Inter Press Service » TerraViva United Nations Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 24 May 2015 16:24:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Novelists, Directors Respond as ‘Water Wars’ Loom Fri, 22 May 2015 13:50:51 +0000 Dan Bloom Paolo Bacigalupi. Credit: JT Thomas Photography

Paolo Bacigalupi. Credit: JT Thomas Photography

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Item: In a recent blog post at the New Yorker magazine, staff writer Dana Goodyear surveys the current drought impacting California and writes: “It’s hard to escape the feeling we are living a cli-fi novel’s Chapter One.”

Item: Edward L. Rubin, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, surveys the ongoing California drought in an oped at Salon magazine, writing: “As the California drought enters its fourth year, it is threatening to strangle the splendid irrigation system that transformed the previously desolate Central Valley into some of the world’s most productive farmland and the scruffy Los Angeles Basin into one of the world’s great cities.”

Item: Indian film director Shekhar Kapur is currently in pre-production for a climate-themed movie about future ”water wars” in New Delhi and titled “Paani,” a Hindi word for ”water.”

Item: Adam Trexler in the introduction to “Anthropocene Fictions,” his newly-released academic study of 150 climate change novels, by authors in Germany, Finland and Canada over the past 50 years, writes: “Perhaps prompted by [the] coinage of “cli-fi,” [media] reported that the global warming has spurred the creation of a whole new genre of fiction.”

Welcome to the 21st century, where water issues combined with climate change and global warming threaten to turn the future into something that is difficult for most of us to imagine.

But that is where novelists and film directors come in, for they can toy with ideas and scenarios and try to make sense of where we stand now and where are headed.

Meet Paolo Bacigalupi, a fifth-generation Italian American and a prose writer with a sterling literary pedigree.

While he once wrote novels that were marketed as science fiction, his new novel, titled “The Water Knife,” is pure cli-fi. The story he tells seems almost ripped from daily newspaper headlines about heat waves, droughts, water shortages and, well, “water wars.”

A Colorado native married to a woman from India, Bacigalupi has in the past written environmentally-themed sci-fi novels. ”The Water Knife,” released this month, leaves science fiction behind and ventures deep into the mushrooming cli-fi genre.

Now in his forties, Bacigalupi writes like few people can today, prose that sings, ideas that flow, musings that ponder who we are and what we are doing on – and to – this planet Earth.

He is famous for saying that one of the classic questions that resonates with him as an author is: “If this goes on, what will the world look like?”

”The Water Knife” is set in America’s near future, and it’s about “water wars” between two major western cities: Las Vegas and Phoenix. The title comes from the starring role that so-called “water
knives” – a term the author coined for his story – play in the climate-themed story.

As master storyteller Bacigalupi frames it, “water knives” are eco-terrorists, hired thugs who become major players in a near future water war in the American Southwest that he imagines and delves into.

At a recent appearance at the annual American Library Association convention in Chicago, Bacigalupi introduced his new novel this way:

“You want a drought? I’ll give you a drought!”

And that’s what ”The Water Knife” is all about: a major drought that impacts the West.

Sound familiar? This book has legs, and it is likely to make a major impact of its own upon publication.
Translations are sure to appear in at least 12 editions outside the U.S., from Brazil to Spain.

Bacigalupi has a good track record as a novelist and short story writer, and he has fans worldwide now.

An earlier novel, ”The Windup Girl,” was a major genre hit, and ”The Water Knife” appears poised to go mainstream with an even bigger impact.

“Mad Max,” “The Hunger Games,” “Waterworld,” “The Walking Dead” and innumerable other books, movies and television series portray futures where the world has been devastated by disasters.

Do we really want to assign blame to global warming?

In the famous words of the American cartoonist Walt Kelly who created the Pogo character, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Bacigalupi knows this better than most people.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Chimera in Growing Cooperation Between China and Brazil Thu, 21 May 2015 22:31:02 +0000 Mario Osava Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 21 2015 (IPS)

A total of 35 agreements and contracts were signed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, as part of the growing ties between the two countries. But there is one project that drew all the attention: the Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad will stretch over 5,000 km from the port of Açú, 300 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to a port in Peru. The Peruvian port will be selected after feasibility studies are carried out to determine the viability of specific sites, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Brazil, China and Peru.

“It’s crazy,” said Newton Rabello, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in transportation systems. “The 4,000-metre barrier of the Andes mountains and the high costs make the project unviable from the start,” he told IPS.

“Railroads don’t like rugged terrain; all of the ones laid in the Andes mountains were closed down and the so-called bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo didn’t work because of the absurd costs,” explained Rabello, an engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He argued that other railways proposed for creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans won’t work, for the same reasons – including the ones that cross the areas of greatest economic density such as South America’s Southern Cone region, where the only thing needed is to build stretches to complement already existing railways.

Other accords signed by President Dilma Rousseff and Li, or by some of the 120 businesspersons who accompanied the Chinese leader, are more concrete and opportune for the Brazilian government, which is facing a fiscal adjustment and does not have the resources to carry out necessary infrastructure projects and revive the stagnant economy.

The accords involve a total investment by China of 53 billion dollars – a figure mentioned by the Brazilian government without confirmation from China or a detailed breakdown because it covers initiatives in different stages – some still on paper, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, and others which will go out to bid.

But the participation of Chinese companies and capital will make it possible to jumpstart many infrastructure projects that have been delayed or stalled, such as railroads for the exportation of the soy grown in Brazil’s Midwest and Northeast regions.

A 50 billion dollar fund will be established toward that end by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Brazil’s Caixa Econômica Federal.

Industry, meanwhile, will be the prime focus of the government’s Bilateral Productive Cooperation fund. China will provide 20 to 30 billion dollars and Brazil will later decide what its quota will be.

The industrialisation of Latin America is one aim of China’s development finance, Li said in Brasilia, in response to complaints about the asymmetry of trade relations, with Latin America’s exports practically limited to commodities.

Li’s visit to Brazil represented the first part of his first Latin America tour, which is taking him to Colombia, Peru and Chile until his return home on May 26.

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The agreements signed in Brasilia for financial cooperation accentuate the much-criticised asymmetry. Chinese banks granted seven billion dollars in new loans to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras, which come on top of earlier credits that guarantee oil supplies to China.

Another beneficiary of the agreements is Brazil’s mining giant Vale, included in a four billion dollar credit line for the purchase of ships to transport 400,000 tons of iron ore.

Oil and iron ore make up nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China. Hence China’s interest in improving this country’s transport infrastructure, to reduce the cost of Brazil’s exports, besides providing work for China’s construction companies now that domestic demand is waning.

Another agreement opens up the Chinese market to exports of cattle on the hoof from Brazil.

Brazil has exported some industrial products to China, mainly from the aeronautics industry. The sale of 22 planes from the Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) to a Chinese company was finalised during Li’s visit. A prior accord had established the sale of a total of 60.

Bilateral trade amounted to 77.9 billion dollars in 2014, with a trade surplus for Brazil, although it is shrinking due to the fall in commodity prices. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars in trade in the near future, according to the Chinese prime minister.

The stronger relations, especially the increase in Chinese investment, “could be positive for Brazil, but we have to control our enthusiasm over the closer ties,” said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Brazilian Society of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation.

“China may have more to gain than us in this process: they are seeking suppliers (of raw materials) throughout Latin America, but without any urgency because their economy has slowed down; they can think things through strategically, with a view to the long term,” the economist told IPS.

“With more experience built up in their ancient culture, they know what they want – they are seeking more global power, and alliances with emerging countries from other regions, like Brazil, expand their influence,” he said.

With nearly four trillion dollars in foreign reserves, they can finance the development of any country, he said.

Meanwhile, Brazil, “which is in an emergency situation and in need of short-term financing, is merely reacting, without any strategy,” he said. “That is why the enthusiasm over Chinese investment worries me; we could end up frustrated, and worse, it could expose us to manipulation, like what happened with Argentina.”

Lima said Brazil had already been frustrated once: when Brazil officially recognised China as a market economy in 2004, offering it better trade conditions, China failed to live up to its commitment of 10 billion dollars in investment in industry in this country.

Another disappointment was the promise to install in Brazil a 12 billion dollar plant by the Chinese company Foxconn, to produce electronic devices. In the end the investment amounted to less than one-tenth of what was promised when the deal was announced in 2011.

But today’s circumstances favour greater economic complementation between the two countries and more balanced bilateral trade.

“China stopped putting a priority on exports and is stimulating domestic consumption, while Brazil is in the opposite situation, with a reduction in internal demand and a greater export effort, which opens up a possibility of synergy between the two countries,” Lima said.

But clear goals are needed to take advantage of this opportunity, he said, “along with long-term planning with clearly defined priorities, the necessary reforms, and productive investment in manufacturing….but the Brazilian government seems to be lost.”

The Transcontinental Railway is designed “to prioritise exports of soy and minerals” to Asia, mainly China, he said.

“Historically railroads led to a major reduction in costs for land transport, replacing draft animals and carts,” said Rabello. “Costs fell from six to one, and even lower in some cases, and that stuck in the minds of people who still see trains as a solution, because they have no idea of today’s costs.”

As a result, several parallel railroads are being built in Brazil, running towards the centre of the country, where agricultural production, especially of soy, is on the rise. Where there was only one precarious railway for carrying exports they now want to offer three or four alternatives, or even more, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, which is “excessive,” the professor said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movement Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Climate Change: Some Companies Reject ‘Business as Usual’ Thu, 21 May 2015 16:06:33 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to climate change, business as usual is simply “not an option”.

That was the view of Eldar Saetre, CEO of Norwegian multinational Statoil, as international industry leaders met in Paris for a two-day Business & Climate Summit, six months ahead of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21 ) that will also be held in the French capital.

Subtitled “Working together to build a better economy”, the May 20-21 summit brought together some 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest retail and energy concerns, including  companies that NGOs have criticized as being among the worst environmental offenders.

At the end, business leaders proclaimed that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wanted to see this happen at COP 21.

Throughout the conference, participants stressed that businesses will have to change, not only to protect the environment, but for their own survival. “Taking climate action simply makes good business sense. However, business solutions on climate are not being scaled up fast enough,” declared the summit organizers.

They pledged to lead the “global transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy.”

Saetre, for example, said his company wanted to achieve “low-carbon oil and gas production” and that it had embarked on renewables in the form of offshore wind energy. But he said that fossil fuels would still be needed in the future, alongside the various forms of renewable energy.

Acknowledging the widespread scepticism about multinational companies’ commitment, business leaders said that they could not “go it alone”, and called for support from governments as well as consumers.

Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at British retailer Marks & Spencer, told IPS in an interview that global commitment was important in the drive to transform industry to have more environmentally friendly practices.

“Collective action can bring about real change,” he said. “We’re here today because we believe that climate change is happening and it’s going to have a significant impact on our business in the future and our success.

“Our customers would expect us to take the lead on this, and we want governments to take this seriously as well in the run-up to COP 21 [the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11].”

He said that Marks & Spencer and other companies in a network called the Consumer Goods Forum wanted to “stand shoulder to shoulder with government to say ‘this matters and we’re here to help’.”

But government consensus on how to address climate change has proved difficult, and even French President Francois Hollande, who opened the summit, conceded that it would require a miracle for a real agreement to be reached at COP 21.

“We must have a consensus. It’s already not easy in our own countries, so with 196 countries, a miracle is needed,” he said at the Business & Climate Summit, expressing the conviction, however, that agreement will be reached through negotiation and “responsibility”.

Hollande and other officials said the involvement of businesses was essential, and France, with its huge oil and electricity companies, evidently has a big role to play.

However, demonstrators outside the summit, held at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), slammed big business.

“These multinationals (and the banks that finance their activities) are in fact directly at the origin of climate change,” read a statement from organisations including Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth, France) and the civil disobedience group J.E.D.I. for Climate.

Saying that it was ironic to have fossil-fuel companies represented at the summit, the groups asked: “Can one imagine for a second that the tobacco industry would be associated with policies to combat smoking aimed at ending the production of cigarettes? No, that would be the best way to ensure that the world continued to chain-smoke.”

The protesters added that if Hollande and his ministers wanted to show a real commitment to the environment, they should make it clear that “the climate is not a business”.

“The fight against climate change is not the business of fossil-fuel multinationals: they belong to our past,” the groups said in a joint release, handed out on the street.

At the summit, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that businesses should not be “demonised” and she called for collaboration rather than confrontation.

“We all start with a carbon footprint,” she said. “It is not a question of demonising anyone but realizing that we’re all here … This is not about confrontation. This is about collaboration. If you’re thinking about confrontation, forget it. Because we’re not going to get there.”

The summit – co-hosted by Entreprises Pour l’Environnement, an association of some 40 French and large international companies, and UN Global Compact France, a policy initiative for businesses – also addressed the vulnerability of island states in the face of climate change.

Tony de Brum, the Marshall Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that island states in the Pacific and elsewhere had an interest in keeping pressure on carbon emitters because their populations’ survival was at stake.

Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also highlighted the threat to vulnerable countries, saying that for them, climate change is not about protecting the environment for future generations, but “it’s about how long the water will take to overcome the land.”

Gurría said that greater reductions in carbon emissions were required than has so far been proposed by states, and he stressed that countries over time needed to “develop a pathway to net zero emissions globally” by the second half of the century.

“Governments at COP 21 need to send a clear directional signal that will drive action for decades to come,” he said. “We are on a collision course with nature, and unless we seize this opportunity, we face an increasing risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate impact.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The U.N. at 70: The Past and Future of U.N. Peacekeeping Thu, 21 May 2015 14:26:26 +0000 Jean-Marie Guehenno

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (2000-2008), is the president & CEO of the International Crisis Group. He is the author of The Fog of Peace: a Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century (Brookings), published this month.

By Jean-Marie Guéhenno
NEW YORK, May 21 2015 (IPS)

When the Cold War ended in 1991, there was hope the U.N. Security Council would be able to take decisive action to create a more peaceful world. Early blue helmet successes in Cambodia, Namibia, Mozambique, and El Salvador seemed to vindicate that assessment.

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Guéhenno

Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Guéhenno

This optimism was tripped up by the tragedies that followed in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Rwanda. U.N. peacekeepers were bystanders to horrible atrocities. Peacekeeping shrank rapidly.

By the end of the 1990s, common wisdom was that such missions were a thing of the past, and that from now on regional organisations would take charge.

Pundits were proven wrong, and in 1999 U.N. missions were deployed in quick succession to Kosovo, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In terms of legitimacy and force-generation, they showed that the U.N. still had comparative advantages over all other organisations. But it was not at all clear if this was enough to allow the peacekeepers to succeed.

This was the turning point when I assumed the post of U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in 2000. Over the next eight years, I learned that reviving and rebuilding U.N. peacekeeping was much more than a managerial and military challenge.The U.N. has reached a new turning point. Should the world double down on its investment, or cut its exposure before significant losses appear?

Today’s peacekeeping is a political enterprise whose success rests on the support of major powers, a viable political process between the parties to a conflict, and a wise and limited use of force.

This all came into vivid focus around the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Security Council was divided, the U.N. was besieged by scandals and the U.S. administration was at best indifferent to the United Nations. Yet the renewed expansion of peacekeeping continued unabated. To this day, it has not been reversed, and some 107,000 peacekeepers are presently deployed in 16 missions.

In 2000, a panel of experts led by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, had made recommendations to avoid a repetition of the disasters of the 90’s: strengthen and professionalise peacekeeping, and don’t deploy peacekeepers where there is no peace to keep. Fifteen years later, U.N. peacekeeping is more professionally managed, and yet, it is still in a very precarious situation.

The demands on peacekeeping have grown too fast, the operational role of the U.N. is clearly ahead of its capabilities, and most peacekeeping missions are deployed in places where war has only subsided, not ended. The U.N. has reached a new turning point. Should the world double down on its investment, or cut its exposure before significant losses appear?

The reality is that the U.N. cannot just cut and run: in South Sudan, more than 100,000 people are sheltered in U.N. compounds, and their lives would be at risk if the U.N. were to pull out. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the state remains very weak, and there is little confidence that the country would not slide back into chaos if the mission was abruptly withdrawn. What is to be done?

First, acknowledge that force indeed matters, and can provide indispensible political leverage. That means a further strengthening of the operational capacities of the U.N. An 8.47-billion-dollar budget looks enormous, but the fact is that the world is doing peacekeeping on the cheap. This apparently high figure is but a fraction of what the U.S. and NATO were spending in Afghanistan.

But subcontracting U.N. operations to organisations like NATO is not a viable strategy for the future: it is very costly, and politically discredited by the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. Peacekeeping is all in the art of implementation, and when the U.N. is left outside the military chain of command, it quickly loses control over the political strategy.

There is no alternative to a direct U.N. operational role if peacekeeping is to retain a reputation of impartiality, but specific capacities are needed to be effective.

Western militaries, which have largely shunned U.N. peacekeeping since the end of the nineties, need to re-engage with U.N. peacekeeping in a significant way, either as blue helmets, or through ad hoc arrangements that will allow for the provision of quick reaction forces and dedicated assets.

Second, return to politics. It is unrealistic to expect a U.N. force – or any force for that matter, as the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences show – to impose a peace. An exclusive focus on military operations to protect civilians, as in Congo, can become a diversion.

An extensive definition of terrorism, which enrolls the U.N. in the so-called “war on terror”, is shrinking the political space in which it should operate. The most important contribution that the U.N. can make to peacemaking is not fighting; it is to support inclusive political processes.

The rhetoric of peacekeeping has been ahead of its reality, and we should not oversell it. It is an enormous responsibility to intervene in the life of others, and the path between irresponsible indifference and reckless activism is narrow.

To gain domestic support for foreign interventions, peace operations have been presented as opportunities to reengineer countries. As outsiders, we should be more modest.

A genuine international community, based on shared values, should remain our goal, but it will not exist unless we can shore up the imperfect states that are its building blocks. Many are crumbling faster than new structures can be built, but the international order is still based on their primary responsibility.

For an organisation of states like the U.N., this is an existential challenge. For the people who are the unwitting victims of collapsed states, this is a matter of life and death. Even if the risk of failure is always there, abstention should never be the option of choice.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Burundi Leader, Stifling Attempted Coup, Cracks Down on Media Wed, 20 May 2015 21:06:38 +0000 Lisa Vives A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkuruziza, who narrowly avoided his removal from office by a citizen-backed military coup, has turned against the media that closely reported the day to day protests.

Nkuruziza was out of the country in Tanzania at a meeting of East African leaders when he learned that hundreds of Burundians were cheering his overthrow and thousands were fleeing into exile. Upon his return he quickly regrouped, dismissing the defence and foreign ministers and attacking news outlets.

A press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists recapped: “In recent days, at least five radio stations were attacked during violence over an attempted coup in the capital, Bujumbura, and threats were made against a newspaper which caused it to stop publishing, according to reports.”

“We call on the authorities and the citizens of Burundi to respect the role of journalists and the media during these uncertain times, when a consistent flow of information is vital,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator. “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”

Last Thursday, unidentified individuals fired grenades into the compounds of privately owned stations Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and the privately owned Burundian station African Public Radio, according to reports. Another report on Thursday said that the offices of African Public Radio had been burned down, with a report saying that it had been hit by a rocket. None of the stations are currently operating.

In Burundi, where Internet penetration was only 1.3 per cent in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, radio is the primary source of news.

Meanwhile, elections are going forward next month despite an outcry from citizens that the president was seeking a third term in office in violation of the constitution.

Requests that the elections be postponed were most recently received from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Previous requests came from the Burundi’s Catholic hierarchy and the U.S. State Department, among others.

President Nkuruziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, in his first public address, thanked loyalist forces for crushing the attempted coup. He warned demonstrators to end weeks of protests against his bid for a third consecutive term in office.

Nkuruziza, who uses Twitter, then sent the following tweet: “I ask all Burundians to keep calm. The situation is under control.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Minorities Threatened More by Governments than Terrorist Groups, Says Study Wed, 20 May 2015 19:52:59 +0000 Thalif Deen Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Thalif Deen

In the conflict-ridden Middle East, minority groups continue to be threatened, attacked and expelled from their home countries by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Still, a new study released Wednesday by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says populations in the region were more at risk from their own governments.Threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - increased significantly both last year and this year.

The minorities under attack include Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, ethnic Kurds, and both Coptic and Assyrian Christians.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director, told IPS the threat to minorities around the world from terrorism is very real, “but it is generally not as great as the threat from their own governments.”

From Sudan to Myanmar to the Russian Federation, he pointed out, minorities have suffered systematic attacks from the governments that are supposed to protect them.

In Syria, while many minorities now live in government-held enclaves, the civilian death toll as a whole is highest from attacks by the government side, he added.

With over 200,000 people now dead in the conflict, and up to half of the population forced from their homes, the crisis in Syria continues to worsen.

For the first time, the Syrian crisis tops the annual ‘Peoples under Threat’ table.

Extreme sectarianism has now infected much of the country, with nearly all the remaining Christian communities living in enclaves in government-held areas, the report noted.

Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy, says MRG.

According to the report, threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan- increased significantly both last year and this year.

Asked what the United Nations can do to protect minority rights, Lattimer told IPS thousands of U.N. staffers around the world work hard to protect minority communities.

But the U.N. as a whole often takes a reactive approach, only taking notice once violations of minority rights become extreme.

Enormous improvements could be made if minorities were routinely included in development projects, if minorities were able to participate fully in public life and if minority communities were represented around the table at peace talks, he added.

Iraq headed the table when the Peoples under Threat index was first published in 2006 and it has never been far from the top of the index in the intervening years.

Over 14,000 civilians were killed in 2014, many of them in massacres perpetrated by ISIS as it expelled minority communities, including Yezidis, Shabak, Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkmen, from Mosul, Sinjar and the Ninewa plain.

Thousands of Yezidi women and girls remain in ISIS captivity, and the risk remains acute for Shi’a communities threatened by ISIS and Sunnis at risk of retaliation from Iraqi Security Forces and allied Shi’a militias, according to MRG.

Conflict in the Central African Republic, which has risen four places this year, to occupy number 10 in the ranking, continued between the largely Muslim former Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka militias comprised mainly of Christians.

Upwards of 850,000 people – nearly one-fifth of the country’s population – were refugees or internally displaced at the end of 2014, and many tens of thousands more fled their homes in the first months of 2015.

A controversial peace agreement was signed in April 2015 between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka leaders in Nairobi.

Egypt rose another three places in the index this year, according to the study.

Ongoing fighting and toughening security measures have affected the lives of Sinai Bedouin, who have long suffered political and economic marginalisation.

Human rights activists also continued to criticise the government for doing too little to provide security for Coptic and other Christian communities, especially in Upper Egypt, where individuals, their homes and places of worship regularly came under attack.

In China, which has risen a dramatic 15 places in the table, there was a severe escalation in the tactics used by Uighur militants seeking independence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Over 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks, hundreds detained in mass arrests and dozens of death sentences handed down.

Little has been done, says MRG, to address the legacy of under-development and exclusion of Uighur communities that lies behind the unrest, and the government’s strategy of labelling Uighur human rights activists as terrorists has forestalled attempts to improve the situation.

The return of a more autocratic style of government in the Russian Federation, which occupies position 16 in the table, has coincided with rising xenophobia in Russian society against migrants, whether from abroad or from the Caucasus, says MRG.

But the threat is greatest in the North Caucasus itself, where regular clashes continue between Russian forces and Islamist separatists in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and, particularly, Dagestan, adds MRG.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generations Wed, 20 May 2015 13:23:26 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kenyans Attack Food Insecurity with Urban Farms and Sack Gardens Tue, 19 May 2015 19:52:20 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 19 2015 (IPS)

In the midst of one of Africa’s largest slums, vegetables are growing.

It began as a French initiative to support jobless youth after a spasm of post-election violence in 2008 – and feed them at the same time.

The ‘garden-in-a-sack’ concept, introduced by the NGO Solidarites International, makes it possible to grow food in small spaces and save money for other purchases. In Mathare, Kiambiu and Kibera slums, with close to 3 million inhabitants, Solidarités has brought sack-gardening to about 22,109 households, directly benefitting over 110,000 people.

The upright urban farms in Kibera consist of a series of sacks filled with manure, soil and small stones that enable water to drain. From the tops and sides of these sacks, referred to as multi-story gardens, Kibera farmers grow kale, spinach, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and arrowroot which sprout from the tops and sides.

Today, Kibera has thousands of sack gardens spread across 16 villages in the slum, according to Douglas Kangi, principal agricultural officer on the Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture Project at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Across Africa, informal growing operations are expected to become critical in the coming years. With a constant stream of people leaving the farms for the cities, the continent’s urban population is set to top 700 million by 2030 up from 400 million today and 53 million in 1960, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

City farming, either in sacks or on small bits of land, has taken root in Cameroon, Malawi and Ghana with 25 to 50 percent of all city households said to be engaged in food cropping. In Malawi, 700,000 city dwellers have home gardens. In Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, some schools have their own gardening programmes.

Meanwhile, in Mali, farmers with small plots are still reeling from a recently-published agreement between Mali and Libya which gave a 50-year, renewable lease for 100,000 hectares of rich farmland to Libya free of charge, water rights included, in exchange for the building of an irrigation system and other infrastructure needed to grow rice and raise cattle.

The land in question is located in the Office du Niger, the agricultural heart of the West African country and responsible for most of the country’s food.

With the current chaos following Qadaffi’s ouster and death, and a punishing drought, the prospect of a major displacement of the Malian farmers seems dim. Still, tens of thousands of poor families live and grow crops on the land but are uncertain what their future holds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Universalisation and Strengthening Nuke Treaty Review Need to be Qualitative Tue, 19 May 2015 16:34:35 +0000 Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at UN headquarters from 27 April to 22 May 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at UN headquarters from 27 April to 22 May 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Ambassador A. L. A. Azeez
NEW YORK, May 19 2015 (IPS)

“Strengthening the Review Process” and “Universalisation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty” (NPT) are distinctly substantive issues, that require consideration with their specificities in view.

Nevertheless, there are a few aspects pertaining to the themes, which undoubtedly make them inter-related. They should not be lost sight of, as the NPT Review Conference, which concludes its month long session Friday, moves along its agenda.The five-yearly review process has been effectively reduced to one of stock-taking - of unmet timelines, benchmarks and undertakings.

The issue of strengthening the review process arose pursuant to, and as part of, the 1995 Review and Extension Conference. It remains on the agenda of each Main Committee of the NPT Review Conference since then.

While a special feature of the 1995 process is its important adjunct, the indefinite extension of the Treaty, a specific expectation of the outcome of that process was strengthening of the three pillars of the Treaty.

This was sought to be achieved in such a way that the implementation of the three pillars would be consummate and mutually reinforcing.

One should not be oblivious, however, to what provided the immediate context for indefinite extension. It was the expectation that those countries, which retained their nuclear weapons under the Treaty, would take practical measures towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

It was noted then, with concern, that expected measures towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals had floundered within the 25 years preceding the 1995 review and extension process.

Underpinning this standpoint was the commitment by nuclear weapon states that they would pursue disarmament as a matter of priority and without delay.

This is reflected in the outcomes of the review conferences, particularly that of the 2010 Review Conference, where a clear commitment was made, that disarmament would be taken forward in ‘good faith’ and ‘at an early date’.

Nevertheless, those who possess nuclear arsenals have not lived up to the commitments.

The five-yearly review process has thus been effectively reduced to one of stock-taking – of unmet timelines, benchmarks and undertakings!

The ‘forward looking’ thrust of the process, which was originally intended to inspire positive action, has sadly, due to overwhelming convergence of strategic interests, or other reasons, become an exercise of reinventing the wheel.

What is now required is to clearly state timelines and verification and other measures in any plan of action to be adopted.

There has been no progress in nuclear disarmament. Nuclear non-proliferation has made only a little headway in a few regions. The impact on ‘peaceful uses’, of restrictive and control measures, is all too apparent. They often appear to border on denial of technology.

The total lack of progress in the field of nuclear disarmament as against corresponding increase in restrictive or control measures in the area of ‘peaceful uses’, with nuclear non-proliferation swinging in-between, presents a spectre of regression for all humanity.

It seems to be reinforcing the view among countries, which look to ‘peaceful uses’ as a component in their national energy policies, or development strategies, that leaving aside the treaty construct of ‘three pillars’, playing field is not level, and will not be, in the foreseeable future.

In diplomacy, the emphasis always is on staying positive. As the review process is in its last week, the call for it is growing stronger.

But can one conceivably do so in the current scenario, which appears fraught with far too many challenges in area of nuclear disarmament with its inter-relationship to the other two pillars of NPT? Is cautious optimism in order?

A measure of pessimism has already set in, and has the potential to become irreversibly dominant. It would be so, unless and until there is an urgent re-summoning of necessary political will to achieve a radical change in our mindsets as well as in our policies and programmes.

Universalisation of the Treaty is an objective that needs to be continuously promoted. But behind what has led to this call remains its indefinite extension that was achieved in 1995.

If there had been no agreement on extension in 1995, there would be no treaty left behind today. The goal of strengthening the review process must therefore inspire, and be inspired by, the goal of universalisation.

The logic that led to the extension of the Treaty needs to bear on the call for its universalisation, both as part of, and pursuant to, review process.

The extension of the Treaty is indefinite, and it was intended to be outcome-oriented. When the three pillars of the Treaty are advanced equally, and progress towards nuclear disarmament becomes irreversible, the Treaty would be said to have achieved its objective.

A strengthened review process would thus contribute a great deal towards realising this intended outcome.

The goal of universalisation, however, needs to be advanced with a time span in view, and above all, it needs to be qualitative.

What does all this mean?

We should no doubt count on and increase the number of adherences, but equally, we should also emphasise the overall importance of integrating, without discrimination inter se, all the provisions of the Treaty. National policies and programmes of State parties need to reflect these thereby enabling the advancement of its three pillars.

The review process should strengthen efforts to achieve this twin goal.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexus Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena 0 U.N., World Bank Set 2030 Deadline for Sustainable Energy for All Tue, 19 May 2015 12:21:55 +0000 Thalif Deen Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, an unrelenting advocate of sustainable energy for all (SE4All), once dramatised the need for modern conveniences by holding up his cell phone before an audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and asking: “What would we do without them?”

“We are all dependent on phones, light, heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration,” but still there are billions of people in the world who do not have the benefit of most of these modern energy services, he added."We must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.” -- Martin Krause

According to World Bank estimates, about 1.1 billion people don’t have access to electricity, and over 3.0 billion people still rely on polluting fuels such as kerosene, wood or other biomass to cook and, at times, heat their homes.

The world is heading in the right direction to achieve universal access to sustainable energy by 2030 – but must move faster, says a new World Bank report that tracks the progress of the SE4All initiative.

Besides achieving renewable energy goals, the United Nations is also vowing to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by the 2030 deadline.

Martin Krause, head of the Global Energy Policy Team at the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS the goal to achieve universal access to sustainable energy is very much attainable, “but indeed we must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.”

For the 1.1 billion without electricity, he said, a targeted and decentralised approach (i.e. mini-grids, solar home systems, micro-hydro plants) is needed to reach the predominately rural poor.

“And for the 3.0 billion who cook and heat with wood and dung, new technologies, better awareness and low-cost financing is needed to shift usage away from harmful fuels towards cleaner, and sustainable technologies and fuel sources,” said Krause.

In both of these cases, he pointed out, public and private financial resources will be necessary for success.

“For our part, UNDP has just released a new publication, the EnergyPlus Guidelines, which has been prepared to support our country partners in addressing some of these issues.”

Beginning Monday, the United Nations is hosting its second annual SE4all Forum, which is scheduled to conclude May 21.

According to the United Nations, leaders from government, business and civil society will announce new commitments and drive action to end energy poverty and fight climate change.

“They will present ways to catalyze finance and investment at the scale required to meet the targets of the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Over 1,000 practitioners will share and advance innovative energy solutions, according to a press release.

The Forum is expected to build momentum on energy issues ahead of both the September U..N Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, and the December Climate Conference in Paris, and contribute to shaping the direction of energy policy for the crucial decades to come.

Fossil fuels, described as finite, include crude oil, natural gas and coal, which are expected to run out over the next few decades.

The renewable sources of energy include wind and solar power, hydroelectric and geothermal, amongst others.

According to the U.N. Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), universal access to renewable energy sources can be achieved at a cost of about 48 billion dollars per year and 960 billion dollars over a 20-year period.

In its report titled “Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015″ released Monday, the World Bank said it is monitoring the world’s progress toward SE4All’s three goals: universal energy access; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix – all to be met by 2030.

While the first edition of the report, released in 2013, measured progress between 1990 and 2010, the current edition focuses on 2010 to 2012.

In that two-year period, the number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion to 1.1 billion, a rate of progress much faster than the 1990-2010 period. In total 222 million people gained access to electricity during this period, higher than the population increase of 138 million people.

These gains, the report said, were concentrated in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and mainly in urban areas. The global electrification rate increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 85 percent in 2012.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United States Tue, 19 May 2015 11:07:04 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisis Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous People Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: A 60-Year Journey with Sri Lanka Mon, 18 May 2015 14:56:17 +0000 Subinay Nandy

Subinay Nandy is the U.N. Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. He tweets at @SubinayNandyUN. More information about U.N. in Sri Lanka please visit

By Subinay Nandy
COLOMBO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marks an important milestone in Sri Lanka’s relationship with the United Nations. It is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and also the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s entry into the U.N. system.

Photo courtesy of UNDP

Photo courtesy of UNDP

For 60 years of its 70-year existence, Sri Lanka and the U.N. have been engaged in a mutually beneficial and reinforcing partnership contributing to the growth and evolution of each other.

This strong partnership is an affirmation of the common values and the shared vision that unite Sri Lanka and the United Nations System in supporting not only the people of Sri Lanka but also those around the world.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has contributed to the U.N. system in multiple ways including its norm setting process. Sri Lanka has produced important U.N. professionals, including three Under-Secretary Generals and a Vice President of the International Court of Justice, to name a few.

These and other high level officials have played a vital role in international development by influencing global policy and thought-leadership in diverse areas, ranging from the law of the sea to disarmament, children in armed conflict, and climate change.

Thousands of Sri Lankan citizens have contributed, and continue to provide their noble services, to U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world. At present, over 1,000 troops are deployed to important missions in Haiti, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs, for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance.

Sri Lankan policies adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments over the years have also served as a catalyst in promoting human development in many parts of the world.

I recall the year 1987 being declared by the U.N. as the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, recognising Sri Lanka’s housing programme at the time.

Significantly, Sri Lankan welfare policies relating to free education and free health services have influenced global policy making over the past 60 years. Such policies continue to leave a marked impression in the international development sphere, especially in light of Sri Lanka’s achievements towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For much of its contemporary history, Sri Lanka has been confronted with a plethora of challenges stemming from armed rebellions both in the North and the South, recurrent natural disasters and a deadly Tsunami of 2004, challenges associated with its progression towards higher levels of socio-economic development and integration to the globalised world.

Sri Lanka has shown remarkable resilience in facing these challenges and the United Nations is proud to have walked together with Sri Lanka in overcoming them.

Over the past years, the different U.N. agencies working on the ground have assisted Sri Lanka to deal with massive levels of human displacement induced both by man-made and natural disasters.

Our assistance has been at all levels of the displacement cycle from providing immediate humanitarian relief to recovery and long term rehabilitation of displaced persons. A special focus was also placed on restoring livelihoods and community and economic infrastructure in war-torn regions.

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support Sri Lanka advance towards the high level of human development that it currently sees today.

We have focused on reducing income poverty across regions and sectors, ensuring food security, addressing high levels of malnutrition and minimising regional and gender disparities in educational and health attainments.

As an island nation and being in a region prone to natural disasters, the U.N. agencies have also assisted Sri Lanka address the issue of climate change and build resilience to the threat of natural disasters.

The latest MDG Country Report, jointly launched by the U.N. and the Government of Sri Lanka this year, demonstrates how well Sri Lanka has progressed in achieving the seven out of the eight relevant development goals that were agreed by the world leaders fifteen years ago.

With few setbacks in reducing malnutrition and ensuring environmental sustainability, Sri Lanka has achieved or is on track to achieve all other goals relating to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.

In September this year, the global community will agree on a new development agenda to guide and inform much of its work post-2015.  Subject to the outcome of the inter-governmental negotiations, a new set of development goals i.e. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the MDGs, whilst carrying on the focus areas of the MDGs, bringing in a greater emphasis on other areas.

Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance. The Secretary-General believes strongly that we have the opportunity to build on this existing foundation to further strengthen the partnership between Sri Lanka and the United Nations.

Needless to say that in this journey of 60 years, the benefits have not been one-sided: the United Nations system too has gained immensely from this partnership.

This complementarity between the local and the global is indeed a renewed moment in our relationship with Sri Lanka with opportunities for greater collaboration and strengthened partnerships. I have no doubt that our ties will emerge even stronger in the years to come.

Before I conclude, let me quote the opening preamble of the U.N. Charter: “We the people of the United Nations…” This clearly shows that people are at the heart of the United Nations, and I must note that Sri Lankan people, in particular, are and have been at the centre of the 60 year SL-UN partnership that we celebrate this year.

To recognise and acknowledge the Sri Lankan people who have contributed to the system nationally, regionally, and globally, the U.N. in Sri Lanka, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is delivering a year-long trilingual outreach campaign: ‘Our UN. Apey UN. Engal UN.’

Through this campaign, we reflect and celebrate our long-standing and mutually-beneficial 60 year journey with Sri Lanka and its people, affirming our commitment to a continued partnership.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Development Threatens Antigua’s Protected Guiana Island Mon, 18 May 2015 12:11:17 +0000 Desmond Brown Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GUIANA ISLAND, Antigua, May 18 2015 (IPS)

In June 2014, Gaston Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls with a pledge to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.

In their first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Browne’s Cabinet approved a number of private investment projects valued in excess of three billion dollars."We want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but what... are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs?" -- Tahambay Smith

The largest is the Yida Investment Group, Guiana Island Project which will see the development of the largest free trade zone in the country, an off-shore financial centre, a five-star luxury resort, internationally branded villa communities, a casino and gaming complex, a multi-purpose conference centre, a 27-hole golf course, a marina and landing facilities, commercial, retail, sports and other auxillary facilities.

Headquartered in western Beijing, Yida International Investment Group was founded in 2011.

But Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island to start the proposed development has raised the ire of local environmentalists who have launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Browne not to allow the Chinese developers to break laws and to conserve the Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith told IPS.

“Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something?” he said.

“First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic,” he added.

Guiana Island, located off the northeast coast of Antigua between the Parham Peninsula and Crump Island, is the fourth largest island of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a refuge for the Fallow Deer, Antigua’s national animal.

Smith said building a marina in the area would also result in the destruction of reefs and removal of sea grass beds, adding that a few jobs and some investment dollars do no equate to the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” Smith said.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected.”

Ruth Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, agrees with Smith.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected,” she told IPS.

“How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?”

Eli Fuller is the President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS), the group spearheading the petition which outlines that Guiana Island falls within an area protected by the nation’s Fisheries Act and also falls within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), which was designated a Marine Protected Area in 2005.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” Fuller told IPS.

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood,” Fuller said.

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” he added.

But Prime Minister Browne said those who have raised concerns about the mangroves have taken a fundamentalist position.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country,” Browne said.

He added that, “some fauna may have to be destroyed” as government proceeds with various developments.

“My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment,” Browne added.

Fuller maintains that Prime Minister Browne was the man to petition in large numbers so that he could see that it wasn’t a “fundamentalist” minority that was very concerned with this particular development.

“He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas,” he said.

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws.

“We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” Fuller said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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African Women Mayors Join Forces to Fight for Clean Energy Mon, 18 May 2015 07:45:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 18 2015 (IPS)

When some 40,000 delegates, including dozens of heads of state, descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year, a group of African women mayors plan to be there and make their voices heard on a range of issues, including electrification.

The mayors, representing both small and big towns on the continent, are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy.

“In my commune, only one-fifth of the people have access to electricity, and this of course hampers development,” Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal in Cameroon, told a recent meeting of women mayors in Paris.“As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope” – Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal, Cameroon

Mbock Mioumnde was one of 18 women mayors at last month’s meeting, hosted by Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and France’s former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who now heads the Fondation Énergies pour l’Afrique (Energy for Africa Foundation).

Organisers said the meeting was called to highlight Africa’s energy challenges in the run-up to COP 21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and which has the French political class scrambling to show its environmental credentials.

Mbock Mioumnde told IPS in an interview that clean, renewable energy was a priority for Africa, and that political leaders were looking at various means of electrification including hydropower and photovoltaic energy and, but not necessarily, wind power – a feature in many parts of France.

“We plan to maintain this contact and this network of women mayors to see what we can accomplish,” said Mbock Mioumnde. “As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope.”

Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office of Paris mayor, said she wanted to support the African representatives’ appeal for “sustainable electrification”, considering that two-thirds of Africa’s population, “particularly the most vulnerable, don’t have access to electricity.”

Currently president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), Hidalgo said it was essential to find ways to speed up electrification in Africa, using clean technology that respects the environment and the health of citizens.

The mayors meeting in Paris in April also called for the creation of an “African agency devoted to this issue” that would be in charge of implementing the complete electrification of the continent by 2025.

Present at the conference were several representatives of France’s big energy companies such as GDF Suez – an indication that France sees a continued business angle for itself – but the gathering also attracted NGOs which have been working independently to set up solar-power installations in various African countries.

“I’m happy that women are organising on this issue. We need solidarity,” said Hidalgo, who has been urging Paris residents to become involved in climate action, in a city that has come late to environmental awareness, especially compared with many German and Swiss towns.

“The Climate Change Conference is a decisive summit for the planet’s leaders and decision-makers to reach an agreement,” Hidalgo stressed.

Climate change issues have an undeniable gender component because women are especially affected by lack of access to clean sources of energy.

Ethiopian-born, Kenya-based scientist Dr Segenet Kelemu, who was a winner of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, spoke for example of growing up in a rural village in Ethiopia with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“I went out to collect firewood, to fetch water and to take farm produce to market. Somehow, all the back-breaking tasks in Africa are reserved for women and children,” she told a reporter.

This gender component was also raised at a meeting May 7-8 in Addis Ababa, where leaders of a dozen African countries agreed on 12 recommendations to improve the regional response to climate change.

The recommendations included increasing local technological research and development; reinforcing infrastructure for renewable energy, transportation and water; and “mainstreaming gender-responsive climate change actions”.

The meeting was part of a series of ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)’ workshops being convened though June 2015 in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East. The CVF was established to offer a South-South cooperation platform for vulnerable countries to deal with issues of climate change.

In Paris, Hidalgo’s approach includes gathering as many stakeholders as possible together to reach consensus before the U.N. summit. With Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, Italy, she also invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a gathering in March.

The mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo’s office is now working on a project to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21, a spokesperson told IPS. The stakes are high because the French government wants the summit to be a success, with a new global agreement on combating climate change.

Borloo, who was environment minister in the administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, used to advocate for France’s “climate justice” proposal, aimed at giving financial aid to poor countries to combat climate change.

Calling for a “climate justice plan” to allow poor countries to “adapt, achieve growth, get out of poverty and have access to energy,” Borloo was a key French player at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that conference ended in disarray. The question now is: will a greater involvement of women leaders and mayors make COP 21 a success?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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“Megaprojects” Can Destroy Reputations in Brazil Mon, 18 May 2015 07:04:00 +0000 Mario Osava Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

Megaprojects are high-risk bets. They can shore up the government that brought them to fruition, but they can also ruin its image and undermine its power – and in the case of Brazil the balance is leaning dangerously towards the latter.

As the scandal over kickbacks in the state oil company Petrobras, which broke out in 2014, grows, it is hurting the image of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom belong to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

In its 2014 balance sheet, the company wrote off 6.2 billion reais (2.1 billion dollars) due to alleged graft and another 44.6 billion reais for overvalued assets, including refineries.

But the real magnitude of the losses will never be known. The company lost credibility on an international level, its image has been badly stained, and as a result many of its business plans will be stalled or cancelled.

The numbers involved in the corruption scandal are based on testimony from those accused in the operation codenamed “Lava-jato” (Car Wash) and in investigations by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, which indicated that the bribes represented an estimated three percent of Petrobras’ contracts with 27 companies between 2004 and 2012.

The biggest losses can be blamed on poor decision-making, bad planning and mismanagement. But the corruption had stronger repercussions among the population and the consequences are still incalculable.

It will also be difficult to gauge the influence that corruption had on administrative blunders, which are also political, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the devaluation of the assets was concentrated in Petrobras’ two biggest projects, the Abreu e Lima Refinery in the Northeast, which is almost finished, and the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), both of which began to be built when Lula was president.

Petrobras informed investors that COMPERJ, a 21.6-billion-dollar megaproject, abandoned the petrochemical portion of its activities in 2014 as they were considered unprofitable, after three years of waffling, and was downsized to a refinery to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil.

It will be difficult for Petrobras, now under-capitalised, to invest millions of dollars more to finish the refinery, where the company estimates that the work is 82 percent complete. But failing to finish the project would bring much bigger losses.

Thousands of workers laid off, economic and social depression in Itaboraí, where the complex is located, 60 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro, purchased equipment that is no longer needed, which costs millions of dollars a year to store, and suppliers that have gone broke are some of the effects of the modification and delays in the project.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Petrobras crisis is also a result of the crash in international oil prices and of years of government fuel subsidies that kept prices artificially low to help control inflation.

It also endangers the naval industry, which expanded to address demand from the oil company.

Shipyards may dismiss as many as 40,000 people if the crisis drags on, according to industry statistics.

The industry was revived in Brazil as a result of orders for drills, rigs and other equipment to enable Petrobras to extract the so-called presalt oil reserves that lie below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock and sand, in deep water in the Atlantic ocean.

The Abreu e Lima Refinery, which can process 230,000 barrels a day, has had better luck because the first stage is already complete and it began to operate in late 2014. But the cost was eight times the original estimate.

One of the reasons for that was the projected partnership with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which Lula had agreed with that country’s late president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

PDVSA never made good on its commitment to provide 40 percent of the capital needed to build the plant. But the agreement influenced the design and purchase of equipment suited to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude. The project had to be modified along the way.

Plans to build two other big refineries, in the Northeast states of Ceará and Maranhão, were ruled out by Petrobras as non-cost-effective. But that was after nearly 900,000 dollars had already been invested in purchasing and preparing the terrain.

The disaster in the oil industry has stayed in the headlines because of the scandal and the amounts and sectors involved, which include four refineries, dozens of shipyards and major construction companies that provided services to Petrobras and have been accused of paying bribes.

But many other large energy and logistical infrastructure projects have suffered major delays. These megaprojects mushroomed around the country, impelled by the high economic growth during Lula’s eight years in office and incentives from the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme.

Railways, ports, the expansion and paving of roads and highways, power plants of all kinds, and biofuels – all large-scale projects – put to the test the productive capacity of Brazilians, and especially of the country’s construction firms, which also expanded their activities abroad.

The majority of the projects are several years behind schedule. The diversion of the São Francisco river through the construction of over 700 km of canals, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes, and a number of dams, to increase the supply of water in the semi-arid Northeast, was initially to be completed in 2010, at the end of Lula’s second term.

But while the cost has nearly doubled, it is not even clear that the smaller of the two large canals will be operating by the end of this year, as President Rousseff promised.

Private projects, like the Transnordestina and Oeste-Leste railways, also in the Northeast, have dragged on as well.

Resistance from indigenous communities and some environmental authorities, along with labour strikes and protests – which sometimes involved the destruction of equipment, workers’ housing and installations – aggravated the delays caused by mismanagement and other problems.

The wave of megaprojects that began in the past decade was explained by the lack of investment in infrastructure suffered by Brazil, and Latin America in general, during the two “lost decades” – the 1980s and 1990s.

After 1980, oil refineries were not built in Brazil. The success of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline postponed the need. The country became an exporter of gasoline and importer of diesel fuel, until the skyrocketing number of cars and industrial consumption of fuel made an expansion of refinery capacity urgently necessary.

Nor were major hydropower dams built after 1984, when the country’s two largest plants were inaugurated: Itaipú on the border with Paraguay and Tucuruí in the northern Amazon rainforest.

The energy crisis broke out in 2001, when power rationing measures were put in place for eight months, which hurt the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The return of economic growth during the Lula administration accentuated the deficiencies and the need to make up for lost time. The wishful thinking that sometimes drives developmentalists led to a mushrooming of megaprojects, with the now known consequences, including, probably, the new escalation of corruption.

Not to mention the political impact on the Rousseff administration and the PT and the risk of instability for Latin America’s giant.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Edinburgh University Bows to Fossil Fuel Industry Sun, 17 May 2015 18:28:41 +0000 Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young
EDINBURGH, May 17 2015 (IPS)

The University of Edinburgh has taken the decision to not divest from fossil fuels, bowing to the short-term economic interests of departments funded by the fossil fuel industry, with little to no acknowledgement of the long-term repercussions of these investments.

The decision, which was announced on May 12, exemplifies the influence that vested interests have gained over academic institutions in the United Kingdom.“Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years”

Collectively, U.K. universities invest over eight billion dollars in fossil fuels, more than 3,000 dollars for every student. The University of Edinburgh has the country’s third largest university endowment, after Oxford and Cambridge, totalling 457 million dollars, of which approximately 14 million is invested in fossil fuel companies, including Total, Shell and BHP Billiton.

Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years.

Announcing it decision, the university said: ”The university will withdraw from investment in these [fossil fuel consuming and extracting] companies if: realistic alternative sources of energy are available and the companies involved are not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.”

However, given the fossil fuel industry’s continued destruction of the planet, the university’s approach leaves far too much to the imagination and indeed allows for the potential to not divest from harmful industries at all.

We are going to find our existence completely altered – and in a way that we do not want – if   we do not stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, and we know the big fossil fuel companies have no intention of stopping.

Climate change not only poses a massive economic threat but also presents the world’s biggest global health hazard – and its effects are hitting the poorest parts of the world hardest. The University of Edinburgh is fundamentally failing to acknowledge the part it is playing in funding climate chaos.

Our university claims to be a “world leader in addressing global challenges including … climate change” but if the university had any desire to take the moral lead, it would have divested. Divestment would have seen Edinburgh join a global movement of universities and numerous other forward-thinking organisations in divorcing itself from the tightening grip of the fossil fuel industry.

The University of Edinburgh came down firmly on the side of departments funded by the industry which have been scaremongering throughout the process

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have revealed, for example, that the university’s Geosciences Department has received funding from a range of fossil fuel companies over the past 10 years, including BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, as well as grants and gifts of money from Total and Cairn Energy.

Sixty-five students in the university’s School of Engineering have already signed an open letter to the Head of the School, Prof Hugh McCann, angered by his public opposition to fossil fuel divestment.

Their letter states: “The School of Engineering has and will continue to have a pivotal role in the university’s future. It is after all engineers who will be on the frontlines of the transition to a low carbon society.

“By basing its argument against divestment on engineering students’ chances of employment in one dead-end industry, the school appears to be failing to prepare its students for careers in the rapidly changing energy markets of the 21st century, whilst neglecting the faculty’s broader responsibility to the student body as a whole. As a consequence, they gamble employment against our common future.”

Divesting is a way of taking on and dismantling the big fossil fuel companies and the power they hold over our society and governments. We rightly condemn companies that do not pay their taxes or who exploit their workers, and so we must do this to the companies who are threatening our very existence.

Divestment is also about creating more democratic institutions where those who are part of universities can have a say in how their money is spent and invested. The university’s announcement has shown that we still have a long way to go in creating transparent, democratic and ethical institutions. It brings into question the validity of the university’s decision-making process.

For the past three years, students, staff and alumni have supported full divestment – yet the University of Edinburgh has ignored their calls. The consultation run by the university found staff, students and the public in favour of ethical investment. A year later we still have zero commitment to change.

A process which began with promise has been allowed to descend into a complete breakdown in communication between students and the university. Serious questions need to be asked about why the decision was taken in favour of the views from the university’s Department of Geosciences, which freely admits its vested interested in maintaining the status quo for financial reasons.

The University of Edinburgh needs to invest in alternatives to dirty and unhealthy energy sources. These alternatives will create new jobs, so that when the fossil fuel industry ceases to exist there is something to replace it and our students are trained to work in it.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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