Inter Press Service » Newsbrief News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 18:27:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 UN Trade and Development Conference a “Big Win” for Multilateralism Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:43:00 +0000 an IPS Correspondent Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) poses for a photo with Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), President of the Republic of Kenya, and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), at the opening of the fourteenth UNCTAD session, taking place in Nairobi, 17-22 July 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) poses for a photo with Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), President of the Republic of Kenya, and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), at the opening of the fourteenth UNCTAD session, taking place in Nairobi, 17-22 July 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2016 (IPS/G77)

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) concluded its five-day meeting in Nairobi on a positive note—the launch of a new e-trade initiative and a multi-donor trust fund on trade and productive capacity.

The meeting, attended by more than 5,000 delegates from 149 countries, also launched the first UN statistical report on specific indicators on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a commitment for a roadmap on fisheries subsidies.

The negotiations ended in the early hours of July 22 after two marathon all-night sessions. The resulting Nairobi consensus, “the Maafikiano”, also sets UNCTAD’s work programme for the next four years.

Billed as UNCTAD 14, the conference was formally opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in the presence of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and the vice-President of Uganda, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi.

The meeting also launched the 2016 report on ‘Economic Development in Africa’, and highlighted issues around non-tariff measures, debt, and illicit financial flows, along with a fashion show focusing on the creative and commercial potential of Kenya’s fashion industry.

In his opening address, the Secretary-General warned about the “worrying signs that people around the world are increasingly unhappy with the state of the global economy.”

He said high inequality, stagnant incomes, lack of enough jobs – especially for youth — and too little cause for optimism stoke legitimate fears for the future for many in all regions.

“The global trade slowdown and a lack of productive investment have sharpened the deep divides between those who have benefited from globalization, and those who continue to feel left behind. “

And rather than working to change the economic model for the better, Ban said, many actual and would-be leaders are instead embracing protectionism and even xenophobia.

"International financial institutions, which are one of the main sources of financing for development of developing countries, need to be universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable." -- Apichart Chinwanno.

“The vision set out in the SDGs – for people, planet, prosperity and peace – will not succeed if shocks and stresses in our global economic and financial system are not properly addressed,” he noted.

Trade must provide prosperity in ways that work for people and planet and respond to the challenges of climate change, said Ban.

A Ministerial Declaration adopted by the 134 members of the Group of 77 and China on the occasion of UNCTAD addressed the “key issues that are of major concern to developing countries,” said Apichart Chinwanno, Permanent Secretary And Special Envoy Of The Minister Of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom Of Thailand, speaking on Behalf of ‘The Group Of 77 and China In New York’.

“These (key issues) include the need to tackle subsidies and various forms of market access restrictions, tax evasion and tax avoidance, illicit capital flows, sovereign debt crisis as well as the need to uphold principles of equity, inclusiveness, common but differentiated responsibilities, special and differential treatment, and the right to development, just to name a few,” said Chinwanno at a Ministerial Meeting Of The Group Of 77 held on the occasion Of UNCTAD in Nairobi on July 17.

“International financial institutions, which are one of the main sources of financing for development of developing countries, need to be universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable,” added Chinwanno.

Chinwanno also noted that Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains at an average of just “0.29% of the aggregate donor Gross National Income in 2014, well below the commitment of 0.7%.”

According to an UNCTAD press release, this year’s conference, with the tagline “From decision to action”, had added significance because it was the first UNCTAD conference since the global community established the Sustainable Development Goals and mandated – via the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – with UNCTAD as one of five international organizations to mobilize financing for development.”

The other four organizations are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Martin Khor, Executive Director of the Geneva-based South Centre said an important aspect of today’s global economy is that the economic weight of the South has undeniably increased, with China and India accounting for a large share of this increase.

He said developing countries as a whole are more integrated into the world economy.  However, these changes have not yet constituted a full scale shift in the global landscape.

The development gap between the North and the South still exists, even exacerbated for some countries.  The task of bridging this gap is becoming more complex and difficult in today’s global economic environment, he cautioned.

Throughout the various major international negotiations that took place last year that resulted in the recently concluded international outcomes like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Paris Agreement, the South continuously highlighted the need to close the development gap faster and in a more sustainable and equitable manner, he noted.

“None of these outcomes of the international community could have been achieved without the support and leadership of the Group of 77 and China,” said Khor.

“I’m delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the sustainable development goals,” UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said, just after the conclusion of the meeting.

“With this document, we can get on with the business of cutting edge analysis, building political consensus, and providing the necessary technical assistance that will make globalization and trade work for billions of people in the global south,” he said.

UNCTAD14 President, Amina Mohamed, said: “As the President of this conference, I cannot begin to tell you how I feel right now.”

“It’s a good day for Kenya, a good day for UNCTAD, and a big win for multilateralism,” she said.

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Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: The Sooner, the Better Tue, 19 Jul 2016 04:05:53 +0000 Phillip Kaeding The UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are projected onto UN headquarters. UN Photo/Cia Pak

The UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are projected onto UN headquarters. UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Phillip Kaeding

The first 1000 days after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals are critical, according to a report published last week, urging UN member states to take action quickly.

“It’s a little bit like a pension,” Elizabeth Stuart of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says, “the longer you leave paying into a pension, the more expensive it gets… The SDGs work the same way.”

The ODI compared current progress on some of the development goals with the goals and targets and showed that a delay of six years in Sub-Saharan Africa can almost double the effort that have to be put into achieving goals such as universal birth registration.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are supposed to be attained by 2030. A first review is in progress at the moment as part of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, although officially the goals have only been in place for 7 months, and most member states are yet to even gather baseline data, showing where they are beginning from.

Without explicit data, experts think that it will be difficult to motivate states to start working on the SDGs early. That is why the report “Leaving no one behind” emphasizes the benefits of tackling the most urgent development problems as soon as possible.

“It’s a little bit like a pension... the longer you leave paying into a pension, the more expensive it gets… The SDGs work the same way.” -- Elizabeth Stuart, ODI.

At a high-level meeting here on Monday, many states expressed their approval of a quick start to implementation. Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation stated that “you cannot only point at others, you also have to point to yourself”.

For Boima Kamara, Liberian Minister of Finance, it is important to “give voice to those who are marginalized” as a way to ensure that no one is left behind. Of course, apart from the unanimous approval of the 2030 Agenda, all participants at the event highlighted their own countries’ milestones.

However, one of the main issues is, as the Colombian representative Simon Gaviria said, that ‘leaving no one behind’ can mean “everything, and nothing, at the same time”. Each country therefore has to set a focus and re-structure the Agenda according to its own national context.

Developed countries like the UK, Germany or Canada explained that they would be splitting the work on sustainable development in aid for countries in greater need and particular areas of deficit in their own societies.

Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Program, and candidate for the position of UN Secretary General, identified the three most urgent steps for everyone:

“First, identifying what is actually driving inequalities… Second, understanding why people are falling back into poverty… And thirdly, identifying how critical it is to work across the different silos of the humanitarian, the development, the human rights, the peacebuilding. Working in silos just doesn’t get the best results for people.”

The ODI report also discusses the needs people want to see addressed. It argues that instead of specific goals, the people that are ‘left behind’ actually wish for government spending on key services like roads and electricity in general.

The report makes it clear that the costs of achieving the ambitious goals are high. But it also shows that delaying action will push them up even more.

“If countries are not travelling along this critical pathway, it may already be too late to reach the SDGs for all their citizens. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, countries already need to reduce preventable child deaths at a rate of 7 percent each year between 2015 and 2030 to meet the global target. If they wait until 2018, that rate increases to 9 percent”, the report states.

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Africa, Caribbean, Pacific Nations Prepare for Upcoming Summit in Papua New Guinea Mon, 02 May 2016 11:58:55 +0000 an IPS Correspondent By an IPS Correspondent
May 2 2016

The growing partnership between 78 countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and the 28-member European Union (EU) has been described as one of the most successful examples of both South-South and North-South cooperation.

As ACP Secretary-General Dr. Patrick I. Gomes points out: “The ACP-EU partnership has a significant contribution to offer to the global development agenda.”

“Not only does it bring together more than 100 countries in the world in a legally binding partnership based on trade, development cooperation and political dialogue, but it has also made an impact through effective and comprehensive development programmes, as well as valuable collaborations with a wide variety of actors”, he said last week.

A two-day meeting of the Joint Council of Ministers and key officials from the 106 countries concluded April 29 with two key decisions: a pledge to ensure the success of the upcoming summit of Heads of State in Papua New Guinea 30 May- 1 June and an appeal to the EU for flexibility on free trade deals with ACP regions.

The meeting was chaired by the President of Senegal Macky Sall and took place at the Abdou Diouf International Conference Centre in the capital of Dakar.

The Summit is expected to be a watershed event for the ACP Group of States, in terms of providing the necessary political mandate to reorient the organisation, and a basis for more concrete engagement in discussions on the future of ACP-EU relations.

The Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea Rimbink Pato made a presentation on the state of preparations for the upcoming 8th Summit and urged delegations to ensure high levels of participation.

Among the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers was the need for an urgent response to the outbreak of the Zika virus in Caribbean countries. The virus has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Conscious of its potential economic and social impact, the Council gave instructions for an appropriate financial allocation to be urgently made from the Intra-ACP resources of the 11th European Development Fund to address the crisis.

The ministers also agreed on a resolution on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAS) between the ACP regions and the European Union.

The Caribbean is the only region to have ratified a full regional agreement, which is currently being implemented. Three others – West Africa, East African Community, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) EPA group – have signed but not ratified.

Amongst several key decisions and resolutions, the ACP Council of Ministers welcomed the report by the Eminent Persons Group, chaired by former President of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, entitled “A New Vision for our Future – A 21st century African, Caribbean and Pacific Group delivering for its Peoples.”

The report, resulting from more than two years of research, consultations and reflection, includes recommendations to reform the organisation and reposition it as a more effective international force on the global scene.

The report will be tabled at the 8th ACP Summit in Papua New Guinea.

The Council also encouraged Member States to participate in the upcoming UNCTAD XIV, (the 14th UN Conference on Trade and Development) on 17-22 July 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The ACP Council of Ministers also adopted a resolution directing the ACP Secretariat to take steps to support Member States in negotiating improved bilateral Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements with the EU.

In a separate resolution, the Council welcomed several developments in the ongoing EU talks on sugar, including assurances that the EU Safeguard Mechanism will not be applied automatically, and that the EU will not impose any mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) for sugar.

Ministers further insisted that no intervention is made to increase the supply of sugar within the EU which could undermine the fragile recovery in sugar prices in some ACP Member States.

Additionally, the Council of Ministers discussed the territorial tensions between Belize and Guatemala, as well as between Guyana and Venezuela, with Ministers confirming their support for the territorial integrity of ACP Member States in these disputes.


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Angola Battles Yellow Fever Outbreak Thu, 24 Mar 2016 19:26:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

A yellow fever outbreak in Angola has killed almost 200 people in the first epidemic of the disease to hit the country in 30 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Thursday.

Since December 2015, the outbreak has largely gripped the capital city of Luanda.

“With the majority of cases reported in the capital city, the situation is more dangerous and difficult to contain because the disease can spread easily from one person to another,” said WHO expert on epidemic diseases Sergio Yactayo.

There are approximately two million residents in Luanda while over 6.5 million live in the province.

Yactayo noted the disease has already spread. According to Angola’s health ministry, ten out of the country’s 18 provinces have reported yellow fever cases. So far, there are 460 confirmed cases.

Infected mosquitoes, the most common species being the Aedes aegypti, transmit yellow fever virus. The species is also responsible for the current spread of the Zika virus in South America.

Though vaccinations against the disease have already effectively decreased its reach, there is a global vaccine shortage, Yactayo noted.

“We have to keep going and vaccinate all the people in Luanda and the affected provinces to end this outbreak. This is an enormous job which is exhausting the supplies of vaccines,” he remarked.

In the Luanda province alone, an additional 1.5 million doses are needed to vaccinate the population at risk. Without treatment, at least half of patients with severe yellow fever die within 10 to 14 days.

WHO, in partnership with the Angolan Ministry of Health, has vaccinated 5.7 million people in the area.

The source of the epidemic is believed to be poor sanitation, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The oil export-dependent southern African nation was hit hard by the decline in oil prices, sending its kwanza currency into a freefall and causing its government to make deep cuts in public spending. The budget for waste collection services in particular was cut by almost 70 percent, leaving piles of waste accumulating in poorer suburbs including Viana where the first case of yellow fever was reported in December.

This has also contributed to the rise of other diseases including malaria, cholera and chronic diarrhea.

As the number of cases increase within Angola and in its neighboring countries, WHO has urged prioritizing vaccination of people at high risk of yellow fever.

The health organisation is in discussion with partners to replenish the vaccine emergency stockpile while local health authorities have scaled up their surveillance, investigation, and communications activities.


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600 Million Adolescent Girls Battle Major Challenges Mon, 14 Mar 2016 19:35:43 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“Today, there are 600 million adolescent girls with specific needs, challenges and aspirations for the future,” said the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Babatunde Osotimehin, starting off a High-Level Forum on adolescent girls.

Organised by UNFPA, the meeting brought together stakeholders from civil society and the private sector to discuss the importance of investing in girls under the age of 18.

“As leaders of both today and tomorrow, they can be a force for social cohesion and progress and peace,” Osotimehin continued. However, he noted that adolescent girls continue to face a range of challenges including violence and discrimination, which hinder access to essential services and opportunities.

President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft cited the case of Monica Singh who, at the age of 18, was attacked with acid after refusing to accept a marriage proposal.

During International Women’s Day on March 8, Singh told delegates that despite suffering from burns over 95 percent of her body, she is committed to continue fighting for gender equality.

“If a young woman is capable of overcoming such an attack on her life, her freedom and her future, just think how much more she could achieve if society was actually on her side – supporting her, empowering her,” Lykketoft remarked at the forum.

According to the Population Council, one in three women and girls experience extreme violence. The International Center for Research on Women reported that an estimated 150 million teenage girls have experienced some form of sexual violence.

In many conflict-stricken nations, sexual violence is often used as a weapon. The UN Human Rights Office recently found a “shocking” scale of sexual violence perpetrated by government forces and militia in South Sudan. In one case, a woman was tied to a tree while ten soldiers raped her 15-year-old daughter.

“This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and a weapon of war—yet it has been more or less off the radar,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein, while releasing the investigative report.

Gender-based discrimination also continues to persist in education. In Africa and South Asia, boys are twice more likely to complete secondary education than girls. Even if girls are in school, they are often first to drop out when needed for domestic housework and are forced to leave due to child marriage or pregnancy.

However, delegates stressed the importance of education for adolescent girls.

“If adolescent girls stay in school, stay healthy, become earners and enter the labour market before they start a family, they will be more likely to support their families in overcoming generations of poverty,” Lykketoft stated.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), if all women had secondary education, 12 million children would be saved from stunting from malnutrition. Maternal mortality, which is the second leading cause of death among girls between the ages of 15 and 19, would also decrease significantly. Evidence also shows that every year a girl is in secondary school, wages increase by 20 percent.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also noted the role of education in preventing and reducing violence against women and girls by “prompting respectful relationships and gender equality amongst young boys and girls.”

However, to increase access to education and overcome gender norms, leadership and investment are needed, Lykketoft declared. “UNFPA and the UN cannot do it alone,” he said.

Both Lykketoft and Osotimehin called on the diverse group of participants to prioritize investments in adolescent girls, especially in light of the 2030 Agenda.

“The success of the 2030 agenda, which asks us to leave no one behind, will be measured in how well we are collectively able to build a world in which girls have no limits on their aspirations for the future,” Osotimehin stated.

“Let us be active in what we say, not just in the hollow chambers of the United Nations,” he continued, concluding the forum.


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Thousands of Children Under Siege in War-Torn Syria Wed, 09 Mar 2016 19:47:15 +0000 Valentina Ieri Photo credit: Unicef/2014/Romenzi

Photo credit: Unicef/2014/Romenzi

By Valentina Ieri

Seeing children dying due to a lack of doctors and medicines, and seeing them grow up in a society with no food, schools or text books, is the reality of the daily life of more than 250,000 Syrian children currently under siege in the war-ravaged Middle Eastern nation.

The besieged areas in Syria have turned into open-air prisons, where children and families are trapped, surrounded by warring groups preventing food, fuel and other vital supplies from entering and also stopping people from fleeing.

The crisis situation is detailed in the latest report “Childhood Under Siege” released by Save the Children, and presented at a press conference sponsored by the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).

The Syrian conflict, which is now entering its sixth year, has resulted in over 250,000 people killed. 4.6 million Syrians fleeing the country, 6.6 million being internally displaced and over 13.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

“While many besieged areas struggle to find chlorine to purify water, parties to the conflict have reportedly used chlorine gas to attack and kill civilians.”

A Syrian mother, a resident of Ghouta, a suburb of the capital of Damascus, is quoted as saying: “The medical station here is no more than a table, a sterilizer and a piece of gauze”.

From the left Sonia Khush, Save the Children's Regional Director with Ambassador Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children, while presenting Save the Children's report "Childhood Under Siege - Living and Dying in Besieged Areas of Syria" at a press conference organised by the United Nations Correspondents Association. Credit: Valentina Ieri/IPS

From the left Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Regional Director with Ambassador Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children, while presenting Save the Children’s report “Childhood Under Siege – Living and Dying in Besieged Areas of Syria” at a press conference organised by the United Nations Correspondents Association. Credit: Valentina Ieri/IPS

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Regional Syria Director, explained how in Madaya the only doctor left is a vet, whereas in Moadamiyeh three out of eight were trained as dentists.

In some cases, when people need to take painkillers, they take one pill every three days. There are no vaccines and no medicines for chronic diseases such as heart conditions and diabetes.

The repercussion of this situation is not only physical, but also psychological for women and children, as they grow up far from a safe environment, and too close to a culture of war, she added.

“Children are in constant fear of air bombardments, which are dropped more in besieged areas than in any other parts of Syria,” said Khush.

Data from the report were collected through 22 conducted focus group, and interviews with more than 125 parents and kids living in eight different besieged areas of Syria.

The results revealed that Syrians have been forced to cut the number of meals per day, by half or more. In seven of the groups (32%), people said they sometimes were unable to eat a meal per day.

Four of the adult groups (24%) reported that local children have died because of lack of food. Parents in 14 groups (84%) reported their children becoming more aggressive, withdrawn or depressed.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Syrian humanitarian worker, who founded in 2012 a local organisation which coordinates humanitarian activities in besieged areas, described the “art of survival” of thousands of families:

“Mothers who are forced to cook grass and feed their children on animal food. Several new-born babies die at checkpoints because they cannot get the right medicines…This is what it means to me to live in besieged areas.”

Despite six resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council since 2014, calling for a humanitarian access in Syria, the number of people living under siege has more than doubled in the last year, along with the number of bombings.

“The situation has worsened,” said Khush. “As in 2015, only one percent of the people living in besieged areas received free UN aid. However, communities are becoming more resilient and determined to act to solve their own problems.”

“The entire civil society in Syria — which prior to the conflict did not exist — is trying to rebuild a broken society through the contribution of women and men who, despite the daily risks, are determined to be part of the solution”, the Syrian volunteer added.

“It is important for us to have started already the process of rebuilding the country, giving back people their dignity and ownership,” she underlined.

“Located in Damascus, we work in areas controlled mainly by the rebel groups” the volunteer told IPS, “And through a strong network of volunteers and local councils we check daily if areas get bombed, schools get attacked, and if children went out safely. We directly talk to people,” she said.

In areas such as Eastern Ghouta, which is mainly an agricultural land, people do not want hand-outs anymore. When supplies get sent in, people prefer seeds, tools and agricultural equipment, Save the Children’s Regional Syria Director said.

“There is a lot of focus on convoys and food aid, which is very important” – she said – “But that does not address so many other aspects of what people really need. […] It does not address the issue of helping these communities to generate an income of their own to be self-sustainable, which is what Save the Children is doing.”


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Majority of World’s Hungry are Women, Says Expert Tue, 08 Mar 2016 19:01:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Women, responsible for more than half of global food production, comprise of 70 percent of the world’s hungry, said Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

In a new report released here, Elver found enduring gender gaps in the access to food around the world. “Faced with discrimination on multiple levels, women’s right to access food is affected at all stages of life,” she told delegates at the Human Rights Council.

In many societies– due to the belief that females are of lower status– women and girls receive less food than their male counterparts. In extreme cases, a preference for male children may lead to female infanticide through food deprivation.

Elver pointed to the failure in international law to assure women’s right to food. For instance, in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the right to food is guaranteed to “himself and his family.” Though the ICESCR has clarified that such rights must be non-discriminatory, gendered language has tainted the treaty.

The report also highlighted the exclusion of women from land ownership, further hindering access to food. In Africa, the proportion of women who have a share of land ranges from 5 to 30 percent.

In Central America, though countries recognize equal rights between men and women, a gap remains in practice as women own less land which tend to be of worse quality and with less legal security. Central American women only have access to between 12 and 23 percent of land. Women are also less likely to inherit land than men.

The Special Rapporteur further examined the impacts of the privatisation and industrialization of agriculture on women. For instance, women are less likely than men to have discretionary income and are therefore less able to afford expensive agricultural resources including seeds and participate in the global market.

Subsidised agricultural imports have also displaced local food production and decreased earned income for women.

“Despite their critical contribution to world food and agricultural production, women face difficulties in maintaining household incomes due to increased competition with imported agricultural goods, reduced prices, and declining commodity prices in international market,” Elver stated.

Globally, approximately 30 percent of paid agricultural workers are women.

On International Women’s Day March 8, Elver urged for action to close the gender gap in agriculture by developing gender-sensitive policies. Such policies include the provision and access to social protection, land, labour, and decision-making power.

“Respecting, protecting and fulfilling women’s rights will inevitably solve broader problems in food systems in general and can help communities achieve improved development outcomes,” Elver concluded.


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NYC Moves 30,000 Homeless to Permanent Housing Tue, 08 Mar 2016 15:09:31 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

Grappling with an ever-growing problem of a housing shortage facing low income residents, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to provide 30,000 New Yorkers with rental assistance for permanent housing — largely to avoid or exit shelters.

The newly created program is meant not only to provide stable and affordable housing but also address poverty in one of the world’s richest nations.

“Stability in housing is of paramount importance to improving the lives of families who are struggling,” he told reporters, pointing out that New York City’s homeless prevention programs are now serving over 107,000 individuals with prevention services, over 300,000 with emergency rental assistance and more than 10,000 households with legal services to help them remain in their homes.

Currently, New York City has a total population of more than 8.5 million people. Since last January, the City’s rental assistance program has helped 10,242 households, including 301,129 finding new affordable homes. And the number of people living in City shelters is estimated at over 58,000.

By providing rental assistance, de Blasio argued, “we can help take a critical burden off their shoulders while saving taxpayers money. We continue to work with all our families and individuals to remain stably housed before shelter is their only option, and help them exit shelter to permanent housing.”

Adrienne Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of Civil Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said moving homeless individuals to permanent affordable housing is the primary route to solving the City’s homeless crisis.

“It is a great accomplishment of Mayor de Blasio that over 30,000 people have left shelter for permanent housing with the City’s rent subsidies programs.”

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Women’s Political Participation Slows, New Report Shows Mon, 07 Mar 2016 19:25:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day March 8, the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) revealed a disappointing low for women’s participation in parliament.

The new Women In Parliament 2015 report has found that women’s parliamentary representation increased only by 0.5 percent in 2015.

Though women currently account for 22.6 percent of the world’s members of parliament (MPs), described as the largest proportion than ever before, progress has slowed since 2013, which saw a 1.5 percent increase in women MPs.

“IPU’s 2015 statistics on women in parliament underline the urgent need for creative solutions and changing mindsets if there is any chance of meeting goals on political participation and empowerment,” said IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong during the launch of the report.

Such goals are included in the newly adopted 2030 Agenda, which aim to achieve women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making.

In a message marking International Women’s Day, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that greater participation of women is a necessity to achieve the agenda: “To arrive at the future we want, we cannot leave anyone behind.”

According to the report, the Asia-Pacific region experienced the greatest stagnation, registering just a 0.1 percent increase in the number of women MPs. IPU noted this was due not only to countries’ failures to meet their 30 percent target, but also the existence of widespread discrimination and prejudice against women in politics.

In Myanmar, as Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi campaigned for presidency in 2015, the 800 women who ran for parliament faced harassment as their campaign posters were ripped down and false and fabricated information was distributed. Some candidates even turned down nominations due to family concerns.

In other countries, political violence proved to be another challenge for women’s parliamentary participation.

During the Nigerian elections in 2015, numerous party members, supporters and voters were killed. There were also reports of vote-buying and false declaration of results, hindering the inclusion of women in politics. Women won only 5.6 percent of seats in Nigeria’s lower house.

However, some major gains were also made for women in politics around the world, IPU stated.

The number of women Speakers of parliament increased globally to an all-time high, as women now comprise of 17.9 percent of all Speakers. Namibia, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) particularly made history by swearing in their first ever woman Speaker.

In the Americas, the number of women MPs rose by 0.8 percent to 27.2 percent, the highest of all the regions. Suriname made the most significant progress, with an increase of 15.7 percentage points in women’s representation.

In Canada, newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet. While explaining this decision, Trudeau stated: “Because it’s 2015.”

Chungong noted that government leaders, including in Canada, have been setting the pace on equal participation of women at the ministerial level. “Parliaments must not lag behind,” he continued.

In its report, IPU urged for the implementation and enforcement of quotas to ensure the inclusion of women in parliament. It also highlighted the need to provide access to campaign financing as well as encouraging political parties to change the status quo by facilitating women’s political participation.

Mlambo-Ngcuka also emphasized the importance of such action, pointing out “the participation of women at all levels and the strengthening of the women’s movement has never been so critical, working together with boys and men, to empower nations, build stronger economies and healthier societies.”


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Wild Life Crisis Threatens World’s Iconic Species Thu, 03 Mar 2016 19:56:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“Time is running out to end the poaching crisis that threatens some of the world’s most iconic species,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a statement marking World Wildlife Day.

Echoing the theme of World Wildlife Day, with its third annual celebration on March 3, Ban said “the future of wildlife is in our hands” and noted the threats that animals and plants face from poaching and illicit trafficking.

Despite a decrease in poaching levels, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) reported that elephant poaching rates have remained unacceptably high, with more being killed than born.

Approximately 60 percent of all elephant deaths are due to poaching. In 2015 alone, at least 20,000 elephants were killed for ivory.

CITES also noted a “troubling” upward trend in poaching recorded in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, an area established to protect wildlife, especially elephants. It found that elephant poaching jumped from 17 percent in 2014 to 41 percent in 2015.

In many African nations, armed groups and corrupt governments increasingly poach and traffic elephants due the lucrative trade in ivory that spans the globe.

“Deadly armed groups such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as Sudanese and South Sudanese armed factions, rely on poaching and trafficking ivory for ammunition and supplies,” said Sasha Lezhnev, Associate Director of Policy at the Enough Project.

“But this illegal trade wouldn’t be sustained if it weren’t for corrupt actors in governments in east Africa who help smuggle the ivory,” he continued.

Kasper Agger, Enough Project’s Central Africa Field Researcher, said blood ivory is a major driver of insecurity across Africa which not only threatens elephants, but also directly leads to the deaths of civilians.

Rhinos and pangolins have also faced increased risk of extinction due to poaching. In South Africa alone, the number of rhinos poached has increased by 9,000% since 2007 – from 13 to a record 1,215 in 2014.

According to reported seizures between 2011 and 2013, an estimated 115,000 to 230,000 pangolins, which have now become the most poached and trafficked mammals, were killed. Experts, however, believe that such reported seizures may only represent as little as 10 percent of the actual number of pangolins in illegal wildlife trade.

Both Rhino horns and pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine to treat a range of illnesses from fevers to cancer.

“The current wildlife crisis is not a natural phenomenon—unlike a drought, a flood or a cyclone,” said CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanton.

“People are the cause of this serious threat to wildlife and people must be the solution, which also requires us to tackle human greed, ignorance and indifference,” he continued.

Scanton, along with Ban, urged for more action by key actors including businesses and governments in order to protect and save generations of wildlife. They highlighted the need to tackle supply and demand, making wildlife trafficking less profitable and much riskier.

Enough Project, a non-profit organisation, has also called on the US Congress to enact anti-poaching legislation and to increase support for park rangers battling armed poaching groups..

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. This loss of species is occurring at a rapid rate, as experts believe it to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.

Included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all of the UN’s member states, is a commitment to end poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife.


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Civil Society to Build Bridges With Private Sector Wed, 02 Mar 2016 19:02:27 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

To successfully implement the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders last September, it is time for “Turning Conversations into Action.”

This was the theme of the Third Annual Power of Collaboration Global Summit, organised by IMPACT Leadership 21 — a global platform which provides inclusive and innovative leadership solutions driving change.

The summit, which took place on February 29 at the Economic and Social Council Chamber (ECOSOC), was the occasion to launch IMPACT Leadership 21 “500”: an initiative that offers a service aimed at distributing press releases to international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in order to bridge the gap between civil society and capital markets.

The project is co-sponsored by media partners iCrowdNewswire and Inter Press Service (IPS), an international news agency focusing largely on the developing world.

Hector Botero, President of iCrowdNewswire, told IPS: “Civil society has been largely ignored in the financial markets, but there is a growing interest in investing in issues, causes and in doing impact investments. Like various companies that use tools to effectively communicate with capital markets, the civil society needs to do the same.”

For a long time now, costs have also kept civil society away from engaging with the private sector, said Constance Peak, chief financial officer (CFO) and co-founder of IMPACT Leadership 21.

“But this initiative is free, and NGOs can start having their press releases published just like the big companies, except they are not going to pay $5,000 to $10,000. We have finally bridged the financial gap and now we will help NGOs to craft their messages,” Peak told IPS.

The aim of the IMPACT Leadership 21 “500” is to recruit 500 organisations from all countries and regions worldwide, regardless of cause, size or financial resources, and offer them a space where, through high quality corporate communications guidance, they can increase their visibility, raise awareness, and advocate for their goals.

Botero said iCrowdNewswire — a company founded in 2015 and marketing technology software — is partnering with IPS, a news agency that has a track record of nearly 52 years in the field of news dissemination, and is recognised by ECOSOC as an NGO.

“(We’ll) be able to deliver these services and help organisations to communicate with stakeholders, investors, consumers, regulators, institutions and governments. This is going to be the way to generate the appetite from those that have the money to invest in civil society projects,” he added.

This collaboration will guarantee positive results – said Botero. IPS receives over 5,000 to 10,000 press releases a month, from NGOs worldwide, but it is difficult for the agency to publish all of them, he added.

“Through our system and our platform, we guarantee publishing and assistance to all these organisations, at absolutely no cost, while providing them with a voice, tools to enhance their media exposure and subsidising them.”

Co-sponsoring the Third Annual Summit along with IMPACT Leadership 21, were in the Foundation for the Support of the U.N. (FSUN), the Mission of the Czech Republic to the U.N. and other private partners such as IBM, Microsoft, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Eclat Impact.

As Botero pointed out, the summit showed how to build partnerships between the public and the private sector. “Here, today, are companies such as Microsoft, and IBM which have the funds, the knowledge, human capital and the financial resources that the public sector can use, and that it is willing to use,” he told IPS.

The message of IMPACT LEADERSHIP 21 is to create a new political and economic framework, in line with the UN’s Agenda 2030.

In doing so, the organisation brings together experts from different sectors — public, civil society, private, academic — and different levels, including grassroots, national and international, in order to solve the Millennium challenges of sustainable development and climate change. IMPACT also accelerates gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment.

“We hold the conversation that no-one else is doing,” remarked Peak. “Private sector, entrepreneurs, advocates, governmental and intergovernmental experts discussing their commonalities and universalities. These people are empowered to make an immediate change.”

“The Power of collaboration is social evolution,” said the CFO of IMPACT Leadership 21, “It is in each of us to spark change […] It’s time for adaptation, mutation and other changes for the sake of sustainability, justice and survival.”


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Human Rights Under Attack Than Ever Before, Says Amnesty Wed, 24 Feb 2016 19:06:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Human rights are not only under threat, but so are laws and system that protect them, warned Amnesty International (AI) during the launch of its annual report.

“Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values’,” said AI’s Secretary-General Salil Shetty.

In its 2015-2016 report, AI has documented cases of human rights and international law violations around the world.

The London-based organization found that 122 or more countries have tortured or ill-treated civilians while governments and armed groups perpetrated war crimes in at least 19 countries.

In Nigeria, the ongoing conflict has seen mass violations of humanitarian and human rights law by both the country’s military and the rebel group Boko Haram.

While the world’s deadliest terrorist group continues to conduct executions and abductions in the Northeastern region of the country, the Nigerian military has responded unlawfully by killing, starving, and torturing over 8,200 people. This reflects a weakness in global institutional responses to crises, AI said.

Syria, where more than half of the population have fled or are internally displaced, is soon approaching its fifth year of conflict. However, international response to the crisis and refugee arrivals continues to be insufficient and ineffective.

Increased bombardments of Syria have undermined human rights and exacerbated the refugee crisis. Recent bombings in Aleppo and Northern Aleppo have newly displaced 58,000 civilians.

Meanwhile, upon signing a European Union (EU) Joint Action Plan on migration, Turkey implemented stringent border controls, denied access to asylum and conducted push-backs at the expense of the human rights of refugees. The 58,000 newly displaced Syrians are currently stranded on the border of Turkey.

According to AI, over 30 countries have illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger.

In the face of evolving challenges, governments have also violated the rights of its own citizens in the name of national security. AI’s Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen noted that France’s response following the Paris attacks in November were “repressive counter-terrorism and intrusive surveillance methods.”

Gaps in the human rights regime have also surfaced within the UN, AI noted.

“The UN was set up to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and to ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights’ but it is more vulnerable than it ever has been in the face of enormous challenges,” Shetty remarked.

Many governments have hindered UN efforts to prevent or act upon human rights violations. AI cited the Syrian conflict as an example of the “catastrophic human consequences of a systemic failure of the UN to fulfill its vital role.”

Though the organization is in desperate need of reinvigoration, a new UN Secretary-General, who will be elected later this year and assume the position by January 2017, may be a key opportunity for reform, AI said.

“It is within world leaders’ power to prevent these crises from spiraling further out of control. Governments must halt their assault on our rights and strengthen the defences the world has put in place to protect them,” Shetty declared.

“Human rights are a necessity, not an accessory; and the stakes for humankind have never been higher,” he concluded.


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Digital Divide Leaves Millions Stranded Tue, 23 Feb 2016 19:14:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

By 2020, approximately 3.8 billion men and women across the developing world will be connected to the Internet through mobile phones, but 40 per cent of the population will still lack access.

“The digital divide remains a yawning gulf that leaves the poor, those living in rural areas, and a disproportionate number of women – stranded on the wrong side,” David Nabarro, UN Secretary-General’s Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, told attendees at the Mobile World Summit in Spain.

“Mobiles do not merely contribute to development – they are an important dimension of development,” he continued.

The Mobile World Summit, held in Barcelona on 22 February, brought together 400 business leaders and government officials to discuss the significance of mobile technologies in the provision of essential services and actions to connect the unconnected.

While delivering Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address, Dr. Nabarro highlighted the need to close the digital divide, stating: “As we embark on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I count on your industry to work with Governments and the international community to expand connectivity, lower barriers to access and ensure that tools and applications are developed with vulnerable communities in mind.”

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), approximately 4.3 billion people in the world do not use the Internet. Of this population, 90 percent live in the developing world.

Though access to the Internet through mobile phones has steadily increased, the gap between developed and developing nations remains large, with 84 percent in the former and 21 percent in the latter. Even within developing nations, both gender and urban-rural divides persist.

This is partly due to the lack of mobile signal in rural areas, revealed ITU in its report titled ‘Measuring the Information Society.’ At the end of 2012, around 450 million people globally still lived out of reach of a signal. Additionally, across the developing world, almost 25 percent fewer women than men have access to the Internet.

Ban also urged industries to collaborate to responsibly use data for humanitarian and development purposes. The secretary-general particularly cited the success of the UN Global Pulse initiative which has studied how mobile data can be used to map and reduce the spread of food insecurity, create informed disaster management and response plans, and understand the impacts of climate change.

During the Summit, the Vodafone Foundation introduced its new scheme called Instant Charge, a portable outdoor mobile charger that can charge up to 66 devices simultaneously. The equipment was developed in response to the high number of refugees with smart phones but limited infrastructure to charge such devices on European shores.

“When the Vodafone Foundation, alongside UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency], assessed how it could help, one of the requests from refugees was: ‘Where can I charge my mobile?” said Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Programme Manager Oisin Walton.

This, in addition to the provision of wireless Internet in the Lesbos and Samos islands in Greece, which allow refugees to share life-saving information about traffickers and safe routes through Europe.

Included in the SDGs are commitments to increase affordability and access to information and communications technology.


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Refugee Crisis Lacks Managed Response Thu, 18 Feb 2016 19:19:00 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“I know exactly what it means to lose your home, to lose your belongings,” said Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division at the UN’s Department of Public Information (DPI), during his opening remarks at a briefing on the refugee crisis.

Nasser, who moderated a panel of six experts, shared his personal experiences of being a child of refugees.

The briefing, organized by DPI’s non-governmental organization (NGO) relations section, explored ways to rethink and strengthen the response to the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

“The feeling of longing, perhaps more than the physical loss of belongings and what you own—it’s the ever present feeling of loss, of longing to the homeland, to the house in which you were born, that you grew up in,” Nasser said in his address.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 20 million refugees and an additional 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) globally, a total equivalent to the population of the world’s 24th biggest country. This means that one in every 122 people is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.

Of refugees, 51 percent are under the age of 18.

However, it isn’t the numbers that are provoking a crisis, Director of UNHCR’s New York Liaison Office Ninette Kelley told IPS. “It’s the absence of a managed response to them,” she stated.

Among options discussed to bolster refugee response, panelists highlighted the need for equitable ways to share responsibility.

“Countries need to work together to protect the large numbers of people who are on the move, or the responsibility falls unfairly on a small number of states who cannot cope any longer,” said Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and panelist.

The majority of refugee-hosting nations are low to middle income countries, including Turkey, which hosts almost 2 million refugees, and Pakistan, which hosts 1.5 million. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees now make up 25 percent of the country’s population.

This has proved to be a challenge for many nations, overstretching their capacity and resources to effectively manage the crisis.

Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the UN’s Humanitarian Section Predrag Avramović illustrated the issue within Europe’s Schengen system.

Under the system, which allows residents to move freely between 26 European countries, asylum seekers must apply to the first European country they enter. This places the burden on a few countries, such as Greece which sees more than 2,000 refugees arrive at its shores each day.

In an effort to address this inequitable and crushing burden, the EU agreed to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy across the region. So far, 272, or just 0.17 percent, of such asylum seekers have been relocated.

The resettlement proposal also only accounts for small proportion of asylum seekers. In 2014 alone, at least 1.66 million people submitted applications for asylum, the highest level ever recorded. Europe received the majority of these applications but has struggled to process requests in a timely manner.

This has led to countries’ stringent regulations on asylum applications. For example, Austria, which is part of the main route for Northern Europe-bound refugees, announced a daily quota of 80 asylum applications per day, a measure that will be implemented this week.

At the briefing, Avramović emphasized the need for a more coherent and enforceable asylum and migration policies in Europe that meets legal and moral obligations.

Panelists also stressed the need for increased funds and more effective financing. This includes linking humanitarian and development assistance.

“It used to be that you had a humanitarian emergency, humanitarian agencies came in and development was something that came much later when the conflict had subsided or refugees returned home,” Kelley told IPS.

However, due to the changing nature of conflicts and crises, refugees now spend an average of 17 years in exile.

Refugee response must therefore include a resilience component, providing livelihood and education opportunities, panelists stated.

Education is not only a “key right,” but a “key prerequisite for development,” Nasser noted.

Though the Syrian conflict continues to dominate headlines, such responses must also go beyond Syrian refugees.

Kelley stated that UNHCR had a significant funding deficit for three of their biggest emergencies including the crises in Central African Republic, which received 26 percent of funds, and Burundi, which received 38 percent. Such issues need to be elevated more in the public’s attention, Kelley said.

“The only way that we can move forward is to have a much more predictable, supported system where states do share this global responsibility and both our humanitarian and development actions are lined up,” she concluded.

The World Humanitarian Summit, which will be held in Turkey in May, aims to set a new agenda for global humanitarian action, focusing on humanitarian effectiveness and serving the needs of people in conflict.


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Indigenous Latin Americans Excluded From Development Mon, 15 Feb 2016 19:49:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Poverty and education gaps have decreased significantly among indigenous communities in Latin America, but many continue to be left out of social gains, according to a new World Bank study released Monday.

The report, Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, found immense social progress made in Latin American countries during the first decade of the millennium, dubbed the “golden decade.”

In much of the region, indigenous political participation has increased. In Bolivia, indigenous people’s representation in parliament is approximately 30 percent. More countries have also accepted indigenous traditions in electoral processes including Oaxaca, Mexico where 418 out of 570 municipalities are managed according to indigenous customs.

These developments are, in part, due to the creation of international treaties and declarations such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007.

The study also found that 70 million people were lifted out of poverty, including indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. Access to primary education was one of the greatest and clearest achievements during the golden decade, the World Bank said. In countries such as Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children closed.

Despite progress, indigenous communities continue to be excluded from development.

“Latin America has undergone a profound social transformation that reduced poverty and expanded the middle class, but indigenous peoples benefited less than other Latin Americans,” said World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar.

The report found that though poverty rates have decreased within the indigenous population, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Latin Americans has either remained stagnant or widened.

In the region, indigenous persons make up 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extremely poor, despite representing less than 8 percent of the population.

Being born to indigenous parents increases the probability of being raised in a poor household regardless of parents’ level of education or the size or location of the household, the report stated.

In Ecuador, the probability of a family to be poor increases by 13 percent if the household is indigenous. The probability of being extremely poor increases by 15.5 percent. Other indicators, including gender and geography, further highlight gaps in indigenous social inclusion.

For instance, in Ecuador, if the same indigenous household is headed by a woman, it is 6 percent more likely to be poor. Indigenous women also have higher levels of illiteracy and school dropout rates across the region.

Along geographical lines, in Peru, an indigenous rural household is 37 percent more likely to be poor than an urban household. But even within urban areas, indigenous families continue to live in poorer living conditions with less sanitation and more disaster-prone households than their non-indigenous urban counterparts.

In the report, the World Bank urged for the multi-faceted inclusion of indigenous communities, especially in light of the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Agenda.

“If indigenous peoples are to assume their role as key actors in the post-2015 agenda, their voices and ideas need to be considered,” said Senior Director for the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural & Resilience Global Practice Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include commitments concerning indigenous peoples’ rights to education, land and markets.

The study recommends the effective implementation of national laws to guarantee indigenous political participation; strengthen indigenous communities’ access to education; improve data collection strategies to better implement targeted programs and; include indigenous persons in setting development targets.

“Inclusion of indigenous peoples in development policies and programs is not just about poverty reduction – it is the process of improving the ability and opportunity for them to be active stakeholders in society,” Ijjasz-Vasquez remarked. “Their inclusion is morally right and economically smart for nations,” he concluded.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, established in 2002, is set to reconvene in May 2016 to discuss indigenous peoples in relation to conflict, peace and resolution.


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The High Costs of the War on Drugs Thu, 11 Feb 2016 19:57:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Global drug policy involving crop eradication contributes to poverty, hunger, and displacement, said Open Society Foundation (OSF) in a new report released here.

The report, Drug Crop Production, Poverty, and Development, illustrates the consequences of the controversial, decades-long ‘War on Drugs’ in supply countries.

According to the 2014 World Drug Report, from the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the global area of illicit opium cultivation in 2013 was 296,720 hectares, the largest area since 1998 when estimates became available. In Afghanistan, the largest opium producer, opium cultivation increased by 36 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Julia Buxton, author of the OSF report, notes that this is, in part, due to its economic benefits. The farming of opium poppy, coca, and cannabis, which requires little input and produces high-yields, offers livelihood security for many low-income, vulnerable communities, especially in conflict-stricken nations such as Afghanistan, Myanmar and Mexico.

Quoted in the report was political scientist Tom Kramer from the Transnational Institute who says: “For many people in this country [Myanmar], opium is not a problem, it’s the solution—a way for small-scale farmers to increase incomes to buy salt, rice, medicines, and other essentials.”

In Myanmar’s Shan State, the livelihoods of 240,000 households were tied to poppy production in the mid-2000s. In Afghanistan, approximately 5.6 jobs are generated in the rural non-agricultural economy for each hectare of opium poppy cultivated.

However, Buxton remarked that drug production has been framed as a “conflated” threat alongside migration and terrorism, resulting in policies focusing on its eradication.

According to the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, state parties must prohibit, criminalise and destroy drug crops including coca, opium poppies and cannabis.

Nations such as the United States have since addressed the issue of drug supply and use with full force, employing militarized approaches.

“We have seen a raft of development programmes and initiatives in cultivating states and communities – but these are framed by counter narcotics concerns and not development goals, they infrequently align with best practice approaches in development…and may be causing more harm than good,” Buxton told IPS.

In the mid-2000s, approximately 1.2 million people faced starvation and death following opium production bans and eradication. Similarly, in Bolivia, drug crop purges pushed 50,000 families into poverty and malnutrition in the early 2000s.

Eradication policies, such as the chemical spraying of crops and military interventions, have also led to displacement. In Colombia, an estimated five million are displaced while 65,000 are displaced in Laos.

In the report, Buxton added that the loss of livelihood stability may additionally cause communities to join insurgent or criminal groups for protection.

When asked if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may help address the issue, Buxton told IPS that the SDGs fail to engage with the complexity of drug cultivation.

“The poorest of the poor will continue to be underserved by grand international commitments and declaratory statements,” she remarked.

“The current system of international drug control, enables violation of some of the most basic international rights obligations and as such, is wholly incompatible with the SDGs,” she continued.

The report urges for further evidence-based discussion and understanding of drug cultivation in different contexts. Buxton recommended the engagement of farmers to discuss their needs and the formulation of an expert international panel to explore alternative strategies for regulation.

“The unacceptably high costs of the ‘war on drugs’ on consumers is increasingly acknowledged, we need to similarly extend these concerns and considerations to traditional supply countries of the Global South,“ Buxton added.


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Over $10 Billion in Aid Pledges at Syria Donor Conference Thu, 04 Feb 2016 19:07:09 +0000 Valentina Ieri 15 September 2015, in the Syrian Arab Republic, (foreground) twin sisters Kadija and Bayan, 11, attending school. SOURCE: UNICEF/Sanadiki

15 September 2015, in the Syrian Arab Republic, (foreground) twin sisters Kadija and Bayan, 11, attending school. SOURCE: UNICEF/Sanadiki

By Valentina Ieri

More than $10 billion were pledged as humanitarian aid for war-ravaged Syria at the fourth international donor conference in London.

In his opening remarks Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was implicitly critical of the international community for its failure to end the Syrian conflict, which has entered its sixth year.

Urging all participants to increase funds, he said “the situation is not sustainable. We cannot go on like this. There is no military solution. Only political dialogue, inclusive political dialogue, will rescue the Syrian people from their intolerable suffering,” he said.

World leaders, including heads of state and heads of government from the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Jordan, along with leaders of about 70 other delegations, pledged over $10 billion — more than twice as much as last year’s $3.8 billion in pledges at the donor conference in Kuwait.

“Today’s pledges” – remarked Ban – “will enable humanitarian workers to continue reaching millions of people with life-saving aid,” alleviating the horrendous suffering of Syrian refugees by helping children to get back to school, designing employment programmes and re-building infrastructure, Ban added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (top right) addresses the donors conference entitled “Supporting Syria and the Region” in London. Hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations and building on previous conferences in Kuwait.  Pictured on dais (from left): Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait; and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  Source: UN PHOTO/ Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (top right) addresses the donors conference entitled “Supporting Syria and the Region” in London. Hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations and building on previous conferences in Kuwait.
Pictured on dais (from left): Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait; and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Source: UN PHOTO/ Eskinder Debebe

However the issue is not only about financial commitments but also how best to efficiently and effectively deploy funds, explained Mercy Corps – one of the largest humanitarian organisations working inside Syria — and feeding more than 500,000 people each month in the Aleppo Governorate.

Simon O’Connell, Mercy Corps Executive director, said leaders should allow “Syrians and host communities (to) have maximum control over their own futures, by investing in small and medium entrerprises and enabling the creation of jobs.

“But no amount of aid will end the suffering of the Syrian people unless there is an end to the conflict and full humanitarian access.”

Mercy Corps, which was one of only two international organisations invited to the “Inside Syria” plenary session Thursday, said the recent bombings and the increased military offensive have forced around 21,000 people to flee towards the Turkish border.

Future prospects seem dark unless something is done to stem the violence, Connell warned.

Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and current U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, said: “Education has finally been recognised as essential humanitarian aid to meet the needs of Syria’s six million displaced children…It means that by 2017 all refugee children will be offered a place at school – for the first time ever in a humanitarian crisis.”

Gordon Brown’s new 2016 “Marshall Plan” requires funds amounting about 1.5 billion pounds sterling (approx. $2.4 billion) in order to reduce the increasing level of child marriage, child labour and child trafficking in the region.

Providing schools in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will guarantee a future for both Syrian girls and boys and prevent internally displaced families from departing into unsafe journeys towards Europe, added the U.N. Special Envoy.

“We have to find the £1.5 billion” – urged Brown. “To fully fund this welcome promise, and if bigger numbers of Syria’s 12 million displaced persons are not to head for Europe — and become not just a humanitarian problem but a security problem — we urgently need to collect funds and pin down the pledges to secure the one million plus additional school places promised,” Brown added.


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UN Seeks $ 750 Million to Educate Syrian Refugee Children Wed, 20 Jan 2016 19:02:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The United Nations has made an urgent appeal for $750 million in funds to provide education to about one million Syrian refugee children in Jordan Lebanon and Turkey.

Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, announced Wednesday that $500 million has already been pledged, including a $200 million loan from the World Bank, leaving a balance of $250 million still to be secured in the coming weeks.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the former British Prime Minister said: “Today the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945 demands the boldest of responses from the broadest coalition of – public, private and voluntary funding.”

He told world leaders gathering at the annual meeting that while there are now 60 million displaced persons around the world and 20 million refugees, Syria is at the epicentre with the fastest growing problem.

Of the four million Syrian refugees, almost 2 million are children—and these numbers are expected to increase in 2016. Currently, only 48 percent of school-age refugee children have access to education. As a result, child labor and child marriage rates have increased among refugees.

Brown aims to secure an additional $250 million at the fourth International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, scheduled to take place in London on February 4.

He noted the success of Lebanon’s double-shift schools which allows Lebanese children to learn in the mornings and Syrians in the afternoons. Under this system, the average cost of providing a school place is $10 per child per week.

Turkey and Jordan already plan to expand their double-shift schools and double its school places for refugees. “Without action now, these young Syrians will become a lost generation,” Brown remarked.

Meanwhile, over 120 humanitarian organisations and UN agencies have also released a joint appeal to end the conflict, which is approaching its sixth year, by reaching a ceasefire agreement.

“More than ever before, the world needs to hear a collective public voice calling for an end to this outrage,” said a joint statement by several organisations including UNICEF, Islamic Relief Worldwide and Oxfam.

In addition to the millions of refugees, over 13 million are displaced within the country and many are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Aid convoys carrying food supplies were only recently granted access in January to the besieged Syrian city of Madaya where 42,000 people reside. The last aid distribution was on October 2015.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) stated that at least 28 people, including six infants under the age of one, have died from hunger-related causes in Madaya.

Even since the latest aid distribution, the UN has reported that five people have died of starvation due to lack of availability and affordability of essential foods.

“In the name of our shared humanity, for the sake of the millions of innocents who have already suffered so much, and for the millions more whose lives and futures hang in the balance, we call for action now,” the organisations appealed.


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Global Economic Slowdown Threatens Social Stability Tue, 19 Jan 2016 18:28:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

If current policies continue, the global economy will weaken and pose significant social challenges, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned, in a new report released here.

The report, The World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2016, predicts economic health and employment levels around the world, and has found that economic growth has slowed down, the effects of which are reverberating globally.

This slowdown is due, in part, to changes in macroeconomic policies in emerging and developing countries including China. The Asian country has moved away from its reliance on investment and its export-led economic growth and has reduced its demand for imports which have long helped support the global economic recovery.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a one percentage point drop in China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth would lead to lower growth in the rest of Asia by 0.3 percentage points. It would also impact a number of European countries that are heavily dependent on exports to China.

Meanwhile, the world has also experienced a decrease in commodity prices, particularly of energy. Oil prices have dramatically declined, reaching a new low of less than $30 per barrel in the past week, compared to $110 in 2014.

This has impacted commodity exporters including Brazil and the Russian Federation, countries that have now entered a period of recession.

“The significant slowdown in emerging economies coupled with a sharp decline in commodity prices is having a dramatic effect on the world of work,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder noted during the launch of the report.
Global unemployment rates have particularly increased as a result of the weakened economy.

In 2015, the number of unemployed people reached 197.1 million, 27 million higher than the pre-global financial crisis level of 2007. Unemployment levels are expected to continue rising over the next two years in emerging and developing countries by 4.8 million.

This has heightened not only income inequality, but also the uncertainty of existing jobs where workers have limited access to social protection and stable earnings.

Already vulnerable employment accounts for over 46 percent of total employment in the world. In both Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 70 percent of workers are in vulnerable employment.

Though the number of employed people living in poverty has decreased since 2000, progress has stagnated, especially in developing economies.

ILO has highlighted the need to address the quantity and quality of jobs, as well as income inequality. In the report, the organisation recommended the strengthening of macroeconomic policies and labour institutions and the establishment of well-designed social protection systems to prevent increases in long-term unemployment, underemployment, and working poverty.

If these issues are not tackled, there is an increased risk of social unrest, Ryder said. In light of Europe’s refugee crisis, the organisation specifically emphasized the need to provide labour opportunities.

“Integrating refugees into the labour market will be important for helping the newcomers to establish new livelihoods and to ease their social integration into the receiving countries,” the report stated.

In the long-term, ILO noted that the influx of migrants will also help European economies by filling the gaps in skill shortages and mitigating the risks related to low population growth. The provision of decent work, however, should not only be limited to refugees in Europe.

“Making decent work a central pillar of the policy strategy would not only alleviate the jobs crisis and address social gaps, but would also contribute to putting the global economy on a better and more sustainable economic growth path,” ILO concluded.

The newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes commitments to promote decent work for all as well as sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.


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244 Million Migrants Include 20 Million Refugees, Says UN Tue, 12 Jan 2016 19:39:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

In 2015, the number of international migrants reached 244 million – a 41 percent increase compared to early 2000 – according to a United Nations report, released on January 12. Of those 244 million migrants, 20 million were refugees.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson addresses a press conference on the Secretary-General's roadmap on the large movement of migrants and refugees, and the launch of the 2015 revision of the International Migrant Stock report. SOURCE: UN PHOTO/ Evan Schneider

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson addresses a press conference on the Secretary-General’s roadmap on the large movement of migrants and refugees, and the launch of the 2015 revision of the International Migrant Stock report. SOURCE: UN PHOTO/ Evan Schneider

The report – titled Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision – was presented by Jan Eliasson, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General, along with Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section of the Population Division, at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA).

Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), also addresses the press conference on the Secretary-General's roadmap on the large movement of migrants and refugees, and the launch of the 2015 revision of the International Migrant Stock report. SOURCE: UN PHOTO/ Evan Schneider

Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), also addresses the press conference on the Secretary-General’s roadmap on the large movement of migrants and refugees, and the launch of the 2015 revision of the International Migrant Stock report. SOURCE: UN PHOTO/ Evan Schneider

Produced by the UN/DESA, the new dataset showed that nearly two thirds of all international migrants live in Europe (76 million), Asia (75 million), North America (54 million), Africa (21 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (9 million) and Oceania (8 million).

The United States hosts the largest number of international migrants (47 million), which equals to one fifth of the world’s total, according to UN figures.

Trailing behind the United States are Germany and Russia, with 12 million respectively, Saudi Arabia with 10 million, the United Kingdom with nine, and the United Arab Emirates with eight million.

Drawing attention to refugees, Eliasson noted how particularly relevant migration is for population growth. “Between 2000 and 2015, positive net migration contributed to 42 percent of population growth in North America and 32 percent in Oceania. In Europe the size of the population would have fallen in the absence of a positive net migration”.

The international community, he said, must focus more on the “positive narratives of international migrations”, such as remittances, exchange of international labour and the economic contribution of migrants to both the country of origins and the recipient country.

Currently, the three main countries with the highest outflow of refugees are Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, where the population is forced to flee due to political conflicts and lack of infrastructures, social and public services for men, women and children, said Eliasson.

“Migration should be safe, orderly and regular” – he said- “although we have seen that this is not the case today.” He highlighted the need to design good policies in the host countries, and ultimately solve the problems in the countries of origin.

It is also necessary to support countries of transitions, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, in developing the adequate infrastructures and humanitarian responses to welcome refugees, said Eliasson.

Reinforcing this view, Hovy said: “It is important all these groups of migrants have rights, especially the right of refugees not to return to their countries where their life and their routine is at risk, and the right to seek asylum”.

Back in November 2015, U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, announced the need for a roadmap on the large movement of migrants and refugees.

As part of Ban’s roadmap, three other meetings are schedule to take place in 2016:

First, the UN, along with UK, Kuwait, Germany and Norway will address the fourth Financial International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, on February 4, in London.

Second, the Office of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will hold a conference in Geneva on March 30 on resettling Syrian refugees. Third, the international community will gather at the World Humanitarian Summit, on May 23-24 in Turkey.


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