Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations News and Views from the Global South Sat, 28 Nov 2015 08:35:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Seaweed Cultivation Ushers Waves of Change in the Sundarbans Fri, 27 Nov 2015 22:41:19 +0000 Oishanee Ghosh Algaculture is Mondal’s empowering new source of revenues. Credit: Oishanee Ghosh

Algaculture is Mondal’s empowering new source of revenues. Credit: Oishanee Ghosh

By Oishanee Ghosh

In Bengal’s mangrove forests, the effects of climate change are forcing men to leave their families in search of work. But now, seaweed farming is offering the women left behind financial stability and empowerment.

At sunset, Kanchan Mondal would set off every evening to find odd jobs, leaving her children at home. Like many women in her village in Sundarbans of Bengal, her husband left to find work in the city, forced away by the ever-encroaching seawater that has left their farmlands barren.

“Now, I am also their father,” 35-year-old Mondal said, as she hurriedly ladled out potato broth for her 6-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. “If I don’t leave for work, I don’t earn enough to feed them. When I come back I have to cook dinner, and sometimes it gets late.”

Cocooned by the tidal rivers and the mangrove forests of the southeast Sundarbans, Mondal’s village of Saatjelia, alongside two other villages Kumirmari and Jhorkhali, have been plagued by coastal erosion, repeated cyclones and floods – thanks to climate change. As much as 200 meters of coastline is disappearing annually, according to a 2013 Zoological Society of London study.

This has spelled disaster for rice farming – the main occupation in the region. Some paddy fields are submerged under 2 feet of brackish water throughout the year, and increasing salinity is poisoning the soil – meaning nothing can grow there.

And as men migrate further west to the city of Kolkata in search of work, their wives and children are left behind to fend for themselves in this dangerous terrain.

To make ends meet, many women have taken up the dangerous job of crab fishing, which entails setting off into the estuaries on boats, sometimes for days on end where they are at the mercy of the region’s unpredictable tides – and tigers.

But now, Mondal and the other women of Saatjelia, Jhorkhali and Kumirmari are being trained in a sustainable, safe and empowering alternative to taking to the treacherous waters.

The Asia Pacific Network-Global Change Research and the South Asian Forum for Environment, a civil society organization working throughout the Indian subcontinent, are promoting algaculture in fields covered by seawater.

The project, which launched in 2012 with around 100 beneficiaries, involves farming commercially viable algae like Ulva intestinalis and Ulva lactuca.

“The ability of women to be major algae producers and collectors cannot be ignored,” Dipayan Dey, a project leader, told Deutsche Welle. “We conducted series of capacity building workshops at all three project sites. Women in groups were taught about harvesting, identification of the algal species, pond preparation and cultivation management.”

Algae cultivation requires little technical know-how and almost no startup costs, so it is relatively easy to implement. And the product is in demand in India as a raw material for products such as soaps and shampoo.

Such algae can fetch around 35 rupees (0.50 euro) per kilogram on the domestic market and 70 rupees (1 euro) internationally if marketed properly, added Dey.

That’s compared to around 1,300 rupees (18 euros) per 100 kilograms of rice – but prices vary with production and rainfall. Paddy prices depend on the monsoon.

The green seaweed is also a promising source of biofuel, according to a 2010 United Nations Food and Agriculture report. And many farmers are using it as an organic fertilizer for crops.

“Usually, I prepare my soil with urea and potash – but I used the algae fertilizer this time,” said Diganta, a farmer from Jhorkhali who recently switched over. “I was initially worried – but the plants are healthy.”

Climate adaptation measures such as the algaculture project have improved transport, education and communications in this part of Sundarban, say local officials. And the lives of women have been transformed.

For instance, Mondal’s son was able to return to school, having dropped out to help out with the chores and look after his sister after his father left. Mondal’s daughter has started primary education. The mother has also built a solid kitchen, to replace the one made of mud and thatch that would collapse every monsoon.

“A couple of years back I would wake up and be worried about what to cook for my children at night. My husband would bring me some money every four months – but that was barely enough,” relates Mondal.

After starting in algaculture in 2013, Mondal says she is now able to save money for a rainy day. She now also no longer has to do odd jobs and leave her children at home alone.

It’s been an empowering experience for many women. Mondal holds meetings every other evening at her house. Issues discussed range from cooperative banking, to building an unpaved road through the village post-monsoon.

The women in Satjelia have started manufacturing non-timber forest products like honey and neem oil – a vegetable oil pressed from the fruit and seeds of the neem tree. This in turn helps to preserve forest.

Many men who left their ancestral homes are now coming back to join algaculture movement and their families. That includes Kanchan Mondal’s husband.

“I always thought algae were some kind of nuisance growing on pond,” says Bhabasindhu Mondal, back from Kolkata. “I had to see with my own eyes to believe that it can be grown like a crop.”

“I was used to our green paddy fields – and now I come back to a different kind of greenery.”

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Jennifer Collins from Deutsche Welle.


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Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki

Samuel Musyoki is currently the Country Director of Plan International Zambia and the Chair for 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme.

By Samuel Musyoki
LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

The long-awaited African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage is here.

It presents an opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we need to do differently if we want to step up our efforts towards ending child marriage, an issue close to my heart.

I’ve seen what being a child bride can do to a girl.

I have five sisters, three of whom were married as children. As such, my sisters did not get a good education. They gave birth at an early age and now they are faced with challenges and limited opportunities. Now I am a father to three girls. I want a different life for them and for all the other girls growing up across Africa – and the rest of the world.

The summit, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is taking place in Lusaka this week. It follows the launch at the May 2014 Africa Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa of the campaign to end early and forced child marriage.

Both the campaign and summit are significant for a continent, home to an estimated 7 million child brides.

While we have made good progress working in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and national levels to influence policy and legal changes, more needs to be done at the grassroots level.

Long-term engagement with communities is key if we want to end child marriage across Africa.

Child rights organisation Plan International is dedicated to tackling child marriage and we’ve learnt time and time again, the perception of this issue is almost universally negative.

Yet why does it still happen?

Marriage for a 14 year old girl should not be seen as the only option for parents or for children. That’s fundamentally flawed.

If we want to make a difference, we need to look at how governments and civil society can change with communities to help them realise the impact of child marriage. We need to work with girls to help them understand the value of education and the benefits of the life they can have if they stay in school. But transforming attitudes and practices that have become acceptable over time requires investment in innovative approaches that draw on and build on the knowledge of all relevant actors at policy and grassroots levels.

Plan International has been working against child marriages alongside community-based organisations, regional traditional leaders, media and national governments. By creating local and regional platforms to raise awareness, to discuss and to take action, the pressure is building up to eliminate early child marriage in Africa.

Focusing on Southern Africa, Plan International´s “18+ Programme” on ending child marriages in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique has been engaging with and transforming communities and societies. It contributed significantly to convince the Malawian Parliament, which recently passed a law to declare 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.

Now, more than ever, is the time to bring all actors together and tackle the issue of early child marriage across the continent. After all, we can neither keep the promise of the African Children’s Charter, nor attain the new Sustainable Development Goals if young girls and women continue to suffer early child marriage.

Progress is being made and it’s heartening to seeing discussions taking place across the board. It gives us hope that it is possible to end child marriage within a generation.


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New York Vows to Stop Terrorist Attacks on City Thu, 26 Nov 2015 19:48:35 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

When New York city launched a new counter terrorism unit, immediately following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Mayor Bill de Blasio was emphatic in his reaction: “We can say more certainly than ever before that no city in America is better prepared to defend against terrorism.”

Speaking at a news conference during the launch of the new Critical Response Command (CRC), based in Randall’s Island, De Blasio said New York city was using “every tool in our arsenal to stop the terrorists and protect the safety of the people of this city.”

The heavily-armed new unit has been described as a standby force ready for emergency operations at short notice and operating round the clock.

Although there were no threats against the city, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is training its entire 35,000-member force to thwart any Paris-style attacks. With the upcoming Christmas holidays, security in the city has been tightened –even as there are fears of a marked drop in tourists next month.

As part of its counter terrorism operations, the Police performed a drill in an abandoned subway station, as an exercise responding to a potential terrorist attack.

Responding to a video from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Police Commissioner William Bratton said the video had been pieced together from old footage of some of the tourist spots in the city.

“Quite frankly, there is nothing new about this video”, Bratton told a press conference, and advised New Yorkers: “Beware, but do not be afraid.” And emphasizing the safety of the city, he took a subway ride.

Still, despite the assurances, several schools in neighouring New Jersey and Long Island, have cancelled plans for visits to the city by students – primarily due to safety concerns.

Reacting to the Paris attacks, the 15-member UN Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution November 20 urging member states to take “all necessary measures” against attacks by ISIS.

But such action should be taken “in compliance with international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL)”, also known as ISIS.


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Opinion: Better Nutrition for Better Lives Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:16:57 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

Food systems are increasingly challenged to ensure food security and balanced diets for all, around the world. Almost 800 million people are chronically hungry, while over two billion people suffer from “hidden hunger,” with one or more micronutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile, over two billion people are overweight, with a third of them clinically obese, and hence more vulnerable to non-communicable diseases.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century does not simply involve increasing food availability, but also improving access, especially for the hungry. Creating healthy, affordable and sustainable food systems for all is the most effective way to achieve this.

Since 1945, food production has tripled as average food availability per person has risen by 40 per cent. But despite abundant food supplies, almost 800 million still go hungry every day, of whom most live in developing countries. Many more go hungry seasonally or intermittently. Hunger affects their ability to work and to learn. Clearly, the problem is not just one of food availability, but also of access.

The health of over two billion people is compromised because their diets lack essential micronutrients, which prevents them reaching their full human potential. “Hidden hunger,” or micronutrient deficiencies, undermine the physical and cognitive development of their children, exposing them to illness and premature death.

Ironically, in many parts of the world, hunger co-exists with rising levels of obesity. Over two billion people are overweight, with a third of them deemed obese. This, in turn, exposes them to greater risk of diabetes, heart problems and other diet-related non-communicable diseases.

Food system: problem and solution

Food systems must become more responsive to people’s needs, including food insecure, socially excluded and economically marginalized households. Mothers, young children, the aged and the disabled are especially vulnerable. Adequate nutrition during the “first thousand days,” from conception to the child’s second birthday, is especially critical.

Our challenge then is not simply to produce and supply more food, but to ensure that better food is consumed by all, especially those most in need. And this has to be sustainable in terms of the environment and natural resources to ensure the capacity of future generations to feed themselves.

Increasingly intensive industrial farming systems and massive food wastage are often simply unsustainable. Food production has often put great stress on natural resources – exhausting fresh water supplies, encroaching on forests, degrading soils, depleting wild fish stocks and reducing biodiversity.

We need to recognize and deal with these challenges urgently. Fortunately, we also have the means to transform food production systems to make them more sustainable and healthy by empowering local communities.

Healthy food systems for healthier people

Strong political commitment is required to prioritize nutrition and to improve food systems. Food system policies, programmes and interventions should always strive to improve diets, nutrition and people’s access to and consumption of foods adequate in quantity and quality – in terms of diversity, nutrient content and safety.

Food production research and development should focus on ensuring more diverse, balanced and healthy diets, including more nutrient-rich foods, as well as ecological and resource sustainability. Natural resources must be used more efficiently, with less adverse impacts, by getting more and better food from water, land, fertilizer and labour.

Nutrient dense foods, such as milk, eggs and meat, are improving diets for many, while livestock continues to provide livelihoods for millions. Yet, livestock production and consumption need to be more sustainable, with far less adverse effects on climate change, disease transmission and overall health.

Such food system reforms need to be accompanied by needed complementary interventions, including public health, education, employment and income generation, as well as social protection to enhance resilience. Governments, consumers, producers, distributors, researchers and others need to be more involved in the food system.

Smart investment

Better nutrition also makes economic sense. About five per cent of global economic welfare is lost due to malnutrition in all its forms owing to foregone output and additional costs incurred. Expenditure to address malnutrition offers very high private and social returns. Yet, only about one per cent of the total aid budget is allocated for this purpose.

The follow-up to the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in Rome late last year provides a historic opportunity for political decisions and concerted interventions to enhance nutrition for all through better policies and international solidarity. Currently, less than one per cent of foreign aid goes to nutrition. It is hard to justify not making the desperately needed investments in better nutrition for better lives.


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Drought Threatens Water-Truck Lifeline in Parched Northeast Brazil Thu, 26 Nov 2015 08:55:02 +0000 Nadia Pontes A dead cow lies on a highway in drought-hit Pesqueira, northeast Brazil.

A dead cow lies on a highway in drought-hit Pesqueira, northeast Brazil.

By Nadia Pontes
São José Dos Campos, Brazil, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

For the rural community of Pacheco in northeastern Brazil, the local school has never been so important. It is now the only place in the drought-stricken area that has water on tap.

But to fill the school’s tank, water must be trucked from a reservoir some 40 km away – and it is shrinking fast.

“This is the only way to get access to water here. We don’t have any natural source of fresh water available – everything is dry. We are facing a very difficult situation,” said teacher and community leader Josilânia de Fátima dos Santos.

Local residents go to the school each day to fill three or four large buckets with water. The distribution runs smoothly, with everybody cooperating and taking home just enough to supply their family’s drinking, cooking and hygiene needs.

“We wish we could have fresh water to drink. We pray for rain – we are desperate,” said dos Santos.

“We notice the climate has changed, but we don’t know what to do to fight this problem.”

Along with Pacheco, nearly 18,000 inhabitants in the sprawling municipality of Pesqueira in Pernambuco state have no water on tap.

Brazil’s northeast is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years, which scientists link both to the current strong El Niño weather phenomenon and longer-term climate change.

The semi-arid region has a history of drought, and is vulnerable to hunger and displacement. When crops fail, local people are forced to sell their possessions to pay for new seeds in the hope that rain will come.

Jonas Brito, Pesqueira’s secretary for the environment, said drought had forced the authorities to truck water into rural areas since 2010. But in the past two years, the situation has worsened and is now at crisis point.

“We are on the verge of collapse,” he said.

Seventy water trucks ply more than 800 km of dirt roads to supply rural communities in a service provided by the local government to meet the basic needs of the poor. Wealthy landowners pay for private deliveries.

According to official data, 20 to 50 litres per capita are delivered each day. Yet there is not enough water to irrigate crops, which are the main source of local income.

Corn, bean and cassava plantations are ruined. Milk production has fallen from 150,000 litres per day to 35,000 litres, as animals die of thirst.

The dam that supplies the water trucks is now operating at half its capacity, Brito said.

“Maybe it will be empty next month,” he added. If that happens, the trucks will need to travel further and the cost will rise.

Rainfall in northeastern Brazil is highly irregular, leading to catastrophic droughts – a problem that has occurred every decade or so since the 16th century.

Despite this, the city of Pesqueira, 215 km from the Pernambuco state capital of Recife, does not have a plan to deal with the loss of its productive land.

In this region, availability of water is among the lowest in the northeast, at around 40 litres per capita per day.
The drought is also affecting city dwellers, as the storage level of another dam that provides water for urban areas has dropped to 10 percent.

In 2014 the federal government launched an online tool to monitor droughts in the northeast. The map shows a dark red stain covering the city of Pesqueira, which means “exceptional drought”.

This is also the case in some parts of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte and Paraíba states. The rest of the map shows “severe drought”.

Pesqueira had already drawn the attention of scientists in 2007, when José Marengo and Guillermo Obregón of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) conducted research on Brazil’s climate in the 20th century.

The researchers looked at 22 localities across five Brazilian regions: North, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and South. They found the largest temperature rise in Pesqueira, where it increased around 0.6 degrees Celsius per decade from 1981 to 2000.

These local temperature rises are linked to global warming, said the first report of the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC), released in January.

“The impacts of climate change in Brazil are more evident in the Northeast region,” said Marengo, also an author of reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In addition, droughts in this region have been associated with El Niño, a large-scale interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere linked to periodic warming in Pacific sea surface temperatures.

El Niño can influence the regional and global climate, changing wind patterns and affecting rainfall in the tropics and mid-latitudes.

If average temperatures continue to rise across continents and oceans, El Niño could occur more often and become more intense, Marengo noted.

Models suggest surface water temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius above average through the end of this year, potentially placing the 2015-16 El Niño among the four strongest events since 1950.

It is already having devastating effects on communities like Pacheco.

“We notice the rainfall has decreased, the drought is more intense and it is warmer than before,” said Brito.

To address water shortages in the region, the federal government is implementing a plan to divert part of the flow of the São Francisco River along a canal that will bring water to Pesqueira.

Construction is due to be finished by the end of 2016, but that will not bring the urgent relief the people of Pacheco are desperately hoping for.

“We need help – we need public policy to fight this problem,” said Brito. “We cannot wait.”

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Megan Rowling from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban Thu, 26 Nov 2015 07:19:14 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Terrorism Index Shows Nine-Fold Increase Since 2000 Wed, 25 Nov 2015 19:48:00 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

In 2014, the number of lives lost to terrorism around the world increased by 80 percent, the highest level ever. The majority of such terrorist activity occurred in the largest refugee-producing nations, a Global Terrorism Index (GTI) showed.

The GTI, developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), comprehensively studies the patterns and impacts of terrorism globally.

The 2015 GTI, released on 17 Nov, has recorded the rise in terrorism, with a nine-fold increase in terrorism-related deaths since 2000. In total, 32,658 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 67 countries in 2014.

Even in the wake of the 13 Nov Paris attacks, the majority of terrorism-related deaths do not occur in the West. Most of these deaths, over 78 percent, transpired in just five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

In Nigeria alone, deaths by terrorism increased over 300 percent to 7,512, the largest increase ever recorded by any country. This has allowed Boko Haram to surpass the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to become the deadliest terrorist group in the world. The index also highlighted the link between countries with terrorist activity and levels of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees.

“Ten of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism also have the highest rates of refugees and internal displacement,” said IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea. “This highlights the strong inter-connectedness between the current refugee crisis, terrorism and conflict,” he continued.

From just the five countries with the highest levels of terrorism, there were over 16 million refugees and IDPs in 2014. This includes Syria which has seen a surge in terrorism and conflict since 2011, displacing and forcing millions to escape.

There are currently over seven million IDPs and four million refugees from Syria. Syrians also constitute the majority of asylum applicants in the European Union (EU).

In response to Hungary’s border closure and violent reaction to refugees, Amnesty International’s (AI) Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik stated: “For refugees fleeing from terrifying conflict zones to be met by such an intimidating show of militarized force is shocking, and a woefully irresponsible response to people already traumatized by war and brutality.”

Most recently, Turkey has closed its borders to Syrian asylum seekers, pushing them back into the war-torn country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in some cases, Turkish border guards beat refugees before expelling them.

“The sheer exhaustion and desperation Syrian families go through after fleeing for their lives and literally scrambling their way to safety through the night across the Turkish border is written all over their faces,” said HRW’s Senior Refugee Researcher Gerry Simpson. “Turkey should not be putting people escaping war through such hardship,” he continued.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed similar concerns over the anti-refugee responses, stating that profiling asylum seekers on the basis of their nationality, collective expulsion and refoulement infringes on human rights and are prohibited under international law.

In the 2015 GTI, Khalid Koser and Amy Cunningham from the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) called for the rehabilitation of returning European foreign terrorist fighters and the sustainable integration of asylum seekers and refugees to deter the fueling of terrorism.

However, to tackle terrorism successfully, the underlying drivers of extremism must be addressed, the study underscored.

“This includes reducing state-sponsored violence, diffusing group grievances, and improving respect for human rights and religious freedoms, while considering cultural nuances,” stated Killelea.

Senior Programme Advisor and Senior Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) Christina Schori Liang also cautioned against the use of air strikes in defeating terrorist groups such as ISIL. In the GTI, she noted that air campaigns have contributed to civilian causalities and thus increased recruitment of fighters.

“Alternative solutions must be found,” Liang stated.

On 20 Nov, the Security Council stated that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and voted to take “all necessary measures” against the group. France’s parliament has since voted to extend air strikes in the country.


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World’s Poorest Nations Battle Rising Rural Poverty Wed, 25 Nov 2015 18:46:41 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, are fighting a relentless battle against rising rural poverty.

More than two thirds of the population of LDCs live in rural areas, and 60 per cent work in agriculture.

As a result, there is an urgent need for structural changes focused on the fight against poverty, says a new report released November 25 by the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“This means developing the synergies between agricultural modernisation and diversification of the rural economy.”

Currently, the total population of the 48 LDCs is estimated at over 932 million people.

UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2015, subtitled “Transforming Rural Economies”, presents a road map to address rural poverty, lack of progress in rural transformation and the root causes of migration within and from LDCs.

The migration of poor people from the countryside into cities fuels excessive rates of urbanisation in many of the 48 LDCs, while many international migrants come from rural areas, says the report.

The theme of World Food Day last October was “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty:” in line with FAO’s annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report that called for “sustained private and public investments and social protections for the rural poor.”

Rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population, according to the United Nations.

And in developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force, and produce, process and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security.

Since 76 per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas, rural women are critical for the success of the new Sustainable Development agenda for 2030, according to the United Nations.

The eradication of poverty by 2030 is one of the main objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders last September.

Gauri Pradhan, the Nepali-based, International Coordinator of LDC Watch, an umbrella group of NGOs in LDCs, told IPS the means of Implementation in the SDGs is key to transforming rural economies and enhancing productive capacity in LDCs, which is primarily based on agriculture.

SDG 2a recognises this, and “it is imperative that we have both international cooperation and effective domestic measures that focus on LDCs,” he said.

SDG2 calls to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

The LDCs cover a wide range of countries, extending from Afghanistan, Angola and Bangladesh to Vanuautu, Yemen and Zambia.

Of the 48 LDCs , 34 are in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia Sudan and Uganda, among others.

Since the LDC category was initiated by the UN General Assembly in 1971, only four countries have graduated to developing country status based on their improved economic performance: Botswana in 1994, Cabo Verde, in 2007, Maldives in 2011, and Samoa 2014.

At least two more countries — Equatorial Guinea and Vanuatu – are expected to graduate in the coming years.

UNCTAD recommends placing more importance on non-farm rural activities instead of primarily focusing on increasing agricultural productivity, as well as increasing the production of higher-value agricultural products.

Since 2012, economic growth in LDCs has continued to slow, reaching 5.5 per cent in 2014 as compared to 6.1 per cent in 2013.

Demba Dembele, LDC Watch President based in Senegal, told IPS the UNCTAD report comes at a time when agricultural policies and migration issues are high on the African agenda, with a recent African Development Bank Conference on African agricultural policies, and an Africa-European Union Summit on Migration.

“So it is hoped that this report will gives direction on how to deal more effectively with these issues, particularly in Africa”, he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Climate Refugees and a Collapsing City Wed, 25 Nov 2015 16:25:54 +0000 Sohara Mehroze A Flooded Street in Dhaka

A Flooded Street in Dhaka

By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

With multiplying impacts of climate change – increasing floods, cyclones, and drought – thousands of climate refugees are migrating to Dhaka. And the city, well beyond its carrying capacity, is bursting at the seams.

The word most often associated with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is perhaps, “overpopulated.” Supporting more than 14 million people on less than 325 square kilometers (125 square miles) of land, the city’s drainage, waste management and transportation infrastructure is on the brink of collapse.

Against that backdrop, it is hardly surprising to find the Bangladesh capital among the worst cities to live in on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 ranking.

To delve beneath the apparent reasons – overpopulation, waterlogging and congestion – is to reveal a major underlying cause: unsustainable levels of climate-induced displacement and migration.

And the problems are washing up along Bangladesh’s 700 kilometers of low-lying coast. Rising sea levels and cyclones heighten the risk of flooding, while riverbank erosion and seawater intrusion are set to have a devastating impact on the nation’s population.

“Over the next two to three decades millions of people will no longer be able to live and earn their livelihoods from farming and fishing as they are now,” said Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow with the Climate Change Group of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Conversely, prolonged droughts are affecting arable land by causing soil erosion and damaging crops that depend on predictable monsoon patterns.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates 20 million people will be displaced in Bangladesh in the coming five years. That is more than the cumulative populations of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City. And this should be very worrying.

Even now, many of the half-a-million-plus people who move their families – along with their hopes – to Dhaka, are driven there by the effects of climate change.

No streets paved with gold

But the Bangladeshi capital, which teeters on less than 1 percent of the country’s overall landmass, is far from being the promised land.

The combination of explosive population growth and land scarcity has sent its property and rental prices through the roof.

And given that most climate refugees come from humble financial backgrounds, they are left with little alternative but to join the estimated 3.4 million people who already live without gas or electricity in cramped and substandard squatter settlements, known as bosti.

Even in their new homes, they cannot escape the environmental disasters that drove them to seek shelter in the flimsy shack-like houses in this low-lying city on the banks of the Buriganga river.

The incidence of flooding in Dhaka is increasing, and the lack of water and sanitation facilities means waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid are widespread.

But health and pollution are not the only problems bosti-dwelling climate migrants face. Rahmat Ali, a resident of Dhaka’s biggest slum Korail, moved to the city when saltwater logged his farmland. Once an agricultural worker, he now scrapes out a living as a rickshaw puller.

“It is very hard work for little money. But there are few options for the likes of us, who have lost our lands and homes, and now have nothing left to go back to.”

Slow response to an urgent problem

With ubiquitous bostis and climate refugees dominating the cityscape, more affluent Dhaka residents are becoming increasingly desensitized and apathetic to their plight, and are coming to accept it as the norm.

This apathy is reflected in the country’s policy sphere. “People are migrating to cities because the nation is not responding to their risks,” says Aminul Islam, a member of the National Displacement Strategy Working Group under the Ministry of Disaster Management.

While Bangladesh has developed a solid strategic framework for tackling climate change – including its National Action Plan for Adaptation and the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan – it has not yet prescribed any adaptation programs specifically addressing climate-induced internal displacement.

And that, thinks Islam, is a failing.

“The country needs a long-term vision and adaptation plan for reducing displacement,” Islam said. “The provision of climate resilient habitat, livelihood opportunities and civil facilities for the vulnerable will reduce incentives to migrate to cities.”

Dhaka, precursor for catastrophe?

Even if Bangladesh were to increase its adaptation efforts 100-fold, it can only go so far in protecting its people. From a Bangladeshi point of view, what it desperately needs are mitigation efforts by major carbon-emitting nations.

At the end of November, the world’s leaders will congregate in Paris to try and achieve a universal, binding agreement for combating climate change. And for the millions of people living in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, their success at the negotiating table is crucial.

The situation in Dhaka illustrates how climate change is neither something that affects only polar bears, nor a problem only for future generations. Many fear that failure to act now will render the Bangladeshi capital a precursor for wholesale climate catastrophe.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Tamsin Walker and @DeutscheWelle.

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From Darkness to Light: Dramatic Rescue of Tanzanian Miners Trapped 41 Days in Rubble Wed, 25 Nov 2015 08:06:54 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Did Argentina’s Elections Mark Start of Shift to the Right in South America? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 23:45:55 +0000 Mario Osava In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

Different degrees of economic problems are a common denominator in South American countries where governments that identify as leftist may start to fall, in a shift that began in Argentina and could continue among its neighbours to the north.

“It is not possible yet to say whether this is the end of a cycle, because the reasons for it are still very present…but there is a very complex crisis affecting the governments that I call ‘distributionist’, which are facing difficulties, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela,” Professor Tullo Vigevani of the São Paulo State University told IPS.

For his part, retired diplomat Marcos Azambuja, a former Brazilian ambassador to Argentina and France, told IPS: “It’s not the end of a cycle in Latin America, but the waning of a group of governments tending towards populism associated with nationalism.”“My fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic.” -- Marcos Azambuja

“Left” is a concept that has lost validity, he added, preferring to talk about populist governments, stressing the ones along South America’s Atlantic coast. “The ones along the Pacific coast are more modern,” he said.

Argentina is experiencing “the end of a cycle in a completely normal democratic manner, which should be celebrated,” after 12 years of presidency by the Kirchners, he said, referring to the consecutive terms of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández, who steps down on Dec. 10. Both belonged to the Justicialista – Peronist – party.

“But any non-Peronist government will face great difficulties in that country,” Azambuja warned.

Neither of the last two non-Peronist presidents, Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), managed to serve out their full terms; they were both forced to resign.

That will be a challenge for Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, who won the elections for president in the Nov. 22 runoff, representing the centre-right opposition Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, made up of his conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) party and the traditional Radical Civic Union (UCR).

Helping him win the elections were the division of the Justicialista Party, on the political front, and the economic crisis.

But now he will have to deal with the country’s economic woes.

The problems include stagnation and the subsequent high unemployment, high inflation – close to 30 percent, say analysts, but only half that according to the authorities – dwindling foreign reserves, and a black market where the dollar is worth nearly 50 percent more than the official exchange rate.

There are also distortions, such as protectionist measures in some sectors, export duties on agricultural products, and subsidies that affect national production and trade with Brazil, whose main market for industrial exports used to be Argentina.

The economic changes promised by Macri, such as the removal of currency controls and restrictions on foreign trade, will affect relations with Argentina’s neighbours. But it is his foreign policy that could drastically modify things in the region.

He wants, for example, to exclude Venezuela from the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) as long as the current government there remains in power, by citing the bloc’s democratic clause, which already led to the suspension of Paraguay’s membership for over a year, due to the impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo in 2012.

A return to warmer ties with the United States, trade accords with the European Union and Pacific rim blocs, and greater openness to trade in general form part of Macri’s plans, in contrast to the protectionist tendencies of governments described as leftist, populist, “distributionist” or Bolivarian, depending on the vocabularies used by different ideological currents.

But regional organisations like Mercosur, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbbean States (CELAC) will not fall into crisis as a result of the political changes in the region, according to Vigevani.

These kinds of organisations are slow to react, which “has adequately served a few limited objectives,” he said.

The change in Argentina and the crises in Brazil and Venezuela, which have political as well as economic aspects, point to a probable wave of right-leaning, neoliberal governments in Latin America, that put a higher priority on the economy than on the social policies of their predecessors.

The situations are different. In Venezuela, where the economy is virtually in a state of collapse, “my fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic,” Azambuja predicted in his conversation with IPS.

In those three countries along the Atlantic coast of South America governments “did not adequately administer economic policy, leading to low levels of investment, low savings rates, and scarce technological training, and failed to develop policies to expand, rather than reduce, consensus. Thus, the capacity to prevent neoliberal advances was decisively reduced,” said Vigevani.

Brazil has been suffering from an economic recession since late 2014, aggravated by nearly 10 percent annual inflation and a fiscal deficit that scares off investors. To all of this was added a corruption scandal involving the state oil giant Petrobras as well as all of the country’s major construction companies and around 50 politicians.

In addition, the campaign that led to the reelection of left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff in October 2014 was marked by an unprecedented degree of violence, with clashes and accusations that destroyed the chances of dialogue and negotiation.

As a result, the contradictions between the government’s election promises and its actual practices became so obvious that they undermined the legitimacy and popularity of the president, who had the approval of less than 10 percent of the population according to the latest polls, and is facing the threat of impeachment.

The political bickering has made it impossible to cobble together a stable majority in Congress, which has stood in the way of a fiscal adjustment programme that requires legislative approval of public spending cuts and a rise in taxes.

The economic crisis, blamed by the government on an adverse international environment and by the opposition on mistakes by the government, thus drags on.

“Economic results are important factors in the shift in favour of conservative candidates,” said Vigevani. “But besides the crises and the recession, there are underlying theoretical problems to be addressed, which the neoliberals don’t have answers to either, and this leads to a balance, even in the case of Argentina.”

“Distributionism without a capacity for investment, innovation and adjustment of the productive system is not sufficient, although it is necessary,” he said.

Underestimating or poorly managing economic questions would seem to be the Achilles’ heel of governments seen as leftist or populist in Latin America.

That curse has not affected leaders who, even though they are distributionist or “Bolivarian”, adopted orthodox economic policies, such as Evo Morales, in power in Bolivia since 2006, or Rafael Correa, who has governed Ecuador since 2007.

At the same time, it does not seem to be possible for new or future leaders, even right-leaning ones, to eliminate or even reduce social programmes that “populist” governments have used to pull millions of families out of poverty. Macri has already announced that he will keep them in place.

Everything would seem to indicate that these programmes are now a new dimension incorporated into regional politics, while poverty and social inequality remain unacceptably high in a majority of the countries in Latin America which, despite these “inclusion policies,” remains the world’s most unequal region.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Africa’s Climate Change Funding May Hit 100 Billion by Mid-Century Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:42:00 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Climate Summit opens in Paris next week, one of the biggest issues facing world leaders is funding: how best to raise the billions of dollars needed to prevent the devastating consequences of global warming worldwide.

A new plan unveiled Tuesday calls for 16 billion dollars in funding to help African countries adapt to climate change and build up the continent’s resilience to climate shocks, according to the World Bank Group and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

At current estimates, the plan says the African region requires 5-10 billion dollars per year to adapt to global warming of 2°C.

However, the cost of managing climate resilience will continue to rise to 20-50 billion dollars by mid-century, and closer to 100 billion dollars, in the event of a 4°C warming.

Titled ‘Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development’, the Africa Climate Business Plan will be presented at the Conference of Parties (COP21), the global climate talks in Paris Nov 30- Dec 11, and lays out measures to boost the resilience of the continent’s assets – its people, land, water, and cities – including renewable energy and strengthening early warning systems.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is highly vulnerable to climate shocks, and our research shows that could have far-ranging impact – on everything from child stunting and malaria to food price increases and droughts,” the President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim, said in a statement released here.

“This plan identifies concrete steps that African governments can take to ensure that their countries will not lose hard-won gains in economic growth and poverty reduction, and they can offer some protection from climate change.”

Asked for her response, Doreen Stabinsky, Zennström visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden, told IPS the costs of addressing climate change impacts on Africa are already huge and must be added to the current finance priorities of African countries of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

“Indeed these sums estimated by the World Bank are first needed just to protect the development gains of the past few decades and really emphasize the injustice of the climate crisis for developing countries: at a time when their own resources and foreign assistance should be invested in development, they must spend scarce funds on adapting to a problem they did not cause, and suffering losses and damages from impacts they cannot adapt to.”

She said the estimates also show the gross inadequacy of climate finance on the table.

The Global Climate Fund (GCF), she pointed out, has a meager 10 billion dollars pledged in its first tranche — to cover both mitigation and adaptation efforts across the entire developing world — and only half of that sum has yet been delivered.

If adaptation costs for Africa alone are currently 5-10 billion dollars per year, support from those responsible for climate change — developed countries — has to be scaled up significantly.

“Whether or not this scale of resources is pledged in Paris should be a significant determining factor of success at COP21”, said Stabinsky, who was also Professor of Global Environmental Politics at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Of the 16.1 billion dollars the ambitious plan proposes for fast-tracking climate adaptation, some 5.7 billion dollars are expected from the International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank Group that supports the poorest countries.

About 2.2 billion dollars are expected from various climate finance instruments, 2.0 billion from others in the development community, 3.5 billion from the private sector, and 0.7 billion from domestic sources, with an additional 2.0 billion needed to deliver on the plan, according to the World Bank Group and UNEP.

“The Africa Climate Business Plan spells out a clear path to invest in the continent’s urgent climate needs and to fast-track the required climate finance to ensure millions of people are protected from sliding into extreme poverty,” says Makhtar Diop, World Bank Group Vice President for Africa.

“While adapting to climate change and mobilizing the necessary resources remain an enormous challenge, the plan represents a critical opportunity to support a priority set of climate-resilient initiatives in Africa,” he noted.

Stabinsky told IPS the World Bank announcement, unfortunately, fails to lay out what proportion of this money will come from grants and from loans.

Adapting to climate change is an additional burden being placed on developing countries — it’s not a business proposition where profits can be earned. Loans are not appropriate for adaptation finance, she added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Children Extremely Vulnerable to Climate Change, Warns UNICEF Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:08:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Climate change will disproportionately impact children, particularly in high poverty areas, the UN children’s agency UNICEF warned, in a new report released here.

The report, “Unless We Act Now,” illustrates the dangers of climate change on livelihoods and urges for action ahead of the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21.

“Today’s children are the least responsible for climate change, but they, and their children, are the ones who will live with its consequences,“ said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “And, as is so often the case, disadvantaged communities face the gravest threat,” he continued.

UNICEF found that more than half a billion children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones, a majority of whom are in countries where half or more of the population lives in poverty.
Another 160 million also live in areas of high or extremely high drought severity.

Climate change will only increase the frequency of droughts, floods, and severe weather events, the report noted. Such extreme weather conditions exacerbate undernutrition and increase the spread of water-related diseases such as malaria and dengue which have lifelong effects on young children.

Meanwhile, access to health services is also reduced during such natural disasters. During the 2010 floods in Pakistan, over 2.8 million children under 5 were affected but 15 percent of clinics and hospitals were damaged and all medicines destroyed, hindering access to health care.

The risks to children go beyond physical health. Climate change threatens the complete loss of livelihoods.

During the 2011 drought in Eastern Africa, the subsequent food crisis forced children to leave school and take dangerous jobs to support families. Families also often split up to search food, leaving children alone and exposed to violence and exploitation.

Climate change will also worsen existing inequities, the report highlighted. Children and families already living in poverty and lacking access to resources such as water and sanitation are less likely to recover from a severe weather event, pushing them further into poverty and making them more vulnerable in ensuing crises.

Of the 530 million children in flood-prone areas, nearly 100 million already lack access to safe water and over 270 million do not have access to sanitation.

Similarly, approximately 130 million children in high drought zones do not have access to sanitation and/or safe water.

In the report, UNICEF called for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases. Without action, by 2050, the number of children living in higher-temperature and higher-risk zones is projected to triple to almost 1.5 billion.

During the G20 meeting in Turkey, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged for action, warning of the consequences of global warming. “Even a 2 degree rise will have serious consequences for food security, economic stability and international security,” Ban told world leaders.

“I urge you to look beyond national horizons and work in the common interest,” he continued.

UNICEF also underscored the need to consider and include children in climate change adaptation.

“If shocks are going to become more frequent in the future, it is imperative to build resilience and improve equitable outcomes for children today,” UNICEF stated in the report.

At COP21, which begins on Nov 30, heads of State will meet to negotiate and set an international agreement keeping the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.


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Not Yet Curtains for BRICs Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:50:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

With Goldman Sachs folding up its haemorrhaging BRIC fund, is it curtains for the acronym that defined the investment bankers’ fancy for emerging markets? It certainly appears so after China’s stock market crash and a fast slowing economy triggered fears that the dragon will set off the next global recession.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Brazil’s economy is experiencing its deepest recession in 25 years. Russia, too, is contracting due to the crash in oil prices and sanctions. India remains a haven of stability. South Africa’s growth is sluggish with very high unemployment. Against this dismal backdrop, what are the prospects of BRICs playing a vital role in the world economy?

Fourteen years ago, BRICs was very much an idea whose time had come. Goldman Sachs projected them as the future growth engines of the world economy. This acronym soon became a self-fulfilling buzz word with a life of its own. A focus on these leading emerging economies, especially since 2006, provided handsome returns that peaked five years ago. Since 2010, however, BRIC Fund assets plunged from $842 million to $98 million in end-September 2015 according to Bloomberg. With no hope for “significant asset growth” in the near future, Goldman Sachs threw in the towel on October 23, the last trading day for this fund.

These financials clearly reflect the fast-deteriorating growth prospects of the BRIC economies. They were expected to overtake the US in size by 2015. But this isn’t likely to happen. A decelerating Chinese economy, in fact, threatens the first global recession in 50 years without help from the US, says a rival investment bank. Russia and Brazil are doing much worse as they are highly dependent on commodity exports to drive their growth. As China is the biggest importer of oil, iron ore and other raw materials, this is bad news for their commodity-driven prospects. Only India’s track record is creditable as the fastest growing economy in the world.

Such concerns can only make this grouping – which globally accounts for one-fifths of GDP, 42 per cent of population, 17.3 per cent of trade, 41 per cent of forex reserves and 45 per cent of agricultural production – less cohesive to have geo-economic significance in the world economy. Analysts consider the BRICs to represent an alliance of middle -sized economies that could lead to a serious attempt to counter-balance the US, the most powerful economy in the world. This is far from obvious except, perhaps for Russia, that has faced the full brunt of US-led sanctions due to its intervention in Ukraine. This is less true of India that is deepening its relations with the US.

But the BRICs are far from happy with the US-led global financial architecture. A striking feature of all the seven statements issued at BRIC summits from 2009 to 2015 is that this grouping aims to promote peace, security, prosperity and development in a multi-polar, equitable and democratic world order. The grouping seeks a greater voice and participation in institutions of global governance like the IMF, World Bank, WTO and UN. The Durban summit in 2013, for instance, indicated that the WTO required a new leader who demonstrated a commitment to multilateralism and that he or she should be a representative of a developing country.

The formation of a New Development Bank (NDB) is in fact a concrete expression of the desire of BRICs to set up its own alternative to the US-led World Bank and IMF. NDB President KV Kamath has indicated that the bank would blaze a different trail than the Bretton Woods twins who impose an unacceptable conditionality on their loan assistance. In sharp contrast, the NDB is expected to place a greater priority on borrowers’ interests instead of the lender’s interests; that it would better reflect the expectations and aspirations of developing countries. BRICs, however, are not keen to position the NDB as a rival to the World Bank or IMF.

At a BRICs meeting ahead of the recent G-20 summit in Turkey, India’s PM Narendra Modi stated that India will guide the NDB to finance inclusive and responsive needs of emerging economies. India will assume the chairmanship of BRICs in February 2016 and the theme of its chairmanship will be Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions – the acronym lives on! PM Modi added for good measure that there was a time when the logic of BRICs and its lasting capacity were being questioned. But group members have provided ample proof of its relevance and value through action at a time of huge global challenges.

The good news is that the BRICs are cooperating and competing with one another for a place under the global sun. The seven summits from St Petersburg to Ufa testify to this. BRICs are the new growth drivers for low-income countries, especially in Africa, considering the growing importance of their trade and foreign direct investments in such economies. The BRICs may be passing through troubled times, but they do constitute a major consumer market. Incomes have grown as more and more people have joined the ranks of the middle class, resulting in greater demand for oil, cars and commodities in leading member countries like China and India.

But the grouping must seriously address the serious challenges of kick-starting its pace of expansion to power global growth as before. The BRICs may not be yielding returns to investment banks but they are in no immediate danger of fading into the sunset. Member countries after all take it seriously enough to set up a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF dominated by the US and Europe. Even if its creator has pulled the plug on the BRIC fund, the acronym will remain relevant in the future as well. Its resilience only exemplifies the profound truth of what the famous economist John Maynard Keynes stated long ago that the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else!


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Hunger Heralds Climate Change’s Arrival in Botswana Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:38:23 +0000 Baboki Kayawe Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

By Baboki Kayawe

A perfect storm of lower rainfall and a growing population beckons for Botswana. But others find climate change is already in the fields and paddocks. “As climate change ushers in more stress on the water sector, it is increasingly a concern that losses in rangeland productivity will result in food insecurity, especially in rural areas,” a country analysis report unveiled recently on Botswana states.

Far from the airy conference rooms where such reports are typically shared, are thousands of subsistence farmers – growing crops mainly to feed their families – for whom these words come to life in the fields and the paddocks of Botswana every harvest season.

For these farmers, the national ideals of poverty eradication and sustainable development are slipping ever further out of reach. Bathalefhi Seoroka, 65, is a subsistence farmer in Boteti, one of Botswana’s drier areas located in the central region. She mostly grows maize, sorghum, beans and melons on her six-hectare field.

Seoroka has noticed her crops have been failing because of declining rainfall since 2010. “Weather patterns have drastically changed,” she says. “I don’t know how we will be able to survive under such dry conditions.”

Another farmer, Kgasane Tsele accuses the government of responding too slowly to the 2014-2015 drought, which was declared early in June. “This is really scary for us as farmers and we eagerly wait to see how government will respond,” he says. “By now government should have announced how it is going to help farmers in alleviating the impact of this drought. The response team must always be on alert and respond early.”

The Department of Meteorological Services predicts the southeastern part of Botswana – which is already suffering from drought and water shortages – is poised to experience its driest season in 34 years.

To cope with food shortage risks, the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) ordered 1,000 tons of yellow maize from South Africa, and an additional 10,000 tons of white maize is due to arrive soon.

BAMB spokesperson, Kushata Modiakgotla says strategic grain reserves currently stand at 30,000 tons of sorghum and 3,000 tons of cowpeas left, but there is no maize. “BAMB has started the process of buying 5,000 tons of white maize from Zambia and it is exploring other avenues to import an additional 5,000 tons if necessary,” she states.

Imports from both nations would help meet supply as local reserves are under threat, while yellow maize is used to produce animal feed. The government insists consumers are not in any danger of going hungry as more than 90 percent of the maize consumed in Botswana is sourced by local millers from South Africa. But despite the supply contracts, consumers will have to pay more for maize meal the longer drought persists.

Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) chief executive Akolang Tombale says climate risks also present challenges to beef production and exports. “We are just emerging from a very dry season and if another drought is forecast it is a problematic state as production will be reduced,” he explains. Grasslands and pasture are an important resource for Batswana who derive most of their livelihood from livestock.

The majority of the BMC’s throughput starts at natural pastures, before being prepared with feedstock. Tombale is holding out hope for showers to replenish pastures around the country, but he acknowledges this may not be a long-term solution.

BMC has been receiving higher rates of deliveries than usual this year, since the Ministry of Agriculture advised farmers to destock as means of cutting their losses. However, this is a short-lived gain because if the situation persists in the next raining cycle, beef revenues would be badly affected. The BMC is now urging farmers to change their approach from quantity to quality-based cattle production.

President Ian Khama recently urged farmers to adopt more innovative approaches to their work in order to cope with the impacts of climate change. Speaking at the 2015 National Agricultural Show ‘Practicing Smart Agriculture to Combat the Effect of Climate Change’, he pointed to Israel, where farmers have harnessed new technologies in order to maintain production in highly water stressed environments.

“This ravaging drought we are currently experiencing is an opportunity to be innovative and resort to new methods and technologies to produce under such conditions. It is for this reason that farming methods such as conservation agriculture are promoted,” he said.

Recommendations include using improved crop varieties that are drought tolerant and high yielding, investing in breeds that can withstand the current climate, as well as adoption of proper crop husbandry practices though agricultural infrastructure. Lare Sisay, United Nations Development Programme’s deputy resident representative, predicts water shortages will lead to an increase in undesirable types of grass species.

“This has a far-reaching impact on social and economic sectors, and this has not yet been quantified and factored into the country’s economic projections,” he says. He predicts this could derail Botswana’s efforts to break through its middle-income country status.

Parliamentarians – many of whose constituents are rural and peri-urban populations involved in communal farming – are expected to tackle the climate change policy, once it appears in the National Assembly. The policy is due in the November sitting and already momentum is gathering from activists to ensure robust debate and urgent approval.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Jessica Shankleman from @BusinessGreen.

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Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Uganda Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 Searching for Nutrition in South Africa’s Food Maze Tue, 24 Nov 2015 09:24:16 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni 0 Analysis: Are Young People the Answer to Africa’s Food Security? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 07:41:28 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Sinking into Paradise: Climate Change Worsening Coastal Erosion in Trinidad Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:47:45 +0000 Rajiv Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

By Rajiv Jalim
PORT-of-SPAIN, TRINIDAD, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

As unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, a lagoon here was overwhelmed, flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities. As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.

The coastline of Trinidad is under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier, and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clear.

Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimeters every year — though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.

“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land, but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.

“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach, but there is less material available to replace it.”

In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.

According to the World Bank publication Turn Down the Heat, Earth is locked into at least a 1.5°C rise in temperature compared with pre-industrial times. Rising seas caused by rising temperatures, coupled with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, which also affect wave energy, are expected to accelerate coastal erosion. Such effects are of grave concern for small island developing states (SIDS).

With Trinidad’s east coast sustaining several developing communities, through income from tourism, agriculture and fishing, management of the coastline — which is also a nesting site for endangered leatherback turtles — is of utmost importance.

Subsequent to reports of the extensive damage at Manzanilla, emergency services responded through a coordinated effort between government agencies and ministries to bring relief to those affected.

Disaster management and response units, including the local Risk Reduction Management Centre, assisted residents by providing basic supplies to flood victims, while personnel from the University of the West Indies conducted site visits to assess the damage and collect data. The Ministry of Works was involved in trying to reconnect the main access route to the south-eastern community.

At an estimated cost of $US5.8 million, the rehabilitation work combined the expertise of academics and researchers with coastal management organizations and engineering firms, both local and international.

One year later, key learnings are still being generated from data collected after the event. It is from these analyses that gaps in the coastal management plans and developmental strategies for the east coast can be identified.

Perhaps the most significant gap has been the lack of sufficient hydrological and maritime data for the island, which could be used to develop models and improve the predictive power for rare disasters.

Extraordinary events such as the Manzanilla flood occur infrequently, but they can cause significant and expensive damage when they do occur. Predicting and preparing for such events based on scientific knowledge can reduce not only their impacts, but also the recovery time.

Looking beyond Trinidad to the wider Caribbean region, and to other islands across the world, coastal erosion linked to climate change can be extremely dangerous.

Experts say long-term strategies should go beyond revetment and seawall repairs, and consider policy support, planning strategies and contingency mapping. Additionally, there is a need for increased public-private partnerships across the globe, where resources, creativity, expertise and innovation can be expanded and exchanged to deal with coastal management in a sustainable manner.

“I’m more on the side of investing in state-of-the-art, long-term monitoring and innovative research,” said Christopher Daly, lecturer in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department of the University of the West Indies.

“There is no real profit to be made from this so it’s difficult to get private investment,” Daly said. “This has to be funded through a national or regional science board that has the long-term interest of society at heart. It also has to have full government support but be independent of political influence.”

Developed countries have pledged to begin providing $100 billion a year through the United Nations to help developing countries slow and adapt to climate change by 2020. During climate negotiations in Paris later this year, developing countries will ask wealthier ones to produce a roadmap for raising and providing those funds.

SIDS have also been calling during the United Nations climate negotiations for a “loss-and-damage mechanism,” which could help poorer countries cope with flooding and other impacts of climate change. The concept was first proposed more than two decades ago, but the wealthier countries that would be expected to provide the funding have opposed it.

In the meantime, the hastily built seawall, boardwalk and main road on the Manzanilla beach will again have to stand the test of the Atlantic and the effects of climate change. Only time will tell if feats of engineering can withstand the changing environment, or if the island of Trinidad will be left to slowly erode into rising seas.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to John Upton and @ClimateCentral.

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Cubans Seeking the American Dream, Stranded in Costa Rica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:16:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.

“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.

Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.

Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.

That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.

“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”

After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.

That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants.” - Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González

The migrants are awaiting the results of a meeting to be held Tuesday Nov. 24 in El Salvador, where the countries of Central America, as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, will try to hammer out a joint regional response.

The meeting will explore options to create a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the passage of Cubans to the United States – which has not been invited to the meeting, while Cuba has failed to confirm its participation, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry reported.

In recent years, more and more Cubans have been going through Ecuador, which grants them three-month tourist visas and to which they arrive by plane. The route – by land and sea – is much less frequently used and less well-known than the Florida Straits.

It is 5,000 km as the crow flies between Ecuador and the U.S. border, but the routes used by the trafficking gangs are much longer.

In April 2014, the Ecuadorean government eliminated the requisite that Cubans applying for visas present a letter of invitation, thus allowing them to remain in the country for up to three months without any additional requirements.

Once they make it to the South American continent, the migrants go by land across the border between Ecuador and Colombia, before taking a boat along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Panama, where they are smuggled, once more by land, to the Costa Rican border.

“These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives,” said the foreign minister. “We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

According to Costa Rica’s immigration office, around 13,000 Cubans have travelled through this country since last year.

But they have mainly gone unnoticed, because most of them are smuggled by people traffickers, who charge between 7,000 and 13,000 dollars per person.

Carlos Sandoval, an expert on immigration issues, told IPS that the trafficking rings operate throughout Central America, and are also involved in smuggling migrants from the region who are trying to make it into the United States.

And, he added, while a solution for the stranded Cubans is urgently needed, Central America has long been in debt to its own citizens who try to reach the United States.

“An ironic aspect of this humanitarian corridor initiative is that it’s happening in a region that spits out migrants. Around 300,000 people a year set out from Central America in an attempt to make it to the United States,” said Sandoval, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica’s Social Research Institute.

The Central American migrants heading towards the United States face situations just as complex as what the Cubans are going through.

“The case of the Cubans is just one more instance of what is a day-to-day reality in Central America,” said the Costa Rican expert, who for years has studied Central American migration to the United States, carrying out fieldwork in this region, in Mexico, and in the U.S.

Sandoval said the situation requires a regionwide response – something Costa Rica should have had in mind when it issued the first safe-conduct passes. He argued that it is the region’s governments themselves that create the conditions that allow trafficking networks to operate.

“What makes their business possible? It is possible to the extent that the borders are closed: it is so difficult to get there that without the support of these people (traffickers), it is even more complicated and dangerous,” Sandoval said.

Costa Rica plans to open new shelters in the northern town of Upala, because the ones already set up are full, the minister of human development and social inclusion, Carlos Alvarado, told IPS.

“Many of these people (the Cubans) are professionals, others are skilled workers. They are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are more men than women, some 30 children, and around 10 women who are pregnant,” said Alvarado.

Cubans continue pouring into the country, said the minister. On Friday Nov. 20, for example, some 200 people arrived.

On Saturday Nov. 21, Costa Rica’s authorities reported that there are more than 2,500 Cubans in transit in this country.

“Most of them report that they came using their own funds – they sold all they had and left everything behind to go to the United States,” the minister said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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