbreak of polio in Nigeria spread across the continent, affecting several countries on its way east. Kenya was not spared.  Fourteen new polio cases were confirmed. The polio virus struck those that were unvaccinated – the most vulnerable and the most excluded — children in areas with poor access to health services, refugees, and nomadic communities.  Fortunately, a rapid response by the Kenyan Government brought the polio outbreak under control, and the last case was reported in July 2013.  At that time, it seemed that the country was well on the road to being declared polio-free.

However, recently, concerned scientists have pointed to the increasing risk of polio, particularly the large numbers of children who remain unvaccinated, especially those in vulnerable populations in the northern part of the country and in the informal settlements of Nairobi and Mombasa.  Furthermore, the notion that the African continent was free from the polio virus was shattered when four new polio cases were reported in northern Nigeria. Given the previous experience, health experts and Ministries of Health recommended that the areas with low vaccination rates should be targeted with vaccination campaigns, specifically designed to reach those that missed out on the routine vaccinations.

Since the establishment of the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) in 1980, Kenya deserves credit for reaching majority of the children with life-saving vaccines. But there is still a lot more work that needs to be done; progress in the country is very uneven and many children remain unvaccinated. It is estimated that 400,000 (3 out of 10) children still do not receive all the required scheduled doses of vaccines by their first birthday. This build-up of under-immunized children has previously contributed to outbreaks of polio. Most of these children come from poor families, the urban informal settlements and the hard-to-reach parts of the country, particularly arid and semi-arid (ASAL) regions where access to health services is limited.

A child receives vaccination against polio in a Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinic at Mukuru Health Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya.  Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2016/NOORANI

A child receives vaccination against polio in a Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinic at Mukuru Health Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2016/NOORANI

As long as there is a child out there who has contracted this disease, no matter where they live or who they are – all children everywhere are not safe. The four cases confirmed in October 2016 in the current polio outbreak in Nigeria place other African countries, including Kenya, at risk of importing the wild polio virus, due to the unaccounted number of unvaccinated children across the continent as well as the high population movement.

In the final push towards eradicating polio by 2018, Kenya with its strict monitoring system for the safety and quality assurance of vaccines, has already proved that it has the capacity to make the whole country polio-free. A five-day polio campaign that started on 18 January, 2017 targets more than 2.9 million children below the age of 5 years in the fifteen counties of Bungoma, Busia, Garissa, Isiolo, Lamu, Mandera, Marsabit, Nairobi, Samburu, Tana River, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Wajir, West Pokot and Uasin Gishu. Children in high-risk areas — some of whom have never had access to immunization services before — will have an opportunity to be vaccinated against polio.

To ensure that all vulnerable children are reached, the exercise will be relying on the steadfast commitment of vaccination teams and the communities they serve. These heroic women and men in most cases walk long distances from house-to-house, often in the most dangerous of circumstances to reach all children. Communities where the polio campaign is backed and encouraged by religious and community leaders have much higher rates of protection than those that lack this support.

As part of the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio, there is need for everyone to rally behind this polio vaccination campaign, to reach each and every child regardless of their geographical location of their status in society. We have a responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of children in Kenya from being paralyzed for life; from being excluded from their communities; and from being denied their right to a full and productive life.

In 2017 and beyond, no child in Kenya should suffer the consequences of a vaccine-preventable disease, for every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.

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A Women’s March on the World Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

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Were UN Plans to Ban Nukes Pre-empted by Trump? Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:16:16 +0000 Andy Hazel A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Andy Hazel

UN member states wanting to ban nuclear weapons may make little headway in 2017, after US President-elect Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

In one of their final decisions of 2016, the UN General Assembly agreed to hold a conference in March 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

123 the UN’s 193 member states supported the General Assembly resolution which initiated the conference. Notable votes against the resolution included: France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, The United Kingdom and the United States. Aside from China, which abstained, the no votes included all of the countries permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the current UN non-proliferation treaty which was adopted in 1968.

"This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don't see Trump having a significant impact," -- Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The 1968 treaty bans all UN member states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States from owning nuclear weapons and commits those states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals, pledges that have been ignored. Iraq, North Korea, Iran (and, unofficially, Israel) have all violated the treaty by developing nuclear weapons, and it is widely seen as requiring renegotiation to be effective. Should Donald Trump pursue his ambitions, it could put the treaty in jeopardy.

However the resolution – which was adopted on 23 December – was foreshadowed by a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump on 22 December where he stated: “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. Trump also mentioned that dismantling Obama’s long-negotiated Iran nuclear agreement was his “number one priority”.

Some have seen these comments as an act of assertion aimed at strengthening his negotiating position upon arriving in the Oval Office, as Trump has already reversed his position on issues to which he pledged support.

Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has described these statements as ‘nuclear-sabre rattling’ and the challenge to implementing the treaty as imperative.

“The Obama administration was very hostile to the idea of a ban treaty,” Fihn told IPS, despite Obama’s comments to the contrary, “and there’s no expectation that Trump will be more friendly. This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don’t see Trump having a significant impact. However, his rhetoric should definitely serve as a motivation for all of us. It’s a signal that the nuclear-armed states are not interested in real progress.”

Chief among the issues that would comprise a treaty is the Iranian nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a long-negotiated tool many on the Security Council are seeking to protect.

Fihn and representatives from other non-proliferation organisations are awaiting clearer statements from Trump’s administration before establishing their strategies, an approach that may have worked when dealing with previous administrations but may face unprecedented difficulty today. Trump has spoken before about the value of being unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons as a means to keep other leaders, both friends and enemies, keen to appease.

Unpredictability is also the hallmark of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korean engineers were in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Provoking a disbelieving response from Trump and more cautious tones from China and South Korea.

The most recent attempt at a nonproliferation review treaty in 2015 was unsuccessful, largely because of the failure of efforts to engage Iran and Israel. Both countries still absorb a disproportionate amount of the efforts to implement a treaty.

In an address to the IAEA Conference Commit to Further Strengthening Nuclear Security, Director General Yukiya Amano reinforced the socioeconomic value of nuclear technology as not remaining the preserve of wealthy countries. “Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system, and any country could become the target of an attack. That is why effective international cooperation is vital.”

According to the findings of a congressional study into international arms sales that found that the sale of global arms dropped in 2015 to $80bn from 2014’s $89bn with the US responsible for around half of all sales.

Over the next decade, the United States is expected to spend around half a trillion dollars on maintenance and upkeep of delivery systems of its nuclear weapons armoury, considerably larger than the Department of Defence claims is required to deter a nuclear attack.

“The treaty needs a strong and clear prohibition on use and possession of nuclear weapons but it will be a challenge to make sure the prohibition will cover other relevant activities too,” says Fihn, “such as assistance to other states not party to the treaty.”

“It will also be a lot of work to get as many states as possible to engage in the negotiations and sign it. And of course a real challenge will be the implementation of the treaty, once it’s in place – we need to make sure the treaty has a real impact.”

The conference is scheduled to run from March 27-31.

Correction: an earlier version of the this article referred to Beatrice Kihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It should have read Beatrice Fihn.

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Right to Information Dead on Arrival at UN Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:32:48 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The 193-member UN General Assembly has been dragging its feet on a proposal that has been kicked around the corridors of the United Nations for over 10 years: a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) providing journalists the “right to information” in a sprawling bureaucracy protective of its turf.

world-press-freedom-dayIronically, nearly 100 countries – all of them UN member states – have approved some form of national legislation recognizing the right to information (RTI) within their own borders but still seem unenthusiastic in extending it to the press corps at the United Nations.

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which dates back to 1967, has provided the public and the press the right to request access to records from any federal agency—and has been described as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government”.

In the US, federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

In Australia, the legislation is known as Right2Know; in Bangladesh, the Right to Information (RTI) Resources Centre provides resources for those seeking to file a request with government agencies; in Japan, the Citizens’ Centre for Information Disclosure offers help to those interested in filing requests; in India, the Right to Information: a Citizen Gateway is the portal for RTI; Canada’s Access to Information Act came into force in 1983 and Kenya’s Access to Information Act was adopted in August 2016, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The strongest law among the new countries on the RTI Rating is that of Sri Lanka, which scores 121 points, putting the country in 9th place globally, says CLD.

The passage of this law means that every country in South Asia apart from Bhutan now has an RTI law. The region is generally a strong performer, with every country scoring over 100 points except Pakistan, which continues to languish near the bottom of the rating, according to CLD.

And Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 has been described as the “oldest in the world.”

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), which provides media accreditation and doles out free office space to UN-based journalists, told IPS the right to information is an integral part of U.N. principles.

But providing that right—even the basic information available in the public domain– has been stymied both by member states and the UN bureaucracy, he added.

He pointed out that the need to “inform the peoples” of the United Nations is implicitly indicated in the Charter.

But implementing it was “a basic issue I had experienced throughout my work, with both certain government officials– including those publicly claiming open channels– and many senior U.N. Secretariat colleagues”.

Those who believed “Information is Power” were very hesitant, to what they perceived was sharing their authority with a wider public, said Sanbar who served under five different UN Secretaries-General.

“It was most evident that when I launched the now uncontested website, a number of powerful Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Permanent Representatives cautioned me against “telling everyone what was happening” (in the UN system) and refused to authorize any funds.”

“I had to raise a team of DPI volunteers in my office, operating from within the existing budget, to go ahead and eventually offer computers loaned from an outside source, to certain delegations to realize it was more convenient for them to access news releases than having to send one of their staffers daily to the building to collect material from the third floor.“

Eventually, everyone joined in, and the site is now recognized as one of the ten best official sites worldwide.

“We had a similar difficulty in prodding for International World Press Freedom Day through the General Assembly. It seems that even those with the best of intentions– since delegates represent official governments that view free press with cautious monitoring– are usually weary of opening a potentially vulnerable issue,” said Sanbar, author of the recently-released “Inside the U.N. in a Leaderless World’.

Matthew Lee, an investigative UN-based journalist who has been pursuing the story for over 10 years, told IPS he has been virtually fighting a losing battle.

“When I first got to the UN in late 2005, I noticed there was no FOIA. After asking around about it, I got then Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Management, Christopher Burnham, to say he would work on it. But he left. So I asked his replacement at Under-Secretary-General, Alicia Barcena, who said she would work on it. She never did.”

The UN Secretariat, he said, has continued to blame the General Assembly. But the Secretariat could easily adopt its own policy, for example, to disclose who pays for UN Secretary-General’s travel.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS last year: “The secretary-general supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”
Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief for the New York Times and currently contributing editor and writer for PassBlue, an online publication covering the UN, told IPS: “I think you are right, to be sceptical about getting anything like this through the General Assembly. Or for that matter that the Security Council would be cooperative, if asked for information.”

As you would know, a lot of people who have worked in DPI see the General Assembly – and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in particular — as loathe to promote the sharing of information, even in the current setup, and assume that not enough countries would back making access to it a right, she noted.

“A FOIA would be a godsend to would-be spies. And how would it be legally crafted, I wonder?. It would be interesting to know if places like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have these policies.”

The new Secretary–General Antonio Guterres’ team “is supposed to be writing a new communications policy for the UN — making it more open and effective in outreach generally. But I don’t know if that will include journalists.”

In one of her recent pieces in PassBlue, Crossette said the DPI is also completely hamstrung by its mandate, officials acknowledge, and the head of the office, who ranks as Under Secretary-General, is not chosen primarily for his or her media skills, but is often a political appointee with little or no journalism experience.

He or she must work under tight budgetary conditions deliberately framed to not give the department the tools it needs, she added.

Sinha Ratnatunga, editor-in- chief of the Sunday Times, a major weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka, told IPS the RTI law was passed by parliament last June; signed into law by the Speaker in August and becomes operational on February 4 (independence Day).

“However, there is a provision to ‘stagger’ its implementation if the government isn’t ready”, he pointed out.

“In any event the law must be operational whether the government is ready or not by August 4 (one year after the Speaker signed it into law). But the government is rather silent on how prepared they are for February 4 which is hardly a fortnight or so away”, said Ratnatunga , Deputy Chairman, of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and Board Member of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

He said the law is pretty progressive but many people, including journalists “are pretty clueless about its power and reach and what difference it can make to empowering citizens and journalists in the quest of good governance.”

He said there’s a whole exercise of educating public servants, appointing Information Officers, educating the journalists and the citizenry ahead.

“Yes, the law took 12 plus years in the making, but the most difficult process of educating the country on the potential of the law lies ahead.”

“Hopefully, the media will play the role of whistleblower, but fewer journalists are now interested in investigative journalism; so we have to wait and see if all the trouble in bringing the law was worth it, after all,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Is Globalisation Reversible? Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:22:55 +0000 Biru Paksha Paul By Biru Paksha Paul
Jan 19 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Over every summer, I leave the US to visit my village in Nalitabari where I look after construction work and run an online class for the students of mainly upstate New York. This is called globalisation. Sometimes I go to the Garo Hills branching from Meghalaya, or travel by boat on the river of Vogai while responding to important emails or checking my balance after a mobile transaction – a scene beyond imagination in Bangladesh some 30 years back. All thanks to globalisation.

globalisation_2Of late, we are wasting more and more energy carrying out a confused propaganda against globalisation, claiming that it is in reverse gear. However, it never was and it never will be. The issue is how we see and define globalisation. The main strength of globalisation comes from technology that does not regress – whether we like it or not. The two major events on the global stage last year, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, seem to have once again solidified the conviction of those who have been anti-globalisation since long. But that is a misinterpretation of these two victories, which mainly banked on anti-immigration sentiments and some mistakes in state policies of the respective governments.

Many critics are now extremely hyperactive in their fight against globalisation, some of whom are Nobel laureates. Of course, they present facts but often these facts are honey-coated with their biases and prejudice. But globalisation has many wings; it is a comprehensive, complex dynamic. And only labour migration cannot explain the whole story. Among other dominant determinants are capital, technology, knowledge, and above all human psychology that helps us understand and learn about different cultures. Capital flows from one side of the globe to the other in a couple of seconds, and so do knowledge and technology. Resisting this phenomenon by a simple display of ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ is nearly impossible.

But why would we resist globalisation? It goes against the basic Darwinian motion of evolution. No one would like to get back to the age of clumsy typewriters when computers are readily available. I witnessed the death of two upstate New York cities, Endicott and Cortland, because they could not swim upstream against globalisation and the principles of profit maximisation. Cortland was noted as the origin of a world-class typewriter company, Smith Corona, whose slogan was ‘commitment for excellence.’ But any excellence that is myopic or does not figure in technological growth is doomed to perish.

Endicott, the birthplace of IBM, saw jobs being outsourced to China and India, and could do nothing to hold them back, because the company treated the whole world as a single village for the sake of greater output and profit. Basic economic laws have empowered globalisation to keep on moving. No mighty commander was able to dictate this march. Had it been possible for any force to block this forward motion, the US could have done that to save millions of jobs outsourced to other countries in the last 20 years. And a large segment of US businesses would rather outsource their jobs to further their cost-lowering drive.

It is better to brainstorm which institutions we need to build to face the growing challenges of globalisation rather than blindly believe that some ‘saviours’ will reverse globalisation to protect the inefficient local mills and factories. Businesses are the main force behind global integration. Capital travels from one country to another for the sake of a better interest rate. Modern kabuliwalas are around and we need to deal with them for direct portfolio investment. There is no point in waiting for the kind-hearted kabuliwala of a Rabindranath Tagore story; people like him are no longer a part of this world order.

Noted Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati initially believed in socialist closed-type planning, but later turned into a globalisation guru. His student and Nobel Laureate of Economics Paul Krugman believes that the good side of the big monopolistic competition that has spread over the world can guarantee lowest prices. Hence, fighting Walmart becomes almost impossible for local small businesses.

Some of us might be confused to see a drop in inter-country labour migration, which we immediately credit to a reversal of globalisation. New apps of Microsoft in Seattle can instantly be downloaded in Rangamati. But capital movements depend on how we handle a myriad of rules and regulations that we have bureaucratically built over time. The movement of labour is even more complicated, and therefore, the slowest. Capital does not have any choice, but workers have religion, taste, language barriers, and above all, family bonds. Hence, uprooting workers from one culture and asking them to adopt another is difficult. Capital from one country and workstations at various countries build a style, which makes globalisation even more sustainable today.

In the early 1990s, many were opposed to three terms: globalisation, liberalisation, and free market economy. Some critics bundle all three items together and associate a similar (negative) connotation to all of them. Needless to mention, all three terms differ slightly in their meaning. Liberalisation mainly refers to the easing of trade; the main rationale of a free market economy is efficient pricing; but globalisation mainly refers to global travelling of capital, labour, and technology – a prerequisite that eases global integration of production and consumption. Tagore’s hope for a borderless world is definitely far from reality, but inter-country dependence, as proposed by David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, is inevitable – and so is globalisation.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics at the State University of New York at Cortland.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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World Focus on Disappearances Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:16:32 +0000 I.A. Rehman By I.A. Rehman
Jan 19 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

THE government might have been surprised at some foreign governments’ expressions of concern at the enforced disappearance of five social activists/ bloggers. Instead of taking umbrage, it should look for the causes of friendly countries’ uneasiness.

I.A. Rehman

I.A. Rehman

Hitherto, security concerns have enabled Pakistan to escape censure for enforced disappearances through a policy of denial. The five activists now in the news do not belong to any conflict zone (like Fata/ Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) or the home ground of insurgents (Balochistan) or crypto-separatists/ nationalists (Sindh). There is no reason in Punjab for anyone to flout the law. Hence, gross violation of basic rights causes widespread concern.

Besides, the international community has been watching enforced disappearances in Pakistan for many years.

In 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Pakistan and made several recommendations, including calls for ratification of the convention on disappearances and criminalisation of enforced disappearances. In its report in July 2016, the WGEID regretted that most of its recommendations had not been implemented.

Pakistan’s third universal periodic review at the Human Rights Council is due.

Pakistan has also been asked to explain some issues arising from its initial report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With reference to Articles 6, 7 and 9 of the covenant (the right to life, freedom from torture, and the right to liberty and security of person). Pakistan has been asked to “provide information on the measures taken to address the large number of allegations of enforced disappearance … comment on allegations that the practice of enforced disappearance is often used to target political or human rights activists. Please indicate what steps have been taken to implement the December 2013 judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Mohabat Shah … Please provide information on the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, including on its mandate, power, composition and financial and human resources…”.

This year, Pakistan’s third universal periodic review at the Human Rights Council is due. Questions will be raised about implementation of the recommendations made after the 2012 review. Four recommendations relating to disappearances were made and Pakistan accepted all of them. Two recommendations that called for criminalisation of enforced disappearance and the strengthening of the Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances were included in the list of suggestions that “have already been implemented or [are] in the process of implementation”.

None of these recommendations have been implemented. It is not difficult to imagine the situation Pakistan will face at the coming universal periodic review. The government could say it does not mind becoming a pariah in the world. That will not harm any foreign party; only the people of Pakistan will be left to mourn the loss of their rights.

The government has itself to blame for the embarrassment it is going to face, for it had ample time to prevent it.

Six years ago, a commission of three retired judges found evidence of the intelligence agencies’ involvement in enforced disappearances and deplored the “uncivilised method adopted by the police and agencies’ personnel for arresting the victims” and denying them any contact with their families during their detention. The commission also recommended a fairly reasonable way out.

“In order to put an end to the issue of enforced disappearances/ missing persons,” the commission said, “the intelligence agencies should be restrained from arbitrarily arresting and detaining anyone without due process of law. Generally, it would be appropriate if the government evolves a mechanism for intelligence agencies to share information and leave it to the police to make arrests and proceed under the relevant law.”

What has prevented the government from accepting this sane piece of advice?

In January 2012, the Justice Saqib Nisar commission on the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad also tried to help the government. “If the agencies conduct their activities completely beyond the purview of the law, and without maintaining any sense of transparency and accountability in their conduct,” the commission said, “they risk losing their most precious strategic asset — the trust of the people, whose security they are supposed to ensure. Currently, it seems that we would be better off with more accountability than we presently have even when it means a little less of secrecy.”

Further, the commission suggested a mechanism for the accountability of intelligence agencies at three levels; “within the agency and before the minister-in-charge; before a Parliamentary Committee (and thus parliament and the public); and before a judicial forum”.

Now the Senate has forwarded to the government the draft of a law to regulate the working of intelligence agencies and declared that, if the government failed to sponsor the proposed legislation, it would be introduced in the house as a private member’s bill.

The government may ask itself a simple question: why does every attempt to probe the issue of enforced disappearance lead to calls for making the intelligence agencies accountable?

We are told now that the police are investigating a complaint that the five bloggers have been guilty of blasphemy. This reminds one of the strictures passed by the commission of 2010 on the police officers who were involved in such affairs and found guilty of “intellectual dishonesty by registering fake FIRs against the persons picked up by the intelligence agencies and handed over to the police after a long time”.

If those who picked up the five bloggers had good reason to deprive them of their right to liberty, they should have informed their families, allowed them to contact their counsel and produced them in a court of law within 24 hours, or explained the reasons for failing to do so. The foreign governments, the parliamentarians, and civil society are mature enough to respect proceedings held according to due process, and would only demand in such cases a fair trial and punishment of the guilty in proportion to the severity of their offence.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Trump Trade Strategy Unclear Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in  US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement on the first day of his presidency in January 2017. Now, it is widely expected that Trump’s presidency will increase US trade protectionism, and consequently by others in retaliation, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with difficult to predict consequences.

After decades of denial by ‘free trade’ advocates, it is now widely agreed that many manufacturing jobs in the US have been lost to both automation and offshore relocation by US corporations. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are also being blamed for the US’s large trade deficits.

Trump trade strategy?

With the global economic slowdown of the last eight years associated by many with the slowdown of trade expansion, the surprise election of President-elect Trump has become the subject of much speculation and some dire predictions. Many are concerned that Trump has made various contrarian pronouncements on FTAs, while his appointments to trade related portfolios seem to contradict his trade rhetoric.

In early December 2016, the Wall Street Journal noted the unexpectedly high number of TPP advocates joining the Trump administration to serve in trade-related capacities. Although the hopes of some TPP advocates of a last-minute reprieve are probably misplaced, there is no indication that some amended version, perhaps with a different name, will not eventually emerge in its place.

If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, other plurilateral free trade agreements will also be affected. Trump has referred to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as disasters for the US, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. His announced preference for negotiating “fair” bilateral trade deals favourable to the US has not given much comfort to prospective negotiation partners.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with US manufacturing jobs and the related international trade in goods, he is also expected to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, financial liberalization, investor rights and dispute settlement.

Already, most US FTAs include ‘non-trade issues’, many of which have raised costs to consumers, e.g., by further strengthening intellectual property monopolies typically held by powerful transnational corporations, whose chief executives seem likely to be very influential in the new administration.

Currency manipulation
During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump accused China of being a “currency manipulator”, despite market consensus that the Chinese renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time. Under US law, evidence of currency manipulation could be grounds to impose additional tariffs on imports from a country so deemed by the Treasury Department. Aware that this could exacerbate trade conflicts, President Obama avoided pressure to do so from many Congress members, lobbyists and economists.

However, Trump can easily revise this position on some pretext or other, by taking trade or other retaliatory actions against China on the ostensible grounds of alleged currency manipulation which would contravene World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, allowing China to successfully take a case against the US to the WTO for such an illegal action.

WTO trade rules abused
Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs of as much as 45% on imports from China and Mexico! But while an across-the-board tariff hike is unlikely, as it is prohibited by the WTO, the new administration is likely to consider invoking WTO trade-remedy actions on products from China, Mexico and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or subsidized. This has already happened, e.g., with solar panels and wind turbines from China, raising the costs of renewable energy, and thus undermining the global warming mitigation effort.

To be sure, WTO trade remedy rules have long been widely abused for protectionist purposes. A country can impose high tariffs on an imported item from another country by claiming its price has been artificially depressed or subsidized by the government in order to export – or ‘dump’ – them at a price lower than the domestic price. No deterrent is imposed against the offending country even if a WTO dispute settlement panel rules that the ostensibly anti-dumping tariff-raising action was wrongly taken, even though the exporting country has lost considerable export earnings in the interim.

Furthermore, similar actions can be repeated without impunity with no threat of penalty. Such ostensible trade-remedy actions are more likely than blatant tariff walls. These may, in turn, trigger retaliatory counter-actions by aggrieved governments, potentially leading to a spiral of trade protectionism, i.e., trade warfare.

Fair trade?
It is unclear how the new administration views FTAs more generally. The President-elect’s objection to the TPP and NAFTA focuses on the goods trade, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to cheaper imports, often brought in by the same companies which have chosen to relocate production capacities abroad, and are already mobilizing to resist actions which may jeopardize their profits.
This view does not seem to recognize that technological change, particularly with automation, has been the major source of job losses. Many jobs remaining in the US have higher skill requirements, with fewer employees producing more goods with less labour-intensive techniques.

“Fair trade” will be subject to self-serving interpretations by the governments concerned, arguably further undermining trade multilateralism. While freer trade has undoubtedly improved consumer welfare with cheaper imports, it has seen some deindustrialization in the North and industrialization in the South in recent decades with important employment consequences which have been a major source of the current discontent over globalization.

Trade growth slower
To be sure, the trade growth slowdown following the 2008 financial crisis suggests that the U-turn has already taken place after an extraordinary period of trade expansion due to much greater international specialization with the popularization of international value chains.

In December 2015, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman threatened the already difficult Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations by trying to introduce TPP issues which had been kept off the agenda from the outset of the ostensibly Development Round after the Seattle WTO ministerial walkout of 1999.

Perhaps most worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO. Trump’s much-trumpeted preference for bilateral deals favourable to the US is likely to test trade multilateralism as never before.

But President-elect Trump also has a penchant for the unpredictable, and may yet surprise the world with a new commitment to trade multilateralism to advance consumer, producer, and development interests for all.

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Change Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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Trump’s UN Pick: “UN Could Benefit from a Fresh Set of Eyes” Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:46:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN, outlined her vision of a strong U.S. role in the human rights institution at a confirmation hearing today.

Noting her potential role as a “fresh set of eyes” and an “outsider,” Haley highlighted the need for a strong U.S. leadership position at the UN.

“When America fails to lead, the world becomes a dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she will bring back the U.S.’ “indispensable voice of freedom.”

When asked about Russia, Haley expressed caution in trusting them but suggested that their government could be an asset.

“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now…and we have to continue to be very strong back. We need to let them know that we are not okay with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we are also going to tell them that we do need their help with ISIS,” she said.

In her last major speech, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power similarly noted U.S. interest in solving problems and cooperating with Russia, but expressed dire concerns over Russia’s “aggressive and destabilizing actions” in Crimea, Syria and its interferences in numerous governments.

“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against—having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.

During her hearing, Haley acknowledged that Russia violated the international order when it invaded Crimea and its actions in Syria constitute war crimes, and that she supports preserving sanctions against the government. She also noted the need to stand up to any and all countries that attempts to interfere with the U.S.

This represents what could be perceived as a break with President-elect Trump who has previously denied intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.

In recent comments, President-elect Trump also suggested easing sanctions against Russia in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. He additionally criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), calling it “obsolete.”

When asked about these comments, Haley again differentiated her position from Trump’s:

“It is important that we have alliances…I think as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic, I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

“I’m going to control the part that I can,” she continued.

Haley also blasted the UN for what she described as its “biased” position on Israel during the hearing, stating: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than its bias against our close ally Israel.”

Like President-elect Trump, Haley particularly criticised the recent passage of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, calling it a “terrible mistake” that makes a peace agreement even harder to achieve.

During the vote in December, the U.S. broke with long-standing foreign policy towards Israel by abstaining, rather than vetoing. The other 14 members of the 15 member council all voted for the resolution.

Haley vowed to never abstain when the UN takes action that comes in direct conflict with U.S. interests, including actions against Israel.

She highlighted the need for UN reforms, stating that the goal is to “create an international body that better serves the American people.” To bring about changes, Haley suggested using U.S. funding as leverage.

“We are a generous nation but we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we paid for?” she asked. She pointed to the Human Rights Council as an example, questioning their role in supporting and promoting human rights while countries such as Cuba and China are members.

The U.S. currently contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget.

Recent legislation proposed by two U.S. Republican Senators would see the United States withdraw its funding not only to the UN Secretariat but also to the entire UN-system, including UNICEF, the UN Development Program and UN Women.

Though initially stating that she would not “shy away” from withdrawing U.S. funds to achieve reforms, Haley later backtracked and said that she does not support a “slash and burn” approach in terms of pulling funding from the UN when there are undesirable outcomes, but rather use funds as leverage to help make agencies more effective.

Haley is a South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants and is the first female and first minority governor of her state. She gained national attention after calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. Haley will replace Ambassador Power as the only woman on the 15-member council.

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Inequality (III): Less Employment… and More ‘Junk’ Jobs Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:39:10 +0000 Baher Kamal Article III of of this three-part series on inequality tackles the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part II focused on the impact of inequality on women. Part I dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide. ]]> Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

While just eight men are enjoying their huge wealth, equivalent to that of half the world, new forecasts project darker shadows by predicting rising unemployment rates, more precarious jobs and worsening social inequality. To start with, there will be more than 1.4 billion people employed in vulnerable working conditions.

Throughout 2017, global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million due to deteriorating labour market conditions in emerging countries –particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns in a new report.

Meantime, unemployment is expected to fall in developed countries – especially in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, the United States, and Canada, ILO says in its World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2017.

1 in 2 Workers Employed in Vulnerable Conditions

In addition, the figure of 1.4 billion people who are employed in vulnerable working conditions is not expected to decrease. That number represents 42 per cent of all employment for 2017, warns the report, which was released on January 12, 2017.

“Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries,” said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

On this, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, said “We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year…”

According to the report, global gross domestic product (GDP) growth reached a six-year low last year, well below the rate that was projected in 2015.

“Forecasters continue to revise their 2017 predictions downwards and uncertainty about the global economy persists, generating worry among experts that the economy will be unable to employ a sufficient number of people and that growth will not lead to inclusive and shared benefits.”

Since 2009, the percentage of the working-age population willing to migrate abroad for work has risen in almost every region in the world. That trend was most prominent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Arab States, it notes.

The report also points out a number of social inequalities that are creating barriers to growth and prosperity.

Gender gaps in particular are affecting the labour market, ILO notes, and gives specific examples: in Northern Africa, women in the labour force are twice as likely as men to be unemployed. “That gap is wider still for women in Arab States. “

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Discontent, Unrest

As a result of these and other social inequalities across a wide range of demographics, the ILO estimates that the risk of social unrest or discontent is growing in almost all regions.

“Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs,” said Ryder.

“Persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are alarming…”

ILO called for international cooperation and a coordinated effort to provide fiscal stimuli and public investments to provide an immediate jump-start to the global economy and eliminate an anticipated rise in unemployment for two million people.

On Jan. 16, Oxfam International released a major report — ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ — on the state of growingly deepening inequality worldwide.

On the specific case of employment, it says: “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite”.

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

What Is Behind the Widening Gap?

Asked what is behind this increasingly worsening inequality, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” said to IPS: “The benefits of economic growth are not shared equally across our societies.

“The vast majority of income generated in the past thirty years has accrued to the owners of capital, and to those at the top of society. Workers have seen their wages stagnate in many countries across the globe, and in many other countries their wages have not risen anywhere near as fast as returns to the owners of capital.”

Ratcliff explained to IPS that in order to maximise returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, investing less in their business, and spending billions lobbying government to write the rules in their favour.

As a result, erosions in pensions, labour rights and secure work are common across the world, and hit women and the young hardest because tend to be the ones who are concentrated in precarious jobs, on very low pay, she warned.

“If we don’t tackle inequality, workers across the world will pay the price in terms of increasing insecurity and lower wages.”

The Poor Pay Far More than the Rich for a Hot Meal

Should all the above not be enough, new United Nations data shows that a simple bowl of food in Malawi is much more expensive than that same meal in Davos, Switzerland, once adjustments have been made to take into account one’s average daily income.

That is what research by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) revealed. The analysis is part of a new initiative by the WFP called ‘Hot Dinner Data’ which was made public on Jan. 13, just before the Jan. 17 opening of the annual World Economic Forum, a summit of political and economic leaders that takes place in Davos.

“The Hot Dinner Data analysis aims to hold a new mirror up to the world – one which illustrates the distortions in the purchasing power of the rich and the poor as they try to meet their basic food needs,” announced Arif Husain, Chief Economist of WFP.

‘Hot Dinner Data’ reveals that people in the developing world pay as much as 100 times more for a basic plate of food than those who live in wealthier nations. In the most extreme circumstances – for example, in regions under conflict – the cost can be 300 times higher.

For example, it says, a bowl of bean stew – a standard nutritious meal throughout regions and cultures – would cost a person in Switzerland 0.88 Swiss Francs (CHF), or an average 0.41 per cent of their daily income.

“That cost would be 100 times more in Malawi, where a person would need to spend 41 per cent of their daily income to purchase the same meal. In India and Nicaragua, it would be roughly 10 to 15 times more expensive than in Switzerland.”

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It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farming Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:31:31 +0000 Ken Cook It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farming - OPED by Ken Cook from the Environmental Working Group (EWG)

By Ken Cook
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

Conventional farming and food production practices in this country are creating serious environmental and public health problems. Every day, an industrial farming system spinning out of control confronts all Americans with serious challenges. Among these are the explosion in toxic algae blooms in sensitive waterways, cancer-causing pesticides on foods we feed our children, the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and, of course, contaminated drinking water, all courtesy of corporate agribusiness.

Thankfully, we have an alternative: organic.

Study after study shows organic food is better for our health, and organic farming is better for our environment.

Organic milk has higher concentrations of beneficial nutrients than its conventional counterpart, and organic foods can have higher levels of antioxidants and far fewer, if any, pesticide residues than conventionally grown crops. In addition to the notable consumer benefits, organic farming consumes far less energy and can reduce water pollutionincrease biodiversitypromote healthy soils and sequester significantly more carbon than conventional farming.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been advocating for organic food and farming for more than two decades, with much of our research documenting how the practices and finished products of both conventional and organic agriculture influence our health and the environment.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand
In that time, I have worked alongside many pioneers and have seen organic farming grow from a fledgling movement available to few, into a nearly $40 billion a year industry. Organic is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. food industry with some of the country’s largest retailers struggling to keep up with customer demand and keep their store shelves stocked.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, fewer than 1 percent of American farms were classified as organic. This has forced many organic food companies in the U.S. to turn to foreign suppliers to meet customer demand.

There is no reason why we cannot be meeting the surging demand for organic foods here at home, growing and producing it ourselves. However, if we are going to grow more organic food in this country we will need more organic farmers. That means recruiting new farmers, and helping existing farmers transition to organic.

Easier said than done.

We will need to provide farmers with technical assistance to help them transition to organic. We will also need to invest in more science and research to ensure that organic and transitioning farmers are armed with high yielding, regionally adapted seeds, designed with organic systems in mind.

Now, you don’t have to be a D.C. lobbyist or congressional staffer to know that the purse strings on Capitol Hill have been pulled tight in recent years, and funds supporting agriculture are tethered closely to the interests of Big Ag, not organic. While EWG will continue to call on Congress to make serious investments in organic in the next farm bill, there is a lot that can be accomplished in the interim if the organic community pools its resources, and approves an organic research and promotions program.

That is why EWG supports the organic check-off program.

The principle of a check-off program is simple: Producers of a particular commodity pool their resources, and collectively invest in research and promotion of that commodity. These programs are authorized by Congress and directed by industry-driven boards overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this sounds simple, it hasn’t always worked out in the best interest of producers.

EWG is fully aware that farmers have been burned by past check-off programs, and we are glad that so many in the organic community have been part of productive discussions about the organic check-off currently under consideration. After all of those discussions one thing is clear: The organic check-off is not your father’s check-off.

It is the first such program that is not based on a specific commodity, but rather on the notion that if everyone pitches in a little, the organic community can address its shared research, education and promotion needs together.

With the funds raised every year from the check-off, the organic community would be able to provide transitioning farmers with greater technical assistance and training to bring more acres into organic production. It would also be able to fill in the research gaps left every year by limited federal research dollars that all too often skew toward outdated and damaging industrial farming practices. And, the check-off will ensure that the organic sector has an opportunity to educate consumers about organic and promote its benefits in the same way that major commodities like milk and pork were able to do with the “Got Milk?” and “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaigns, respectively.

To be clear, both Congress and organic food companies will also have to do their parts to increase funding for research and promotion of organic in the years to come. But that shouldn’t stop the organic community from supporting the organic check-off program and taking organic to the next level.

After all, EWG not only believes that organic farming can help feed the world, we believe that organic systems and practices may be the only way to do so sustainably. However, the footprint of organic on the agricultural landscape and in Americans’ shopping carts must grow significantly if we are to realize organic’s full potential to feed the planet in ways that enhance the environment and public health.

I hope you will join me in supporting the GRO Organic campaign to make this a reality.

This story was originally published by Food Tank


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Inequality (II): “It Will Take 170 Years for Women to Be Paid as Men Are” Tue, 17 Jan 2017 06:28:32 +0000 Baher Kamal Article II of this three-part series on inequality, focuses on the impact of discrimination on women. Part III will tackle the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part I has dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide.]]> Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

While just eight individuals, all of them men, own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — half of world’s total population — it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men, warns a new major report on inequality.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

In it, OXFAM warns that women, who are often employed in low pay sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the workplace, and who take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work, often find themselves at the bottom of the pile.

“On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.”Agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men” – EU Commissioner

‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ also reveals how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis, adds OXFAM, an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the 1 dollar an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

“The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.”


IPS interviewed Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign”.

“Around the world, women make up the majority of those in the worst-paid and least secure jobs, while shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for unpaid care work. This is not an accident; our current economic model depends on this supply of cheap or free labour.“

When public services are cut because big business and wealthy individuals don’t pay their fair share of taxes, Ratcliff told IPS, it is often women who are hit hardest – for example when education isn’t free, it is girls who tend to miss out.

“Women face discrimination at a household and institutional level, with political and economic elites dominated by men – all 8 of the richest people are men and 89 percent of all billionaires are men.”

According to Ratcliff, economies must be managed to ensure that women have the same economic opportunities as men.

“For example, by ensuring equal access to education, by providing better and more affordable child care services, by investing in basic infrastructure and services, and by challenging social norms about the role of women in our societies.”

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

If Women Had the Same Resources As Men…

Being among the poorest of the poor, and in spite of their critical contributions and of making up half of agriculture workers, rural women and farmers are major victims of inequality.

“If women had the same access to resources as men, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world, ” said Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at a recent high-level event co-organised by four UN specialised bodies, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

“It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board — not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice… Yet current statistics suggest that the world is falling short on this score.”

The European Commissioner went on to say that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men.

“As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”

Women, Half of Agriculture Workers, But…

In developing countries, women make up 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 per cent in Latin America to up to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“And they are harder workers — in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12-13 hours more than men per week.”

Across all regions, women are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. Less than 20 per cent of the world’s landholders are women.

“Women farmers generate productivity gains. And women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their earnings back into their households — that’s money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare, school, and income-generating activities — helping to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.”

With this data in hand, José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, assured at last month’s high-level meeting that achieving gender equality and empowering women “is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.”

The meeting was co-organised by FAO, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women.

At it, Graziano da Silva affirmed that “Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture,” noting that they comprise 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, with that figure rising to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia.

These numbers underscore the importance of ensuring that rural women enjoy a level playing field, according to the FAO Director-General

Close That Gender Gap!

In her remarks, Gabriela Matecná, Slovak Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and President of the Council of the European Union over last year‘s second semester, said, “the gender gap imposes significant costs on society, in terms of lost agricultural output, food security and economic growth.”

Although nearly half the world’s agricultural labour force is female, she noted, women own less than 20 per cent of agricultural land. At the same time, 60 per cent of chronically hungry people on the planet are women or girls.

“When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community,” noted for his part IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

“We see time and time again that gender equality opens doors for entire communities to strengthen their food and nutrition security and to improve their social and economic well-being,” he said, adding: “Empowering rural women is indeed empowering humanity.”

“It is only through empowering women farmers that we can unlock the power of global food systems. Supporting them is essential in creating resilience, building stronger businesses, and advancing food security in the long term,” Denise Brown, Director of Emergencies at World Food Programme (WFP), stated.

And Maria Noel Vaeza, Director of Programs at UN Women, said: “Closing the gender gaps in agriculture can provide multiple development dividends, including gender equality for rural women, food security and poverty reduction, improved climate management and peaceful societies.”

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Why Institutions Are so Important for Growth Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:13:52 +0000 Biru Paksha Paul By Biru Paksha Paul
Jan 16 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In 1900, Argentina looked like a promising country with respectable growth. It was queueing to be an industrialised country like many other western European nations. However, financial markets, the legal system, stock exchange, and the central bank were not ready with up-to-date regulations and, more importantly, their enforcement. Argentina turned out to be unfortunate for not being able to keep the pace of other European nations which had better institutions in place. Argentina’s per capita income is now USD 14,000, far below the mark of USD 40,000 which it should have enjoyed right now like its other comparable European peers.

why_institutions_Ivory Coast and Mexico had similar periods of promising growth even until the end of the 1970s, but both of them soon plunged into zero or negative growth. Ivory Coast was a role model to many African countries, but the country failed to understand that its institutions, such as the public administration, property rights, and law enforcement, must be ahead of African standards. Abidjan, its economic capital, is slightly less congested than Dhaka, reflecting a failure of street discipline. After independence in 1960, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) grew almost at 10 percent for the first 20 years – the highest of Africa’s non-oil exporting countries. But average growth since the early 1980s until now has remained in the doldrums of 2 percent or so.

A once growth champion can thus turn into a case of growth disaster, alerting us that growth may cascade down like spring water anytime if the society fails to build adequate institutions. There are many stories in the world to remind us that we should fix our institutions at a faster pace to keep our growth going. Otherwise, challenges, as faced by countries like Argentina, Mexico, or Ivory Coast won’t be a surprise. It is imperative to clarify first what the term ‘institutions’ means.

The term, ‘institutions,’ has different meanings in different disciplines. But when we speak of it in relation to growth, we usually refer to the definition of institutional economics. Although ‘institutions’ and ‘organisations’ may appear the same, in reality they aren’t. Institutions are a set of consistent rules that shape the behaviour of organisations and individuals in a society. They can be formal, such as constitutions, laws, regulations, contracts, and procedures. Norms, values, and traditions are informal institutions. Since values, traditions, and laws are often interwoven, institutions give us a much bigger width and depth than a simple set or rules.

There are four key sectors such as finance, education, justice, and public administration, where institutions play the most effective role in promoting growth in a society. If a rule is broken, it’s often both an institutional and organisational failure. Dhaka is a thriving city representing 35 percent of the country’s GDP. Different studies state that Dhaka’s mobility impediments owing to traffic congestion are taking a toll of USD 1 to 3 billion from the nation’s potential income. Thus, we are losing almost 1 percentage point of growth each year. This is partly an infrastructural constraint and heavily an institutional problem, because rules aren’t there. Laws aren’t enforced even if they are there. Defective institutions are in place. A recent report by Brac’s Institute of Governance and Development states that 40 percent of Dhaka’s traffic jam can be removed without any engineering effort, but by enforcing street laws.

Opening an organisation isn’t enough to ensure proper institutions – just like opening the Board of Investment didn’t guarantee enough comfort to foreigners to jump into Bangladesh. The newly formed Bangladesh Investment Development Authority ((BIDA) has taken a different approach. It is examining why Bangladesh’s position in the ease of doing business is so poor – 176 out of 190 countries. The target BIDA has taken is to bring down the number to at least 99. Here the authority is directly addressing the institutional problems that are actually preventing foreigners to flow in. And that is how a nation can build institutions.

The medicines of growth economics, as suggested in textbooks are not new, but they don’t work without institutions. Imagine a case where a patient with physical injuries approaches two different physicians separately. Doctor A prescribes antibiotics and pain relievers. Doctor B emphasises on therapy but prescribes lesser antibiotics and pain pills. Who is better is hard to say, but Doctor B appears to have kept the patient’s less medicated recovery and therefore long-term welfare in mind. Institutions provide long-term sustainability of growth to a nation. Otherwise, growth gets out of steam at some point.

When there is no good rule to drive in the street, there is a legal gap. But when the law is there without any regard from the public, there is an enforcement gap. These two gaps must be filled before defining institutions. When we see vehicles of some powerful officials being driven on the wrong side of the road, it sends a signal to many that institutions are not in place. Institutions mean laws not in books but in real action.

Bangladesh has investment opportunities as well as a bundle of fiscal and monetary policies which are, at least in theory, no less accommodative than those in Vietnam. Then why is Vietnam attracting FDIs equivalent to 5 percent of its GDP while ours is less than 1 percent? Simply put, institutions in Bangladesh are not as well-prepared and accessible as they are in Vietnam. It’s high time to look at improving institutions for Bangladesh just to make sure that we want to maintain this growth momentum. Bangladesh can’t afford the similar fate of growth as experienced by Ivory Coast, Mexico, or Argentina.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics at the State University of New York in Cortland.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Born Disadvantaged Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:05:14 +0000 Hajrah Mumtaz By Hajrah Mumtaz
Jan 16 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

At the age of around three, the daughter of a domestic worker in Karachi started to inexplicably lose weight. After months of ignoring the issue, the mother finally approached her employer, whose first question was whether the child got enough to eat and if her diet was a balanced one.

Hajrah Mumtaz

Hajrah Mumtaz

The mother explained that the child more or less got enough lentils and vegetables, though there was little meat because of the cost — and that even when there was meat, such as on Eid, it tended to go to her sons, because they were older and “needed it more”. The girl was born with low birth weight, and in the first couple of years of her life, when the mother was unemployed, did not get enough to eat because the family was struggling financially. Things were better now with her current job.

Upon being taken to a doctor, it was revealed that the child was suffering from various deficiencies, including vitamin and iodine. The medic also explained that the girl was probably a victim of intergenerational malnutrition given that this was the case with the bulk of the poor in the country. The vitamin deficiencies could be compensated for, he said, but the adverse effects of malnutrition that had already impacted the child in utero and in the crucial first two years of her life — physical stunting, slower cognitive development etc — were permanent.

Over 9m Pakistani children experience chronic malnutrition.

This country’s shocking figures on malnutrition and high rates of stunting have been in the headlines for several years now. Even so, there seems to be little understanding of the problem and the scale at which it is putting successive generations at a significant disadvantage.

Intergenerational malnutrition occurs when the effects of chronic malnutrition play out over successive generations: undernourished girls become undernourished mothers whose children are therefore also undernourished, both during pregnancy and later because of poverty. Of these, the girls — already born and raised weaker than their potential — will go on to become malnourished mothers. The effects are compounded and aggregate.

On top of this is not just the discrimination girls face food-wise at the hands of the male members of the family (‘the boys need it more’ logic), but also the fact that many girls are married off far too early and have little say in when they should bear children.

According to the World Food Programme, globally malnourished mothers give birth to somewhere around 17 million underweight infants every year. Of these, the ones that survive infancy face compromised health and cognitive development all through their lives. The same source says that at a worldwide level, maternal malnutrition accounts for 20 per cent of child stunting. Referring specifically to Pakistan, the National Nutrition Survey 2011 tells us that 44pc of children in the country suffer stunted growth — according to the UN the third highest number in the world.

This translates into 9.6m Pakistani children that have experienced chronic nutritional deprivation in utero or during early childhood. Stunting and slow cognitive development translate to persons less able to work to their full potential later in life, thus deepening the poverty cycle. The effects of in utero malnutrition can be compensated for to some extent in early life, but after age two or so, by when some 80pc of the brain’s capacity has already developed, the deficiencies have become permanent.

If this presents a frightening lens through which to view the predicament in which millions of Pakistan’s poor find themselves, consider an old bit of research on poverty of which I was recently reminded. In 2013, the prestigious Science magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science carried a ground-breaking lens through which to study financial stress.

It showed that poverty, in and of itself, significantly hurts people’s ability to make well-thought-out decisions and, as a single factor, imposes a mental burden comparable to losing a dozen IQ points.

In other words, the stress of it is such that people’s ability and judgement to decide wisely is significantly impeded, because the short-term gains are so urgently needed and long-term ones seem so impossible. Poverty, as the article notes, directly impedes cognitive function. One of the authors of the study, Eldar Shafir, commented in an interview back then that “All the data suggests it is not the person, it’s the context they are inhabiting”.

Put these pieces of research together and the future looks grim indeed: on the one hand, there are millions labouring on despite poor cognitive development; on the other, the very context of poverty could be leading to poor decision-making. Hence, perhaps, the very slow pace of success in Pakistan’s intervention initiatives — and there have been several over the decades — to lift millions out of poverty and improve lives.

The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Kenya Can Lead the Way to Universal Health Care in Africa Mon, 16 Jan 2017 11:14:21 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee The UN in Kenya works with the Keyan Government and partners to ensure health services are delivered where they are most needed. (Credit: UNDP Kenya/James Ochweri)

The UN in Kenya works with the Keyan Government and partners to ensure health services are delivered where they are most needed. (Credit: UNDP Kenya/James Ochweri)

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Consider this: every year, nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line as a result of unaffordable health care expenses.

For many Kenyan families, the cost of health care is as distressing as the onset of illness and access to treatment. A majority of the population at risk can hardly afford the costs associated with basic health care and when faced with life threatening conditions, it is a double tragedy-inability to access health care and lack of resources to pay for the services.

According to the World Health Organisation, a large percentage of poor households in Kenya cannot afford health care without serious financial constraints as most are dependent on out of pocket payments to pay for services.  Nearly four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance, thus a large part of the population is excluded from quality health care services.

In 2015, UN Member States endorsed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), expected to guide the development agenda through 2030. The endorsement of the SDG 3 – Good health and wellbeing; formally enshrined Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a development priority for all countries.

UHC has the potential to transform the lives of millions of Kenyans—guaranteeing access to lifesaving health services while helping individuals and families avoid crippling health expenses and the poverty trap.

Nearly four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance, thus a large part of the population is excluded from quality health care services.
The situation is not unique to Kenya, but also a case in point for many other developing countries. As a result, UHC has been identified as a key development goal for enhancing countries’ health systems globally.  It is an all-encompassing development issue, including as it does, the full spectrum of essential, quality health services from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation as well as palliative care.

Protecting people from the consequences of out-of-pocket health expenditure, which in Kenya forms about a fifth of family spending, is critical. It reduces the risk of people using up their life savings, selling of assets, or borrowing, threatening the financial future of their families as out of pocket health expenditure is also the most inequitable and inefficient.

However, achieving UHC is a formidable challenge because Africa as a continent requires about 50 percent more doctors to achieve UHC, compared to Europe which needs only about 3 percent more. The continent still lags far behind the rest of the world in provision of basic health care services such as immunisation, water and sanitation as well as family planning.

Much of the problem lies with the low prioritisation of health. Less than ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have met the Abuja declaration committing to allocate 15 percent of their annual government spending on provision of health care.

Kenya is one of the countries that is yet to reach the Abuja threshold, but several indicators show that the country can be an inspiration for the rest of the continent in achieving UHC by 2030.

One of the steps in the right direction is the government’s move to eliminate payments for primary and maternal health services in public facilities. This has led to tangible improvements in maternal and child health, with maternal mortality ratio falling from 488 to 362 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2008 and 2014.

With consensus that maternal health is a major driver of overall health and economic development, the Government of Kenya in partnership with the United Nations family and the World Bank, with strong support from the governments of the United States of America, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Denmark and Norway who have focussed on counties with the highest maternal and child deaths. Significant gains have also been made as a result of the First Lady of Kenya’s Beyond Zero campaign.

Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Global Health and Health Care at the World Economic Forum, remarked that, “Kenya’s efforts has led to an innovative public-private partnership mechanism that has the potential of building business models that will offer the best of both public and private sector in scaling-up the delivery public health services in low-resource settings”.

Another positive direction is the devolution of health – a constitutional change that shifted responsibility for healthcare provision to county governments. This seeks to achieve universal coverage by bringing health decisions closer to citizens, ensuring efficient and equitable resource distribution, thereby improving access to health facilities as well as services.

Recent changes to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) has expanded the coverage for formal sector employees by adding outpatient care and a new initiative specially targeting informal sector has recently been introduced. The new national scheme offers a comprehensive family cover for US$ 60 (6000 Kenyan Shillings) covering both outpatient and inpatient services. New initiatives such as health insurance subsidies for the poor, severely disabled and elderly will help to bring more vulnerable people under comprehensive health insurance cover.

Kenya is already a leader in technological innovation.  This is a capability that must be harnessed to improve health systems to help bring down costs of delivering health care services through telemedicine, reducing inefficiencies in provider payment systems and generating better data.

These improvements could significantly help ameliorate the financial stress that is currently the most significant barrier to achievement of UHC. Some studies have shown that technical efficiency is a big flaw in Kenya’s health facilities, with one reporting that public dispensaries are operating at only 47 percent efficiency.

Kenya is part of various initiatives for developing sustainable financing for health services such as the Global Financing Facility, a partnership that will catalyse greater investments in health services, with a particular focus on women, adolescents and children.

The momentum is already with the country and in keeping with the spirit of the SDGs, Kenya must lead in the moral imperative of ensuring that none of the people who cannot pay for health care are left behind.

Kenya can undoubtedly lead the way in achieving universal health care.

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Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Men Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.


On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

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Is Cash Aid to the Poor Wasted on Tobacco and Alcohol? Sat, 14 Jan 2017 21:07:11 +0000 Baher Kamal Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme is implemented by the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health and has been operating since 2003. As of December 2014, it reached 150,000 households and there are concrete plans to scale it up nation-wide in the near future. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Not at all. Or at least not necessarily. The fact is that cash transfer programmes –regular money payments to poor households—are meant to reduce poverty, promote sustainable livelihoods and increase production in the developing world. One in four countries on Earth are applying them. But are they effective?

That depends. In some countries, like Brazil, the so-called Bolsa Família is cited as one of the key factors behind the positive social outcomes this Latin American giant has achieved in recent years.

The programme is an innovative social initiative taken by the Brazilian Government, says the World Bank (WB), which has provided technical and financial support to it.

In fact, Bolsa Família reaches 11 million families, more than 46 million people, a major portion of the country’s low-income population. The model emerged in Brazil more than a decade ago and has been refined since then.

Poor families with children receive an average of 70.00 R (about 35 US dollars) in direct transfers. In return, they commit to keeping their children in school and taking them for regular health checks.

And so Bolsa Família has two important results: helping to reduce current poverty, and getting families to invest in their children, thus breaking the cycle of inter-generational transmission and reducing future poverty.

Although relatively modest in terms of resources when compared with other Brazilian social programs, such as Social Security, the Bolsa Família programme may be the one that is having the greatest impact on the lives of millions of low-income Brazilians, according to the WB.

But what about other countries and regions?

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on Jan. 4 reported that during the past decade, an increasing number of governments in sub-Saharan Africa have launched cash transfer programmes that target the most vulnerable groups, including subsistence farmers, people with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, as well as families caring for elderly and disabled.

But “although local economies and numerous households have benefited from this social protection measure, critics remain doubtful.”

Five Common Myths

Whatever the case is, there are at least five common myths about cash transfers.

FAO elaborated the following list aimed at evaluating how they play an important role in improving food and nutrition security and reducing rural poverty, based on evaluations carried out in seven African countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Myth: Cash will be wasted on alcohol and tobacco

Reality: Alcohol and tobacco represent only 1 to 2 per cent of food expenditures in poor households. Across six countries in Africa where FAO and partners carried out evaluations of cash transfer initiatives, no evidence of increased expenditures was found.

In Lesotho, for example, alcohol expenditures have actually decreased after the introduction of cash transfer programmes.

Myth: Transfers are just ‘hand-outs’ and do not contribute to development.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers increased farmland by 36 per cent, and with that the use of seeds, fertilisers and hired labour, which resulted in stronger market engagement, and prompted the use of more agricultural inputs.

The country recorded an overall production increase of 36 per cent. Furthermore, the majority of programmes show a significant increase in secondary school enrolment and in spending on school uniforms and shoes.

Cash transfers... are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Cash transfers… are they more than just hand-outs?. Photo: FAO

Myth: Cash causes dependency and laziness.

Reality: In several countries, including Malawi and Zambia, research shows a reduction in casual wage labour and a shift to more productive and on-farm activities.

In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa cash transfers lead to positive multiplier effects in local economies and significantly boost growth and development in rural areas.

Thus, cash does not create dependency, but rather spurs beneficiaries to invest more in agriculture and to work more.

Myth: Transfers lead to price inflation and disrupt local economies.

Reality: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe were all part of the Protection to Production project, which, among other things, analysed the productive and economic impacts of cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.

None of the seven case study countries experienced inflation.

Beneficiaries represent only a small share of the community (15 to 20 per cent), and because they come from the poorest households and have a low purchasing power, they do not buy enough to affect market prices, thus enabling local economies to meet the increased demand.

In Ethiopia, for every dollar transferred by the programme, about 1.5 dollars are generated for the local economy.

Myth: Child-focused grants increase fertility.

Reality: In Zambia, cash transfers showed no impact on fertility. In Kenya, adolescent pregnancy even decreased by 34 per cent and in South Africa by over 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, FAO, together with its partners, continues to generate evidence on the impacts of social protection interventions to reduce poverty and hunger.

Findings have shown that the implementation of such programmes leads to increased food consumption, better nutrition, improved school enrolment, reduced child labour, economic development, agricultural investment and many other benefits, it says.

“Cash transfer programmes have become an increasingly important tool in finding the path out of poverty and have contributed to making a long-term impact on the lives of many families.”

So far, so good.

The fact, however, is that there are still almost a billion people who still live in extreme poverty (less than 1.25 US dollar per person per day) and 795 million still suffer from chronic hunger, according to this UN leading agency in the filed of food and agriculture.

“Most of the extreme poor live in rural areas of developing countries and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods… They are so poor and malnourished that their families live in a cycle of poverty that passes from generation to generation.”

What About Women?

The case of women is particularly flagrant – although representing nearly half of all rural workers worldwide, with peaks of up to 60 per cent in some developing countries—they have always been among the poorest of the poor.

FAO informs that their main goal is economic growth rather than the economic empowerment of their beneficiaries –-who are usually ultra-poor people; however, evidence of their development impacts is contributing to a shift in how policy-makers perceive these programmes.

On the specific case of women, it says that in many countries, the majority of cash transfers beneficiaries are poor and vulnerable women.

“As a result, it is often claimed that cash transfers have an empowering effect on women based on the assumption that, as the main recipients of the transfers, women gain greater control over financial resources.

Nevertheless, “available evidence on empowerment outcomes is far from being conclusive, particularly as to whether cash transfers actually improve women’s bargaining power and decision-making in the household.”

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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chile Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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Tobacco Industry Misleads Developing Countries Over Regulations Fri, 13 Jan 2017 21:34:35 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A cigarette vendor in Manila sells a pack of 20 sticks for less than a dollar. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

A cigarette vendor in Manila sells a pack of 20 sticks for less than a dollar. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Low and middle-income countries have far fewer tobacco regulations than high-income countries and are paying the price – with bigger health and economic impacts.

Yet, according to new wide-ranging research published by the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco companies are misleading governments, telling them that tobacco regulations will potentially harm their economies.

The research was compiled in a new monograph titled The Eonomics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control, published jointly by the WHO and the National Cancer Institute of the US-based National Institutes of Health.

Frank Chaloupka, who edited the monograph, told IPS that when low and middle income countries do implement regulations, there is usually a much bigger pay off.

“We present some new evidence in the monograph on tobacco advertising bans that shows they have a bigger effect in low- and middle-income countries than they do in high-income countries,” said Chaloupka who is also Distinguished Professor of Economics & Public Health at the University of Illinois.

"Tobacco advertising bans ... have a bigger effect in low- and middle-income countries than they do in high-income countries" -- Frank Chaloupka

“I think it’s partly because of the fact that in a lot of low- and middle-income countries they haven’t been exposed to the same information about the health consequences of tobacco use, people are more susceptible to the industry(’s positive) portrayals of tobacco,” noted Chaloupka.

For example, says Chaloupka, graphic warning labels have proven more effective in low- and middle-income countries.

“People can really see the damage caused by tobacco through the graphic warnings.” For those who have had less exposure to these warnings from other sources of information, the warnings have an even bigger impact.

Taxes on tobacco sales in low and middle countries also have a bigger impact than in high-income countries, Chaloupka added.

“Given people’s lower incomes, people are more responsive to changes in the price,” he said.

There are several reasons why low- and middle-income countries have less tobacco regulations than high-income countries, said Chaloupka, but one problematic cause is misleading arguments made by the industry:

“The industry’s arguments around things like illicit trade, impact on jobs and the broader economic impact, the impact on the poor, the impact on their tax revenues, really the economic arguments that the industry uses against tobacco control are really misleading, and for the most part, false.”

This has contributed to a widening gap between regulations in low and middle-income versus high-income countries. The gap has also widened because of how quickly high-income countries moved to implement control measures:

“We’ve seen governments get serious and really take action, and adopt strong tobacco control measures, push up taxes, ban smoking in public places, ban tobacco marketing as a result we’ve seen tobacco use falling for at least a few decades in most high-income countries.”

While some low and middle-income countries may lack the capacity to implement complex regulations, Chaloupka noted that often simpler policies can be more effective.

“The Philippines (had) a complicated tax system where we had different rates on different brands,” he said. “Over time they moved toward a significant reform in their system and they’re in the process of moving to a single uniform tax which is a lot easier to administer and much better at deterring tax avoidance and tax evasion.”

However although so-called excise taxes on tobacco products can act as a deterrent worldwide they are far from helping governments recoup the costs of tobacco use to economies and society.

“The estimate we have for the global cost is about $1.4 trillion, and less than $300 billion being generated in tax revenues,” said Chaloupka, adding that less than $1 billion of tobacco-related tax revenues is being used for tobacco control.

Chaloupka also pointed to Turkey as an example of a middle-income country that has successfully regulated tobacco use.

“If you go back a few decades the Turkish government used to be the tobacco industry in Turkey. They used to be one of the biggest growers of tobacco leaf in the world, and over time they’ve completely moved in the other direction.”

“They privatised their tobacco industry (and) they didn’t make any promises to the tobacco companies that moved into their markets, and really then did move forward with strong tobacco control policies.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to “$300 million being generated in tax revenues” and “$1 million of tobacco-related tax revenues…” it should have read billion(s) not million(s).

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The Cuban Recession and the Introduction of Public Bonds Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:01:05 +0000 Pavel Vidal The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Pável Vidal
CALI, Colombia, Jan 13 2017 (IPS)

The macroeconomic data for the close of the year provided by the Cuban government confirms the projections that Cuba would enter a recession as a result of the Venezuelan shock.

In 2016 the production of goods and services decreased by 0.9 per cent. This is the first economic recession since 1993, when the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 15 per cent after the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

Since late 2014, after the dramatic oil price drop and the subsequent crisis of the Venezuelan economy, the Cuban recession was highly likely, if we add an insufficient response of the Cuban economic policy in the face of the magnitude of the shock that was approaching.

Relations with Venezuela are formed under very singular agreements between both governments, with prices and financial facilities that are distant from the usual practices in international trade.

Therefore, it’s not simply a question of seeking new markets for the trade that can no longer be carried out with Venezuela, but rather it has to be done in a different way and boosting new economic sectors given that it seems rather improbable that someone else will receive Cuban doctors and sell us cheap oil under the same conditions.

That is why it was so important to start as soon as possible the diversification of international relations and the liberalisation of the domestic capacities in search of increased productivity and greater efficiency in national production. The attraction on a large scale of foreign investment, the devaluation of the official exchange rate and the monetary convergence, a more in-depth reform of state enterprise and the expansion of spaces for the private sector and the cooperatives were some of the steps that seemed feasible and coherent with the reforms already initiated.

Why were some or all these steps not taken? Multiple explanations can be offered.

Because there isn’t clarity or conviction about where the Cuban economic model should be directed. Because the forces resisting the changes have won the game for the time being. Because the need for so many changes surpasses the institutional and technical capacity to manage them all at the same time. Because the U.S. embargo continues preventing the arrival of institutional foreign investors. Because it is really believed that a very slow reform and making experiments is the only effective means. And surely some other explanations could be added.

No matter the reason, the final result is that the reforms have slowed down instead of being speeded up, and after 10 years there are no very encouraging results when examining productivity, the mean wage or a specific sector like agriculture.

The announcements of new transformations are increasingly more dilated. Cuba seems to be living in a different time dimension; it is as if one year in Cuba is equivalent to a month in the rest of the planet.

However, the space in which the economy operates is not isolated, it competes with other destinations for international capital, it is technologically backward, it loses relative weight in the region and suffers the cycles of the international markets and the crisis of its principal economic allies.

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Perspectives for 2017 and the role of public bonds

For 2017 the government is planning an improvement in the situation of the economy, something that is contrary to the projections we had made. The government is planning a two per cent GDP growth.

This GDP growth for 2017 is based on two essential factors. First, the hope that the Venezuelan economic situation improves after the recent increases in the price per barrel of oil; and second, the Cuban government is putting into practice an anti-cyclical expansive fiscal policy.

In his December 27 speech at the National Assembly, Economy and Planning Minister Ricardo Cabrisas stated that “The projections of the energy sources for next year allow for backing similar levels as those of 2016….”

It is very probable that this perspective has as its point of departure the increase presented in the price per barrel of oil during the last three quarters and some international projections that place it at higher levels for 2017, which favours the performance of the Venezuelan economy and opens the possibility that the sending of oil to the island and the payments for Cuban medical services will be stabilised.

On the other hand, an increase in public spending and the fiscal deficit is projected to back the GDP growth. An 11 per cent increase in fiscal spending has been planned, but it will not be able to be covered by the fiscal incomes, which is why it will generate a “fiscal hole” of 11.5 billion pesos in 2017, which represents a value equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP.

In terms of percentages it is the highest fiscal deficit since 1993; in shares it more than doubles the deficit of 1993 which was five billion pesos.

It is favourable that after years of fiscal austerity the government has decided to expand public spending to cushion the recessive effect of the Venezuelan crisis. It is valid to apply an expansive fiscal policy at a time of a GDP drop.

It is also correct to finance the fiscal deficit with the emission of public bonds, which the Cuban state banks will purchase. This is a new instrument that the Finances and Prices Ministry has been introducing for two years with a view to avoiding the monetisation (printing of new money) as a mechanism for the financing of the fiscal deficit.

This fiscal financing mechanism tends to approach international practices, and its principal advantage is to avoid an increase in the primary amount of money, with which inflationary pressures are reduced.

Where are the risks of the expansive fiscal policy and the emission of bonds?

Firstly, the fiscal deficit can grow in times of crisis, but must not do so disproportionately or keep being indefinitely high. It is right to apply an anti-cyclical fiscal policy, but having a fiscal hole of 12 per cent of the GDP in 2017 creates doubts about the financial sustainability of the entire financing mechanism that is being put into practice. To have a point of comparison, it is expected that the countries conserve, in an average of several years, a fiscal deficit of less than three per cent of the GDP.

It should be taken into account that the foreign investors, money lenders and international suppliers themselves will be the first to be viewing this indicator of fiscal balance. On an international level it is one of the principal indicators that are taken into account to evaluate the prudence of the economic policy and that define the country’s financial risk.

Secondly, the emission of public bonds reduces the inflationary effects but does not eliminate them completely. The expansion of the fiscal spending by 11.5 billion pesos over the incomes can put pressure on the increase of prices given the disproportionate expansion that it is activating in the demand for goods and services.

Thirdly, Cuba does not have a fiscal regulation that organises and places limits on the long-term fiscal balance (as other countries in the region have), but rather it depends on the government’s discretion each year. That is to say, we don’t know what is going to happen with the fiscal deficits in the future. We are not sure that the bonds being issued and the next ones that will be issued will be managed adequately to guarantee the sustainability of the entire mechanism.

It should be taken into account that the banks are using family savings to buy public bonds, therefore the government has the responsibility of obtaining future fiscal incomes and balance the public accounts to comply with the commitments made to the banks and, ultimately, to the holders of savings accounts.

To have an idea of the magnitude of the deficit and the resulting emissions of public bonds, we see that in 2015 family savings in the banks amounted to 23.68 billion Cuban pesos.

Therefore, the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2017 is equivalent to 48 per cent of the value of family savings accounts. The banks certainly also have enterprises’ deposits and their own capital. Even so, this proportion of 48 per cent calls attention to the little financing space that the Finances and Prices Ministry would have in the future to support high fiscal deficits.

In short, the two per cent projected growth for 2017 in the Cuban economy depends on a situation that continues to be uncertain for the Venezuelan economy, despite the increase in oil prices. In addition, it is accompanied by an expansive fiscal policy that if well used can help manage the crisis, but if not, would have disastrous consequences for the country’s monetary and financial stability.

The activation of an anti-cyclical fiscal policy and emission of public bonds is a correct step, but a fiscal deficit that is equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP and 48 per cent of the family bank savings seems exaggerated.

It would not be possible to repeat the fiscal expansion in 2018; rather, it would be indispensable to make a fiscal adjustment that decreases significantly the deficit in the coming years.

Therefore, the government is only gaining one year of time, in which it must apply some of the pending and necessary structural reforms to firmly take the economy out of the recession.

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