Interpress News Service

Valuing Water Beyond the Money

1 hour 59 min ago

The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource.

On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a high-level consultation on water called the “Valuing Water Initiative”.“The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.” --Herschelle Milford

The High Level Panel on Water – first convened by the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon – consists of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser, to provide the leadership required to “champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The HLPW’s core focus is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, as well as to contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.

The members of the panel are Heads of State from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Tajikistan.

The South African consultation takes place on May 30, followed by consultations in Mexico, Senegal, Tajikistan and Bangladesh ahead of a global presentation at the Stockholm World Water Week in August 2017.

Global Water Partnership’s (GWP) executive secretary Rudolph Cleveringa explained that, as the first in a series of consultations, the South Africa meeting was expected to “set the tone and pace”.

“South Africa is extremely committed to the water agenda. South Africa went from an Apartheid policy-driven water policy to a human rights approach. We are very keen to see the country lead not only from a South Africa view but also from a southern Africa perspective,” said Cleveringa.

When she presented her budget speech to South Africa’s Parliament on May 26, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – acknowledging her participation on the HLPW –  said “water knows no boundaries and water can be a social, security and economic catalyst, both nationally and internationally”

Announcing that South Africa, in partnership with GWP and working together with the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), was hosting the regional consultations, Mokonyane said the initiative would “support countries to enhance job creation through investments in water infrastructure and industrialisation”.

On the table will be the draft principles that note “making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that are easily overlooked. This is more than a cost-benefit analysis and is necessary to make collective decisions and trade-offs. It is important to lead towards sustainable solutions that overcome inequalities and strengthen institutions and infrastructure.”

The meeting takes place as the Western Cape province of South Africa has been declared a disaster area as a result of the drought which has seen dam levels drop to crisis levels. The City recently said its feeder dam levels were at 20.7 percent, with only 10.7 percent left for consumption.

According to the minister, it is the “worst drought in the last 100 years and the severest for the Western Cape in the last 104 years.

“This drought has not only affected South Africa, but also the rest of the world because of global warming, climate change,” she said, adding that it would take at least two to three years for the Western Cape to recover.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said the city would increase emergency water schemes in the coming months with programmes such as drilling boreholes and exploring desalinisation.

In a recent speech, De Lille emphasised the need for public-private partnerships.

“We need to be innovative and diversify our financing mechanisms and these efforts will require partnership with the private sector,” De Lille was quoted as saying.

The city council has introduced Level 4 restrictions – one level below emergency level.

Western Cape-based Surplus People Project CEO Herschelle Milford, whose organisation works to support agrarian transformation, said that the city had blamed migration as a reason for the water crisis in Cape Town.

“However, the biggest consumers of water is industry, then agriculture and then households,” she noted. This called for dialogue on how water could be shared equitably among all its users, noted Milford.

“The water crisis is a discussion point in the context of large-scale commercial farmers using irrigation with limited recourse amongst land and agrarian activists,” said Milford.

Water was much more than simply about access: “The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.”

Cleveringa said the discussions were being generated from very high international dialogues to discussions at the local level. To this end, the draft principles offer a range of perspectives on how water can be valued.

Not only will the South African dialogue include a host of ministers but regional input will be provided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, as well as various organisations such as Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Global Water Partnership; and Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.

SADC head of water Phera Ramoeli said water valuation was a critical component of water resources management as it allowed “policy and planning across all the developmental spectrum”.

“The SADC region has 15 Shared Watercourses which accounts for over 70 percent of all the available renewable water resources in the region. If they are properly managed and adequately funded they will ensure the continued availability of these resources for the current and future generations for the various needs and uses that water is put to,” he said, noting that water was present in a large number of value chains including agro-processing, mineral processing, pharmaceuticals, energy production, even health.

“Valuing water is important as it will ensure that water resources management, development, conservation and monitoring receives an appropriate share of the national budget,” he added.

The water principles being discussed also emphasise the collaborative process to build water champions and ownership at all levels that allows users to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are moving away from valuing water in its fiscal interpretation only. We’re not just looking at it in terms of how much does water cost but going beyond this utilitarian approach. The Bellagio principles demonstrate that there is more than just a utilitarian approach to water and we hope that these consultations will draw out those discussions,” said Cleveringa.

“The value of water is basically about making choices,” he said, adding that this called for “not just a cross-sectoral approach but also all of society input into valuing water”.

It is in this discussion that the high level panels aim to provide leadership to champion a “comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The dialogues need to generate an open debate on the values of water as well as get regional input to the Bellagio principles.

Over half of the consultations are happening in non-OECD settings that are being led by the global South.

“This sets the right tone for buy-in at multiple levels,” said Cleveringa.

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Alert Over Lethal Virus Affecting Popular Tilapia Fish

7 hours 14 min ago

Though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 29 2017 (IPS)

A highly contagious disease is spreading among farmed and wild tilapia, one of the world’s most important fish for human consumption, the United Nations warns, adding that though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition.

The outbreak should be treated with concern and countries importing tilapias should take appropriate risk-management measures – intensifying diagnostics testing, enforcing health certificates, deploying quarantine measures and developing contingency plans – according to a Special Alert released on 26 May by the Global Information and Early Warnings System (GIEWS) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) has now been confirmed in five countries on three continents: Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand. “Though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition” - FAO

While the pathogen poses no public health concern, it can decimate infected populations. In 2015, world tilapia production, from both aquaculture and capture, amounted to 6.4 million tonnes, with an estimated value of USD 9.8 billion, and worldwide trade was valued at USD1.8 billion. The fish is a mainstay of global food security and nutrition, GIEWS said.

“Tilapia producing countries need to be vigilant, and should follow aquatic animal-health code protocols of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) when trading tilapia. They should initiate an active surveillance programme to determine the presence or absence of TiLV, the geographic extent of the infection and identify risk factors that may help contain it.”

Countries are encouraged also to launch public information campaigns to advise aquaculturists – many of them smallholders – of TiLV’s clinical signs and the economic and social risks it poses and the need to flag large-scale mortalities to biosecurity authorities, FAO adds.

According to the UN specialised organisation, currently, actively TiLV surveillance is being conducted in China, India, Indonesia and it is planned to start in the Philippines. In Israel, an epidemiological retrospective survey is expected to determine factors influencing low survival rates and overall mortalities including relative importance of TiLV.

Tilapia. Credit: FAO

It is not currently known whether the disease can be transmitted via frozen tilapia products, but “it is likely that TiLV may have a wider distribution than is known today and its threat to tilapia farming at the global level is significant,” GIEWS said in its alert.

FAO informs that it will continue to monitor TiLV, work with governments and development partners and search for resources that can be explored in order to assist member countries to deal with TiLV, as requested and as necessary.

The Disease

“There are many knowledge gaps linked to TiLV,” said the UN agency, adding that more research is required to determine whether TiLV is carried by non-tilapine species and other organisms such as piscivorous birds and mammals, and whether it can be transmitted through frozen tilapia products.

“The disease shows highly variable mortality, with outbreaks in Thailand triggering the deaths of up to 90 per cent of stocks. Infected fish often show loss of appetite, slow movements, dermal lesions and ulcers, ocular abnormalities, and opacity of lens. As a reliable diagnostic test for TiLV is available, it should be applied to rule out TiLV as the causal agent of unexplained mortalities.”

TiLV belongs to the Orthomyxoviridae family of viruses, which is also the same family to which the Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus belongs, which wrought great damage on the salmon farming industry, FAO explains.

In May 2017, The Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) released a TiLV Disease Advisory and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) released a Disease Card. The WorldFish Center also released a Factsheet: TiLV: what to know and do, this month.

The Importance of Tilapia

Tilapias are the second most important aquaculture species in volume terms-providing food, jobs and domestic and export earnings for millions of people, including many smallholders, FAO informs.

Their affordable price, omnivorous diet, tolerance to high-density farming methods and usually strong resistance to disease makes them an important protein source, especially in developing countries and for poorer consumers.

China, Indonesia and Egypt are the three leading aquaculture producers of tilapia, a fish deemed to have great potential for expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN agency reports.

Brazil Drives New School Feeding Model in the Region

28 May 2017 - 8:46pm

A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VITORIA, Brazil, May 29 2017 (IPS)

“I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil.

She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of played by nutritionists, in direct contact with the lunchrooms, training the cooks in hygiene and nutrition, educating everyone while fulfilling a key educational function.”

Montenegro and 22 other visitors from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean met with Brazilian representatives in the city of Vitoria, for a tour through schools and centres of production and distribution of food that supply the municipal schools.

The May 16-18 technical visit was organised by the Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean programme implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of a cooperation agreement signed with the Brazilian government in 2008.“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control.” -- Marcos Rodrigues

The aim was a first-hand look at the implementation in Vitoria of the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE), which has become a model replicated in a number of countries around the world. The programme serves 43 million students in public preschools and primary schools, which are municipal, and secondary schools, which are the responsibility of the states.

The PNAE was first launched in 1955. But the significant impact it has had in terms of food security, nutrition and social participation has been seen since a 2009 law established that at least 30 percent of the funds received by each school had to be devoted to buying food produced by local family farms.

“This decentralisation favours local producers and students gain in better-quality, fresh food at a lower cost. It promotes cooperatives and stimulates the local economy, through small-scale farming, while benefiting the environment by reducing transportation time,” said Najla Veloso, the regional project coordinator for FAO.

“In most of the municipalities, the suppliers are parents of the students,” which help forge closer ties between local families and the schools and improves the quality of the food. All of this constitutes an important help for keeping people in rural areas,” Veloso told IPS.

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Buying local could rekindle the ancestral agricultural knowledge of the Ngäbe and Buglé people, who live in western Panama, said Montenegro. Since 1997, the two ethnic groups have shared an indigenous county with a population of about 155,000.

“They provide 80 per cent of the food for four schools, but they have not been able to expand, because of the system of purchases by tendering process, and are almost limited to producing for their own consumption,” lamented the Panamanian nutritionist. More school purchases could “rescue their traditional methods of harvesting and preserving their typical products,” she said.

The technical visits organised by FAO “show successful experiences for building knowledge in other countries, stimulating innovation,” said Veloso.

A new generation of school feeding programmes is emerging in the region, combining healthy nutrition, public purchases, family agriculture and social integration.

Vitoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, was chosen to receive technicians and authorities from 13 countries because of “its strong implementation of the PNAE, its organised team, and because it has been a pioneer in this area,” explained Veloso.

Before the new law went into effect in 2008, Vitoria already prioritised healthy food produced by small-scale local farmers, said Marcia Moreira Pinto, coordinator of the School Food and Nutrition Sector in the Municipal Secretariat of Education.

It also always surpassed the minimum proportion of purchases set for family agriculture, she said. In 2016, 34 per cent of the purchases were from small-scale farmers.

This aspect has only recently been recognised as key to food security.

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This integration between education and family agriculture benefits society as a whole, it’s fantastic. I will try to do it in my town,” said Mario Chang, director of education in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala.

“The visit gave me new ideas,” said Rosa Cascante, director of Equality Programmes in Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Education.

The challenge, she said, “will be to adapt Brazil’s local purchases system” to her country, where all supplies for public institutions go through the state National Production Council.

A campaign against the waste of food is an innovation created by students in the Eunice Pereira da Silveira Municipal Primary School. In 2015, the losses amounted to 50 kilos a week. This has been reduced to just seven or eight kilos, according to the school’s authorities.

Students are served three meals a day at the full-time school, whose 322 students attend from 7 am to 5 pm.

The campaign started with a few students under the guidance of teachers. They monitored the food wasted in the school kitchen, carried out surveys on nutrition, and talked with other students and the cooks to adapt the meals in order to make them tastier and reduce waste.

Besides cutting economic losses and boosting a healthier diet in schools, with more salads and lower fat, the campaign is helping to improve family habits, said 14-year-old Marcos Rodrigues, one of the campaign’s leaders.

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control,” the teen-ager told IPS.

But it is “in the acceptance of healthy foods where we need more effort, in light of an international scenario of increasingly industrialised products which offer great convenience,” said Moreira Pinto.

Most of the fruits and vegetables served in schools in Vitoria come from Santa Maria de Jetibá, a hilly municipality 90 km away, populated by Pomeranians, a European ethnic group that used to occupy parts of Germany and Poland, who scattered at the end of World War II.

Pomeranian immigration to Brazil occurred mainly in the late 19th century, to Espírito Santo, where they maintained their rural customs and their language in a number of municipalities where there are big communities.

“Santa Maria is the most Pomeranian municipality in Brazil and perhaps in the world,” according to Mayor Hilario Roepke, due to both the number of inhabitants as well as the preservation of a culture that has disappeared or has changed a lot even in their native land.

“Of nearly 40,000 inhabitants, 72 per cent are still rural,” allowing the municipality to occupy first place in agricultural production in the state of Espírito Santo and eleventh in Brazil, and the second leading national producer of eggs: nine million a day, said the mayor.

The 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region (CAF) is the biggest supplier of food to schools.

“The school feeding programme in Vitoria´s metropolitan region is our main market,” said Maicon Koehler, an agricultural technician for CAF. Greater Vitoria has a total population of nearly two million.
With 102 municipal schools, the city buys nearly 20 tons of meat and 6.3 tons of beans a month to feed its almost 500,000 students, estimated the coordinator of the sector, who explained that the amounts of fruits and vegetables vary, depending on the season.

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Axis of Good and Evil

28 May 2017 - 3:45am

By Munir Akram
May 28 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

On his first foreign foray, President Donald Trump, apart from asking the 50-odd Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh to act against `Islamist terrorism`, proposed a new alliance between the US, Arab-Muslim states and Israel to oppose Iran`s hegemonic expansion and support for `terrorism` while simultaneously promising a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Munir Akram

In his Riyadh speech, Trump called this a struggle between `good and evil`. Unfortunately, the proposed coalition would combine many members who are `good` with some who are `evil`.

Trump`s new plan reflects a radical turnaround from his expressed hostility to Islam and condemnation of Saudi Arabia and `radical Islamic terrorism` during the presidential campaign. However, despite the fanfare in Riyadh and Jerusalem, there are good reasons to be scepucal about this plan`s success.

Trump`s intensified opposition to Iran is in itself not surprising. Two main sources of his support base the Republican right and Israel were strongly opposed to Barack Obama`s engagement with Iran. They wanted the complete dismantling of Iran`s nuclear programme rather than the agreement negotiated to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to develop nuclear weapons for at least a decade.

Obama`s apparent assumption was that in the wake of the nuclear bargain, Iran would use its considerable influence to help in stabilising Iraq and Syria and the region. For its part, Iran expected the US, under Obama`s Democratic successor (Hillary Clinton), not only to legally abrogate the nuclear sanctions but also work to eliminate the unilateral US sanctions imposed on Tehran in the context of terrorism and missile testing. Trump`s victory upended these assumptions.

Under Trump, Iran is doubtful that the nuclear sanctions will be cancelled by the US Congress and rightly fears that other US sanctions may be intensified, as threatened by Trump and his advisers and members of the US Congress. Consequently, while continuing to fight the militant Islamic State (IS) group and Al Qaeda in the region, Tehran has held back its cooperation with the US and enhanced its military role in all of the region`s conflicts.While Trump has not renounced the nuclear deal, his administration is embarked on finding ways to intensify pressure on Iran. The aim, at the minimum, is to secure a halt to Iran`s missile testing, a more accommodative stance on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and termination of support to Hezbollah and Hamas. To challenge Iran, Washington has now aligned itself completely with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

For Riyadh, the return of its prodigal patron is heaven-sent. Angered by Obama`s `betrayal`, and fearful of Iran`s rising power, Saudi Arabia had hastily announced the formation of a 41-nation `Islamic alliance` last year. Given Iran`s explicit exclusion, the response to the `alliance` was lukewarm from most Muslim countries. The most notable development was the appointment of Pakistan`s respected ex-army chief to head the military alliance.

With the revival of the traditional US-Saudi alliance, as illustrated in the $110 billion in arms deals and $350bn in business contracts signed during Trump`s trip, the Saudis have less need now for the `Islamic Alliance` against Iran although it would be a useful appendage to the renewed partnership with the US.

It is safe to presume that tensions in the Levant and the Gulf are likely to escalate in the wake of the new `co-relation of forces` unleashed during Trump`s trip. However, it will not be easy, even for the powerful coalition that is being formed, to reverse Iran`s dominant position in the region.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi`s government in Baghdad depends on the Iranian-trained Shia militias to do most of the fighting against IS, and restrain the Sunni tribes and Kurdish ambitions. Similarly, Syria`s Assad could not survive without the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shia militias.

In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have proved resilient. Hezbollah, despite its preoccupation with fighting for Assad, possesses the missile capabilities to do serious damage to Israel from southern Lebanon and Syria. Iran also retains influence with Hamas, the only credible Palestinian resistance to Israel.

Finally, Iran`s capacity for retaliation under pressure cannot be underestimated. It can, among other things: foment trouble in the Gulf, especiallyBahrain, destabilise Afghanistan and provoke sectarian strife in Pakistan.

Trump himself affirmed in Jerusalem that Arab cooperation in an anti-Iran coalition will be available only if a political settlement can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians. The 2002 Saudi peace plan was mentioned as a basis for a settlement. This appears highly unlikely, given Israel`s virtual foreclosure of a two-state solution.

Trump has raised expectations which are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Those Arab and Muslim states which were invited to Riyadh for the Arab Islamic American summit would do well to carefully review the pros and cons of joining the anti-Iran coalition.

As has been noted critically in the Pakistani press, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not able to speak at the Riyadh summit, nor to meet President Trump, while the leaders of lesser countries were accorded that privilege. This may represent a deliberate snub, probably administered by the Americans rather than the Saudis, or merely an organisational mishap. In any case, this diplomatic snub or snafu may be a blessing in disguise since it provides Pakistan with even greater justification to review its position on the anti-Iran coalition.

Since the early days, Pakistan has taken the consistent position that it will not take sides or participate in conflicts between Muslim states. Thus, it adopted a neutral stance during the Iran-Iraq war and participated in a six-nation Islamic heads of state committee to end the war. Such neutrality did not detract from Pakistan`s traditional commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the holy places.

This practised paradigm provides a sound guide for Pakistan`s policy in the current context.

Of course, Pakistan`s neutrality should be reciprocated by Iran in the context of Pakistan`s challenges with Afghanistan and India.

Finally, Pakistan should expect to be pressed by the US to fall in line with its regional strategy not only in the Gulf but especially in Afghanistan and South Asia. This is another reason for Pakistan to determine its policies after due consideration of the entire spectrum of its strategic interests. The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan.

Asean Environment: Wetlands for Disaster Resilience

28 May 2017 - 3:25am

By Ambassador Amado Tolentino
May 28 2017 (Manila Times)

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami originating in an earthquake in the sea off Sumatra in Indonesia devastated 12 countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. As an immediate response, the periodic Asian Wetlands Symposium held in 2005 (in India) recommended, among others, to “prioritize the natural coastal defenses through greenbelt/coastal ‘bioshield’ development…… In connection therewith, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) identified as one of four priorities the matter of ‘investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience’.”

Amado S. Tolentino Jr.

Not to be missed is the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (ADMER), which came into force in 2009 with the intention of providing “effective regional mechanisms to mitigate impacts of natural disasters….through concerted national efforts and intensified regional cooperation.”

Early this year, the Asean Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a consortium of Asean think tanks, concluded that one of the key challenges to Asean is “adapting to climate change:……Asean needs to be prepared for the real possibility that global mitigation efforts are not sufficient. Efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change and disasters will increasingly demand greater coordination and the pooling of resources.”

In the light of scientific information that natural disasters are projected to intensify in Asia, the ADMER could be utilized for disaster prevention and mitigation purposes even if the agreement leans heavily towards disaster preparedness and emergency response, i.e. faster movement of relief goods, better utilization of civilian and military response, etc. ADMER could serve as the basis for Asean’s active role at disaster risk reduction by incorporating effective wetlands management strategies for climate change resilience.

Disaster risk reduction, according to ADMER, means “a framework of elements considered with possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks to avoid, through prevention or, to limit through mitigation and preparedness the adverse impacts of hazards within the broad context of sustainable development.”

Wetlands, on the other hand are among the world’s most valuable ecosystems, providing so may benefits to people. As defense fortifications, wetlands, particularly mangroves, proved excellent defenses against the onslaught of typhoons and tsunamis as proven by the earthquake occurrence mentioned above. Scientists explained that the roots of vegetation in Asian mangroves and other forest wetlands helped to hold the sediments in place against the impact of strong winds, waves and currents. Additionally, wetlands are the “kidneys of the earth,” purifying water and waste from both natural and human sources. As “biological supermarkets,” wetlands provide a wide variety of flora and fauna. Wetlands act as natural dams, absorbing heavy rainfalls, preventing flood downstream; helps shoreline stabilization and erosion reduction. Wetlands help recharge groundwater aquifers too. Most important of all, wetlands provide livelihood to many people.

Aside from mangroves, wetlands include swamps, marshes, mudflats, floodplains, peatlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes and many more generally described as “where water meets land.”

ADMER is replete with provisions which could be used by Asean countries in refuting the claim that while emergency response is almost well attended to from the local to the national government level, much remains to be done in regard to a) cooperation in developing and putting into effect solutions to reduce disaster impacts; b) development of strategies to identify, prevent or reduce disaster risks and losses; c) prevention and mitigation legislation, regulations, policies, plans, programs and strategies; and d) raising public awareness about disaster prevention and mitigation.

In pursuit of this, Asean countries could very well incorporate wetlands for disaster risk reduction and build resilience in their legal agenda. For instance, the strategy of planting mangrove saplings should be a continuing year-round activity in the long and extensive coastlines of countries comprising Asean. Likewise, massive planting of high-quality and commercially productive variety of bamboo could be introduced in riverbanks/river basins and lakeshores as a technique not only to withstand environmental disturbances but also to preserve and rehabilitate freshwater sources and lakes and provide added source of income to people.

Take note that Asean is not only about economic partnership, trade liberalization and economic integration. It is also about environmental security. In that regard, Asean’s environment program, conceived in the early 1980s, has metamorphosed to include an Asean Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment.

Hosting Asean@50 gives President Duterte a historic opportunity to influence the future direction of Asean vis-à-vis disaster risk reduction, an area where Asean lags behind in terms of prevention and mitigation projects to better achieve climate change resiliency.

It should be borne in mind, however, that building a disaster-resilient Asean needs partnerships among governments, private sector, NGOs, LGUs, and other institutions with clearly defined roles not only in disaster response but also in disaster prevention and mitigation. To begin with, a program on the values and functions of wetlands for disaster risk reduction and onwards to consolidating resilience endeavors among Asean countries on the same track could be embarked on and, in the process, highlight also the need to scale up adaptation to climate change. Indeed, Asean-wide advocacy initiatives about wetlands for disaster risk reduction would do well to invigorate efforts in the region to give climate change resilience the priority that the issue deserves.

Hopefully, the recommendation is realized soon because Asean remains vulnerable to natural disasters. But through multi-stakeholder engagement, improvements can be made at a much faster pace so the region can have a much needed disaster-resilient system.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Britain Mourns While Sri Lanka Groans

28 May 2017 - 2:46am

By Neville de Silva
May 28 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

It was a week of tragedy and farce. Here in the UK death came suddenly and unexpectedly one night last week. The country went into mourning as the single biggest suicide bomb attack in the UK brought home a reality. Home grown terrorism is as alive here as transnational terrorism which has taken root in continental Europe.

For Sri Lankans who have lived through nearly three decades of terrorism, blood-letting and gory violence and mayhem, it seemed like déjà vu many times over. In my years of journalism in Sri Lanka I have visited many scenes of terrorist attacks and killings from the massacre of worshippers and monks at the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura to the indiscriminate shooting of Buddhist monks and samaneras at Aranthalawa, the shooting, hacking and dismemberment of farmers and their families in north central/ eastern province villages, to the bombing of the CTO, the Pettah bus depot and the explosions inside a passenger a train close to the Dehiwala station and other scenes of unbelievable gore.

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake


I have also reported on the gruesome killings of state officials, journalists and others in the late 1980s including several personal friends and escaped an attempt on my life too.

The type of terrorism perpetrated by youth born and bred in the UK or others who sought refuge here is rather new but not to Sri Lankans who have lived through years of daily fear not knowing when they and their families left home in the morning whether they would ever return home safe.

While most Sri Lankans will condole with the families of those killed and wounded in Manchester, their groaning and moaning today have little to do with that dastardly incident. It has all to do with the acute stomach cramps they unexpectedly underwent last week. What with our medicine men, some with black cloth tied across their mouths occupying space on the pavements instead of in the hospitals where they should have rightly been and so were unavailable to treat the needy, it was a torrid time for many people.

We now know what caused the indescribable pain. It was the consequence of a nation-wide outburst of side-splitting laughter. It spread faster than the dengue fever that a yahapalanaya administration, more interested in sorting out their duty-free vehicle permits, is still trying to eradicate.

It spread like a rash when news broke of the cabinet reshuffle which had gripped the country with great expectation for weeks. Would they rid the country of those who have been in the public eye for various shenanigans that are too well known to require reiteration here.

Having grappled day and night on how to shuffle the pack the great minds of the palanites came up with such a classic solution that even the irresistible Don Trump might wish to emulate. On hearing of the final solution Sri Lankans burst into paroxysms of laughter at what almost immediately earned the sobriquet the “Great Hoax”.

When some years ago an advertising copy writer, perhaps jokingly, called Sri Lanka the “Wonder of Asia” he little realised what prescient powers he possessed. If the copy writer still follows the haps and mishaps in what he called a wondrous land he too would add to this comic interlude that has at least brought momentary laughter to a people suffering under the multiple indignities and corruption they are forced to live under.

What better illustration of this farce than the appointment of the new foreign minister. Everybody and their kussi ammas knew that our great president who was last heard of exploring the wonders of Australia wanted to get rid of Ravi Karunanayake from the finance ministry under pressure or by choice.

He might be the wonder man of the Asia-Pacific region for “The Banker” magazine which had probably run out of nominees, but to President Sirisena and his motley crew a long time slogan had been “Ravi must go”. It is also known that Sirisena had sounded several ministers including one or two I know, for the job.

But they turned it down just as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s reported approach to at least four persons including I am told former high commissioner to Malaysia Rosie Senanayake for the post of High Commissioner in London were turned down just as those who Sirisena sounded for the finance ministry turned down the offer.

This reshuffle seems like the man they wanted out of the job was not being removed but provided with pre-Christmas goodies. Where in the world would you find a foreign minister given functions that have little or nothing to do with foreign affairs such as running lotteries.

It surely requires a tour de force of the imagination that institutions such as lotteries boards, mahapola scholarship funds and ancillary aspects of the plantations industries are connected with foreign affairs unless it is somebody’s dark humour to demean the foreign ministry.

If media reports that Ravi Karunanayake demanded – or is being presented with additional duties because of his exemplary performance as finance minister, whatever others might say I think it is eminently relevant that he be allocated such money-losing institutions like SriLankan Airlines which investors run away from at the first mention of the name of the national career.

It has also been reported that the new foreign minister – wonder of the Asia-Pacific – now handling (or perhaps manhandling as it could well turn out to be) a new ministry would also find the Securities Exchange under his belt which of course is a highly appropriate thing to have.

But why the Socratic thinkers who worked out such magic formula to appease the deities or whoever demanded that the pack be shuffled to remove some of the cards and card sharpers, did not gift Foreign Minister Karunanayake with overseeing the Treasury Bonds really is a cause for great worry. In fact he should have had the Central Bank attached to the foreign minister portfolio.

Those who are laughing their sides out at the Foreign Minister overseeing the lotteries boards have missed the point entirely. The fact is that he can now make use of the country’s diplomatic missions scattered around the world to sell the lottery tickets as one Sri Lankan jokingly (I hope) said the other day.

We know of course that little productive work is done in several of these missions. Capable and experienced officers are languishing in them because they have no work or no important work is assigned.

In his travels round the world Karunanayake would have realised this. It might be said for the now reassigned Mangala Samaraweera he knew what was happening in some of our missions but his hands seemed to have been tied.

Now Karunanayake can make use of officials sent to our missions to stand on the streets of their respective capitals and hawk lottery tickets. I mean they can earn their keep by doing something more lucrative than, for instance, being deployed to cut the grass in residency lawns.

It is reported that Foreign Minister-elect had asked for an immediate report on the composition of our missions even before he set foot in his Republic Square office.

Apparently it is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who has asked for the report. Surely in his frequent travels abroad Wickremesinghe who is fast earning the reputation of the most travelled PM in the shortest time, must know some of those who are heading our embassies, high commissioners and consulates.

Karunanayake will soon find some of them cosying up to him making requests for extensions of service for them or their junior officers who they have taken to their bosom. These things have happened in the past and will happen in the future as relationships with the minister are built or strengthened.

One wonders of course why our leaders want to know about our ambassadors and high commissioners. After all they are the very people who appointed them making some strange choices that should never have happened.

All they need to do is look at the cvs of our great diplomats that should be available with the high posts committee in parliament. How some of them got through that committee is another of the wonders of Asia. One always wondered what educational and professional qualifications some of them had.

One supposes that like so many of our elected (and non-elected) representatives they may not have gone beyond the GCE ‘O’ Level – that is if they got that far.

It appears that the report is also to look into other diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff in our missions. That would really require a thorough study not a cover up to appointments made and extensions of service given to undeserving persons sometimes two or three extensions in the same posting as has happened several times.

This deprives others deserving of overseas postings being sent out, a practice the minister should stop before it turns into a bigger joke. Among other issues perhaps the PM is trying to identify dual citizens and non-Sri Lankan citizens holding office or in various positions in our missions. That should reveal some very interesting facts and should not buried for the sake of protecting people.

It was said many months ago that Singapore would help restructure our foreign ministry. As far as I know Singapore does not recruit foreign nationals as confidential secretaries to their heads of missions because it is a sensitive position. I know this well from my personal interactions with high ranking Singaporean diplomats.

How could foreign nationals be permitted to handle confidential correspondence between a head of mission and the foreign ministry or between missions unless of course nothing confidential ever passes from the mission to the ministry?

There will surely be requests and appeals to the new foreign minister from lackeys, unqualified and unsuitable friends and relatives to be posted to our foreign missions. One hopes that he will not fall prey to this demeaning the quality of some of our missions still further.

This government is well known for appointing commissions and committees to inquire into various issues and calling for reports at the drop of a hat. Some of the reports of these appointed bodies seem to end up in the attic of forgotten things without the public ever seeing them.

If the report of our foreign missions now called for is to serve any purpose and the public is to be made aware of it, this report should not end up the same way. There are sizeable Sri Lankan communities in most countries where we have missions. It is not enough that these communities to be asked to help Sri Lanka and appeals are made for them to return to what was once their home if they are ignored when it comes to making use of their knowledge and experience in writing the report. After all they are people who interact with the missions on official business.

If they are denied such opportunities then Sri Lankans will have to resort to their right to information which this government made into law. So the report must be available for public scrutiny.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

There Is More at Stake Than Freedom of Press

28 May 2017 - 2:36am

By Eresh Omar Jamal
May 28 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The notion of today’s press freedom is deeply rooted in the idea of freedom of speech and expression, intellectual freedom, liberty of thought, etc. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, given that the basis of a democratic government is “the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right [to freely express one’s opinions].” Because, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

Source: thelibertarianrepublic

Undeniably, the modern media has failed to fully inform the people to the extent necessary for many things to be set right. Also irrefutable is the fact that the media itself is partly responsible for this failure, resulting in people’s confidence in what is often referred to as the ‘mainstream media’, being at its lowest ever in certain parts of the world.

At the same time, however, placing the entirety of the blame ‘uniformly’ on the media itself would be a misnomer. First, because the environment in which the media operates varies from country to country. And second, because the ‘constraints’— an age-old problem faced by all those who have sought to convey a message that others had preferred to have kept hidden — that the media faces in regards to what it can and cannot disseminate vary as well (from place to place, situation to situation, etc.).

Despite the challenges, scholars, philosophers, journalists (in more recent times) and others have been fighting for the freedom to publish their work without the threat, fear or reality of being persecuted for centuries. The unfettered dissemination of information, ideas, etc., however, has always been opposed, in one form or another, by powerful sections of virtually every society. Mainly because ideas have a tendency to challenge the powerful and empower the weak.

Before the invention of the movable printing press by Johannes Gutenberg for example, it was the Catholic Church which almost entirely controlled the production of books. Gutenberg’s invention allowed the cheap production of books for the first time, challenging the church’s monopoly and allowing for different viewpoints to be heard.

When Professor of Theology Martin Luther posted his ’95 Theses’ on a church door in Germany, criticising its practice of selling ‘indulgences’ — paying the church in return for a reduction of one’s time in purgatory — the printing press spread his writings throughout the country in two weeks and most of Christendom in less than a month, launching the Protestant Reformation and challenging the power of the Catholic Church. In response, Pope Alexander VI, in 1501, issued an edict against unlicensed printing and in 1535 Francis I of France prohibited — under penalty of death — the printing of books altogether.

Similar attempts at censoring the free flow of information and the media have been made throughout the ages. What is sometimes different today are simply the means that are used. For example, authoritarian regimes have frequently used ‘anti-terror’ laws in recent years to crack down on journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported in 2013 that “The number of journalists jailed worldwide hit 232 in 2012, 132 of whom were held on anti-terror or other national security charges,” both setting new “records in the 22 years CPJ has documented imprisonments.”

What some may find surprising is that similar practices are shockingly taking place also in countries that proclaim to be the beacons of democracy. In 2014, a British High Court for example, ruled that journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner could be treated like a terrorist because he was trying to deliver leaked documents to reporters. Journalists and whistleblowers in the US too have recently been treated the same way and increasingly so.

Given the current climate, it should, therefore, come as no surprise to find journalists facing severe pressure to do their jobs in almost all corners of the earth. Rights organisation Article 19, in a report titled Bangladesh: Violations against journalists and online activists in 2016, revealed to have recorded “320 violations, including three murders, against 141 journalists, three online activists and three officials of a publishing house,” in 2016.

These violations included “attacks on physical integrity, including murder, attempted murder, serious bodily injury, abduction and attempted abduction, intimidation and threats, harassment through unwarranted application of laws, including criminal defamation cases, vexation cases, and the use of Section 57 of the ICT Act”, among others. All this combined has made journalism a dangerous profession in our country to say the least.

In its World Press Freedom Index 2017, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranked Bangladesh 146th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom — slipping two notches from the previous year — and warned of a “tipping point” for journalism, going as far as to say that “media freedom throughout the world has never been as threatened as it is now.”

What, however, needs to be realised from this is that, it is not only press freedoms that are under threat, but rather the basic tenets of democracy from which press freedoms are derived in the first place, that are currently under attack. And that is something that should concern everyone. Because it is not only the media that benefits from rights such as freedom of expression and thought, but rather all individuals in a democracy and democracy itself, which cannot function without a free press.

Once again, as Thomas Jefferson had said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Why? Because a government which does not tolerate a free press (or freedom of speech, thought, expression, etc.), surely isn’t going to act in ways that would be tolerable to those who aspire to be free human beings.

The writer is a member of the Editorial team at The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Asia: 260 Million Indigenous Peoples Marginalised, Discriminated

26 May 2017 - 1:27pm

Indigenous women join protests for land rights in Asia. Credit: IWGIA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 26 2017 (IPS)

Asia is home to the largest number of indigenous peoples on Earth, with an estimated 260 million of a total of 370 million original inhabitants worldwide. In spite of their huge number-equaling half of the combined population of Europe– they are often victims of discrimination and denial of their rights.

With its 4.4 billion inhabitants, Asia is, in fact, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. “Indigenous peoples live in all the Asian countries,” said to IPS Signe Leth, Senior Advisor on women and land rights in Asia at the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

However, Asian indigenous peoples face problems such as denial of self-determination, the loss of control over their land and natural resources, discrimination and marginalisation, heavy assimilation pressure and violent repression by state security forces, she explained.

Signe Leth

“Several countries have legislations that to some extent protect the rights of indigenous peoples, like the Philippines, India and Nepal, Signe Leth said.

“These rights are, however, systematically watered down, often simply ignored or overruled.”

Asked about the Asian indigenous peoples knowledge and their contribution as custodians and protectors of nature, the IWGIA’s expert explained to IPS that they fight against forest degradation, protect biodiversity, and lead a sustainable life with respect for the surrounding nature.

“However, they are often fighting highly powerful forces trying to exploit their areas – even paying for it with their lives.”

The Copenhagen-based IWGIA on 25 April launched its report “The Indigenous World 2017,” which focuses on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The IWGIA report, elaboration of which counted on over 70 contributors from all over the world, was released during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting (24 April—5 May).

India’s “Scheduled Tribes”

In India, 461 ethnic groups are recognised as “Scheduled Tribes.” They are considered to be India’s indigenous peoples, according to IWGIA‘s independent authors.

In mainland India, the Scheduled Tribes are usually referred to as Adivasis, which literally means indigenous peoples. With an estimated population of 84.3 million, they comprise 8.2 per cent of the country’s total population.

“There are, however, many more ethnic groups that would qualify for Scheduled Tribe status but which are not officially recognized. Estimates of the total number of tribal groups are as high as 635.”

The largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven states of North-East India, and the so-called “central tribal belt” stretching from Rajasthan to West Bengal, according to the IWGIA Indian chapter’s independent authors.

“India has a long history of indigenous peoples’ movements aimed at asserting their rights”.

This Asian giant has several laws and constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth Schedule for mainland India and the Sixth Schedule for certain areas of North-East India, which recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-governance.

“The laws aimed at protecting indigenous peoples have, however, numerous shortcomings and their implementation is far from satisfactory.”

The International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs also reminds that the Indian government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the UN General Assembly in 2007.

“However, it does not consider the concept of “indigenous peoples”, and thus the UNDRIP, applicable to India.”

“Indigenous Peoples” in China

Meanwhile, China officially proclaims itself a unified country with a multiple ethnic make-up, and all ethnic groups are considered equal before the law, IWGIA notes quoting the independent authors of this chapter on China, adding that besides the Han Chinese majority, the government recognises 55 ethnic minority peoples within its borders.

According to China’s sixth national census of 2010, the population of ethnic minorities is 113,792,211 persons, or 8.49 per cent of the country’s total population.

“However, there are still “unrecognised ethnic groups” in China numbering a total of 734,438 persons (2000 census figure), according to the Copenhagen-based Group. Most of them live in China’s South-West regions of Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet.”

The officially recognised ethnic minority groups have rights protected by the Constitution, remind the IWGIA China chapter’s independent authors, explaining that this includes establishing ethnic autonomous regions, setting up their own local administrative governance and the right to practise their own language and culture.

“Ethnic autonomous regions” constitute around 60 per vent of China’s land area.

The Term “Indigenous Peoples”

Anyway, IWGIA clarifies, the Chinese (PRC) government does not recognise the term “indigenous peoples”, and representatives of China’s ethnic minorities have not readily identified themselves as indigenous peoples, and have rarely participated in international meetings related to indigenous peoples’ issues, say the independent authors of the IWGIA’s chapter on China.

“It has therefore not been clearly established which of China’s ethnic minority groups are to be considered indigenous peoples.”

“The Chinese government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) but, prior to its adoption, had already officially stated that there were no indigenous peoples in China, which means that, in their eyes, the UNDRIP does not apply to China.

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Time To Focus On ‘Hidden Hunger’

26 May 2017 - 12:13pm

Children, Kafue, Zambia. Credit: Brian Moonga/IPS

By Bev Postma
WASHINGTON DC, May 26 2017 (IPS)

As World Hunger Day May 28 approaches, it is time for us all to redouble our efforts to reach the goal of Zero Hunger by prioritizing the battle against micronutrient deficiency. If the international community pulls together this year to incorporate proven solutions such as biofortifying crops into the UN framework for sustainable development, we could reduce malnutrition on a truly global scale.

Previous UN-led efforts, including the Millennium Development Goals, and the current Sustainable Development Goals set targets for countries to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. With the support of multiple UN initiatives and partners, the number of undernourished people in developing countries has decreased by nearly half since 1990. This is encouraging.

However, one-third of the world’s population continues to suffer from ‘hidden hunger,’ caused by a lack of essential vitamins and minerals. Even if people have enough calories to eat, they can still suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ if their only food options do not contain the necessary micronutrients.

Zinc, vitamin A and iron are three of the more important micronutrients for health, according to the World Health Organization. Each of these nutrients play a critical role in normal body functions. A diet lacking in these nutrients presents a major threat to human health, potentially causing stunting, decreased cognitive ability, diarrheal disease, auto-immune deficiency, blindness and early child mortality. Around 375,000 children go blind each year as a result of a lack of vitamin A; and zinc deficiency causes 450,000 deaths annually.

More than 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger globally, and there is a ripple effect that has consequences for the entire population. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan malnutrition costs the country $7.6 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP annually. Likewise, the African Union estimates that Rwanda loses more than 11 percent of its GDP due to child undernutrition alone.

Countries with high levels of malnutrition must contend with these cumulative effects of high healthcare costs and lost productivity wherever they are in the world.

There are a number of solutions to address micronutrient deficiency, but crop biofortification can reach communities where traditional supplementation and food fortification potentially cannot. Growing more nutritious versions of everyday food crops is a simple, sustainable and cost-effective solution that does not place any undue burden on farmers. These biofortified crops are also widely accepted by consumers, as extensive research is done to ensure the crops look and taste similar to the traditional varieties.

HarvestPlus has spent the past 14 years working with leading research institutes to prove that biofortified crops, which contain greater quantities of vitamin A, iron and zinc than standard varieties, can reach communities that need them.

In India, iron-biofortified pearl millet provides children with 70 percent of daily iron requirements. More than a million Indian farmers have embraced the more nutritious variety, which is also high yielding and drought tolerant, providing farmers with a more stable income while simultaneously bolstering their family’s nutrition.

A study of iron-deficient women between the ages of 18 and 27 in Rwanda proved that eating biofortified beans high in iron reversed iron deficiency in just four-and-a-half months. In a region plagued by hot weather and drought, iron beans present the added benefit of being high yielding, drought resistant and heat tolerant.

Countries across the world are already embracing the science of biofortification. The government of Zambia launched a campaign to get schools to grow and feed their students vitamin A-biofortified orange maize, while Brazil is distributing biofortified crops to schools through its states’ school feeding programs.

In Uganda, five iron-rich bean varieties were released last year as part of the government’s strategy to tackle malnutrition and reduce anemia, especially in children and expectant mothers. These countries, among many others, have chosen to implement a proven, cost-effective solution to address micronutrient deficiency and they are relying on international organizations like the United Nations to provide additional support.

Earlier this year, HarvestPlus made a public commitment to work with UN agencies and member states to be part of the decade of action on nutrition. In line with our commitment, we are calling on all governments and institutions to help us scale up the introduction of biofortified foods by bridging the gap that exists between agriculture and nutrition.

If we can work with the UN, national governments and farming communities to encourage the adoption of this breakthrough innovation, we can help lift one billion people out of poverty and hidden hunger just by providing access to a diverse and nutritious diet.

Formalising Informal Trade – Good for African Women?

26 May 2017 - 6:25am

Rural women sell mango and sweet potato jam at the food processing shop in Bantantinnting, Senegal. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 26 2017 (IPS)

Women constitute the largest share of informal traders in Africa–about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts of this vast continent made up of 54 states, home to over 1,200 billion people.

Informal cross-border trading, in which transactions are not compliant with local tax and other rules, accounts for a large share – between 20 and a hefty 70 per cent– of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, says a new United Nations specialised report.

Africa’s vast but informal cross-border trade can contribute to improving livelihoods and increasing regional integration across the continent, according to the new report Formalization of informal trade in Africa.

Putting it on a regular footing can lift sustainable prosperity and markedly improve prospects for women, adds the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, which was released on 25 May coinciding with Africa Day.

“It is about harnessing rather than suppressing informal trade, it says, adding that which around half of all intra-African cross-border trade is classified as informal, indicating its large if officially invisible role.“

Simplifying the requirements for a business license, offering incentives to tax payers, and tackling official corruption are among the recommendations aimed to cut informal trade among African countries and boost economic prosperity, particularly for women, the study recommends.

Proactive policies that recognise such activity, tapping its potential with the aim of steering it towards proper regulatory status, are to be preferred over heavy-handed approaches to eradicate or seek rents from entrepreneurs, according to the UN specialised agency.

“Informal cross-border trade, often agricultural, is the result of poor access to government offices, a lack of administrative skills and improper understanding of import and custom-tax laws.

One of the main groups that would be affected by formalization is women, who constitute the largest share of informal traders – about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts, says the report.

“Facilitating formalization is the only viable policy option for Africa’s transformation agenda to realize its objectives,” said Suffyan Koroma, FAO senior economist and lead author of the report.

The new report was presented at a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, which held as part of on-going FAO-supported work in the country, along with UN Women and other development partners, aimed at enabling women to benefit more from agri-food chains, a project geared to allowing women small traders access useful information as well as start-up capital.

Machakos District, Kenya – Kweka farmers group members display how seeds are stored between harvest and the next planting season to ensure food production will continue. Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett


The UN leading specialised agency in the fields of food and agriculture also reported that local agricultural produce and livestock account for two-thirds of Rwanda’s exports, most of which are informally traded, with the bulk going to neighbouring countries, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda encourages informal small traders to form cooperatives as a step towards regularisation.

A Huge Role for Women

Women trading between the border posts of Kenya and Uganda and between Rwanda and Burundi prefer to use brokers who appear to shield them from what they perceive as unprofessional behaviour of customs officials, the report notes.

Informal cross-border trade activity is largely a second-choice option taken by people in the absence of clearly defined formal alternatives, says FAO. It consists of trade in goods and services, often agricultural in nature, and in times of food crises and other shocks has proven to be more responsible than legal channels.

“Off-the-radar economic activity, not all of it involving international trade, accounts for around 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa, higher than in Latin America or Asia.”

“The trade is rarely illegal,” the UN specialised body reports, adding that in most cases it is informal because practitioners have poor access to all the appropriate business licenses, administrative skills and knowledge of import and custom-tax laws to act otherwise.

Prey to Corruption

While such activity is an important source of household income, practitioners are often prey to corruption and their weak access to credit means their activities are rarely stable or sustainable.

Women constitute the largest share of such informal traders. In Tanzania, women dominate trade in manufactured products while men handle mostly raw or semi-processed agricultural products, whereas the opposite is the case in Cameroon, the FAO report found.

“Women and men tend to differ in which foodstuffs – fresh produce or commodity staples – they trade as well.”

Working with Catholic Relief Service, the UN agency has also organised open-door events on the Rwanda-Congo border where women cooperatives were invited to learn more about the cross-border tax regime directly from custom officials and government representatives.

“Rwanda has emerged as a model of best practice for cross border trade through its efforts to integrate the informal economy by easing trade channels for small-scale agricultural traders, “said Attaher Maiga, FAO’s Representative in Rwanda.

Key priorities to facilitate the formalisation of informal cross-border trading include the simplification of licensing requirements, tax incentives, fostering partnerships, radio, television and town-hall outreach to participants in the informal economy, and intensifying efforts to tackle official corruption, said the UN agency.

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In a “World of Plenty,” G7 Must Fight Famine

26 May 2017 - 2:28am

A child from drought-stricken southern Somalia who survived the long journey to an aid camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2017 (IPS)

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.

“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.

In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.

These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.

In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.

However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.

For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.

Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.

International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.

Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.

President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.

“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.

“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.

The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.

Why the G7 Must Fund Health & Nutrition

25 May 2017 - 5:42pm

By Grace Virtue
TAORMINA, Italy, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The G7 Summit, held annually among the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU), plays an important role in shaping responses to global challenges—theoretically at least.

The format of the Summit continues to be modeled off the first one, held in 1975 when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited his counterparts to an informal meeting in Rambouillet to discuss the economic crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973–1974. Leaders adopt a relaxed approach, discussing candidly the main issues on the international agenda.

Their aides (the so-called Sherpas) draft a joint declaration which is signed by the leaders and enshrined as high-level political pledges. Before and during, the Sherpas are lobbied fiercely by civil society trying to get their issues of concern in the joint communiqué released by the Summit.

This year’s Summit begins May 26 in Taormina, Italy. It is arguably one of the most charged and uncertain atmosphere for a meeting of traditional western democratic political leaders. The United States, which normally plays a leading role, is hamstrung by its government, led by Republican President Donald Trump, who, among his many challenges, is currently under investigation by his own law enforcement agencies to determine whether his campaign was complicit in Russian interference in the general election of 2016, which landed him a shock victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Outside of ethical and perhaps legal challenges, Trump, since his inauguration in January, has unleashed a set of policy proposals deliberately targeted at rolling back social justice gains under Barack Obama, his predecessor and even before. From proposed cuts to signature programs like the Affordable Care Act and food stamps for needy families, and hostile policies toward immigrants, the administration’s programs are causing deep uncertainty and anxiety at home and abroad. Trump’s lack of interest and understanding of the outside world, rounds off a list of flaws that justifies completely questions about his capacity or suitability to lead the free world toward any progressive end.

This year’s summit also comes with the shadow of Brexit—the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union; a French President, the youngest in the country’s history and a mere three weeks in his presidency; looming elections in the UK and Germany; a continued migrant crisis as desperate people flee wars and famines in Africa and the Middle East, and this week’s horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, England. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity like we have not seen since the height of the Cold War, are the watchword of this G7 Summit.

So, when the leaders gather at their hilltop hideaway tomorrow, there is much that is new and worrying to be discussed and great energy will likely be consumed navigating these new and unpredictable dynamics. This does not augur well for those concerns that are so devastating but so old and entrenched, that they are not news anymore—no longer sexy enough grab the headlines, if they ever were. I speak here of diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and chronic starvation and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In 2015, 10.4 million people were sickened with TB; 1.8 million of them died—more than HIV and malaria combined. Tuberculosis is the world’s only airborne drug-resistant epidemic and is responsible for one-third of the world’s antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths. By 2050, estimates show drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) will claim an additional 75 million lives at a global economic cost of US$16.7 trillion.

Since its establishment in 2002 by G7 countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has saved more than 20 million lives through its support for AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria programs in countries and communities most in need. Vulnerable communities, including migrants and refugees, are at increased risk of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS because of overcrowded living and working conditions, poor nutrition, and lack of access to care. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all G7 countries signed on to, called for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030.

To achieve this, G7 leaders must continue to invest in the Global Fund. Concerned civil society groups like ACTION global health partnership in Taormina advocating to the end, are hoping they will. Other major ask of G7 leadership include accelerated efforts to eradicate malnutrition and ensure proper nutrients for every child, particularly in the first 1000 days of life. Coupled with the inability to access proper healthcare by the world’s poorest people, malnutrition is one of the greatest barrier to human development and global prosperity

It is obvious that there are many complicated issues facing the G7 leaders, but, investing in health and nutrition should not be controversial—it should be fundamental.

Big polluting lobbyists may be forced to declare interests at UN talks

25 May 2017 - 11:02am

By Rabiya Shabeeh
ABU DHABI, UAE, May 25 2017 (IPS)

Is the presence of the fossil fuel industry necessary in global climate change negotiations, or does their presence in these talks represent a conflict of interest and undermine global progress?

Offshore Oil Rig Drilling Platform. Credit: Bigstock

The push from developing countries to force fossil fuel lobbyists taking part in UN climate talks to declare conflicts of interest won one significant battle during an agreement made at COP23’s preliminary session earlier this month in Bonn, Germany.

A recent report by the US-based non-profit Corporate Accountability International (CAI) revealed that fossil fuel representatives are extensively represented in the associations that participate in UN climate talks.

While companies cannot participate in the talks themselves, membership-based business and industry non-government associations (BINGOs) can and they have been using backhanded tactics to stop key climate policies in their tracks, says the report.

Policies under the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) allow organizations with ‘observer status’, which include the likes of the National Mining Association, FuelsEurope, the World Coal Association, and the Business Council of Australia (of which members include Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP), to sit in meetings where delegates discuss policy options to avert climate disasters.

These organizations represent corporations with hefty track records of climate change denial and a portfolio that includes decades of profiting at the expense of the planet.

The UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement has locked in a crucial commitment to keep global temperature warming to “well below two °Celsius”, but also to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 °C by 2018
“A transparent and clearly defined policy is essential if we are to truly protect the spirit and the goals of the Paris Agreement and if we are to have a fighting chance of limiting climate change to under 2° Celsius,” writes Mrinalini Shine, Environmental Law Researcher at the University of Cologne, Germany.

Many developing nations – collectively representing nearly 70 percent of the world’s population – have been fighting to incorporate a conflict of interest policy in the convention where such groups will be legally obliged to declare any and all conflicts.

For instance, in May 2016 at a meeting in Bonn, the Venezuelan delegate stated that UNFCCC’s Paris agreement was an ‘instrument between states’ and made a ‘moral request’ that lobbyists declare conflicts of interest.

However, these demands were met with fierce resistance from richer nations, with the US, EU, Norway, and Australia leading the battle.

During one panel discussion in Bonn this month, Norway’s delegate stated that excluding companies based on their interests would be ‘counterproductive’ while Australia’s delegation head said that the private sector was a key part of financing the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Some of the companies being alluded to as the polluters of policy will be the providers of the biggest and best solutions,” said Australia’s delegate. “And you could look at some of the statements coming out of ExxonMobil and Shell recently to underline that point.”

An investigation conducted in 2015 by Inside Climate News, a non-profit environmental news organization, exposed that ExxonMobil knew of climate change from as early as 1981 but only to spend millions of dollars in the years that followed to promote climate denial.

CIA’s report, in addition, revealed that the US Chamber of Commerce has been receiving millions of dollars from ExxonMobil for ‘public information campaigns’. To top it off, the Trump administration in the US, in its full-scale attack on the US environmental policy that includes dismantling the Clean Power Plan, also recently installed Exxon Mobil’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, as secretary of state.

“With so many arsonists in the fire department, it’s no wonder we’ve failed to put the fire out,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuels, CAI’s international policy director, in a statement.

This, however, does not imply that there is no role at all for the fossil fuels industry to play in slowing global warming, states CAI’s report.

The report elaborated that the industry must transform its business practices to align with the commitments made by the global community to rein in the crisis, embrace the solutions created by the scientific community to minimize further devastation, and strive to meet global social and economic progress.

UNFCCC’s newly negotiated agreement commits to enhancing ‘openness, transparency and inclusiveness’ and calls for stakeholders – any person or group affected by climate change or policy to submitt their views on how that could be achieved.

“As a global community, we have an unprecedented opportunity to solve the climate crisis head-on at the precise moment when everything people, justice, and the planet hangs in the balance,” said a sppokesperson for CAI in a statement.

Activists, pressure groups, and even government bodies from developing countries that are now actively seeking justice for the planet and its people must keep pushing towards the solutions the convention has agreed to seek.

The convention is accepting suggestions on how to address the issue from member nations, and aims to take them up next year.

Africa – More than Just Conflicts, Corruption, Disasters

25 May 2017 - 9:17am

A woman in El Fasher, North Darfur, uses a Water Roller for easily and efficiently carrying water. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 25 2017 (IPS)

Natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, widespread corruption and deep social inequalities have been so far a dramatic source for most news coverage when it comes to Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, which hosts 54 states spreading over 30 million square kilometres that are home to over 1.2 billion people.

Nevertheless, an often neglected fact is that this vast continent with huge natural resources –which have been systematically depleted by private –and also in cases, state-owned corporations— registered an economic growth of around 4 per cent in 2014, “creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa’s history,” according to the United Nations.

As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year.

May 25 has marked Africa Day, an annual commemoration of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on that very same date on 1963, when 32 independent African states signed the founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2002, the OAU became the African Union.

Just three weeks ahead of Africa Day, a new UN atlas charting data from 54 African countries revealed the continent’s energy potential; showing that investment in renewable energy would strengthen its economic advancement.

Credit: United Nations

“The Atlas makes a strong case that investments in green energy infrastructure can bolster Africa’s economic development and bring it closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Director and Regional Representative of the Africa Office for the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

As such, she continued, it is an important policy guide for African governments as they strive to catalyse national development by making use of their energy resources.

The Atlas of Africa Energy Resources, released by UNEP and the African Development Bank at the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, shows both the potential and the fragility of the continent’s energy resources, which are at the heart of Africa’s socio-economic development.

While Africa is richly endowed with both renewable and non-renewable energy resources, its current energy production is insufficient to meet demand, it says, adding that about a third Africa’s population still lacks access to electricity and 53 per cent of the population depends on biomass for cooking, space heating and drying.

According to UNEP, energy consumption on the continent is the lowest in the world, and per capita consumption has barely changed since 2000.

The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. A kettle boiled twice by a family in the United Kingdom uses five times as much electricity as a Malian uses in a year, UNEP reported.

The Big Challenges

According to the United Nations, climate change poses a significant threat to economic, social and environmental development in Africa. “There is strong evidence that warming in Africa has increased significantly over the past 50 to 100 years, with clear effects on the health, livelihoods and food security of people in Africa.”

Then comes corruption, which remains the “most daunting challenge” to good governance, sustainable economic growth, peace, stability and development in Africa, according to the international organisation.

Africa is richly endowed with energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable. The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. Credit: UNEP


“While corruption is a global phenomenon, the impact is felt more in poor and underdeveloped countries, where resources for development are unduly diverted into private hands, which exacerbates poverty. In many corruption perception surveys, Africa is perceived as the most corrupt region in the world, as well as the most underdeveloped and backward region…”

All this amidst the dramatic fact that Africa is also home to around half if the more than 4o conflicts worldwide, from South Sudan to Nigeria through Somalia.

The challenges posed by protracted conflicts and longstanding disputes on the African continent has been a major focus for the international community. In fact, already in 1960 the first peacekeeping operation in Africa was deployed in the Republic of the Congo to ensure the withdrawal of Belgian forces and to assist the government in maintaining law and order.

Since then thousands of peacekeepers have been deployed in nearly 30 peacekeeping operations to African countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi and Sudan, and the Central African Republic, among others.

Decolonisation, Women Advancement

Another often-neglected fact is that at the end of World War II in 1945, nearly every country in Africa was subject to colonial rule or administration. Following the founding of the UN in 1945 and its massive decolonisation effort, Africa is now virtually free from colonial rule. In 2011 South Sudan became Africa’s newest country when it gained independence from the rest of Sudan.

Meantime, it would be needed to remind that in 11 African countries, women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments. Rwanda has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, according to the UN. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional female entrepreneurial activity rate in the world, with nearly a third of businesses having some female ownership.

Africa’s Agenda 2063

An additional fact is that in January 2015 the heads of state and governments of the African Union adopted Agenda 2063, with visions and ideals aiming at serving as pillars for the continent in the foreseeable future.

“The Agenda is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. Its builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development,” according to the Africa Union (AU).

The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 is that of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena,” the AU states.

The seven “African Aspirations”, which were derived through a consultative process with the African Citizenry, are: a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, and an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Also a peaceful and Secure Africa; Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics, an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children, and an Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.

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Slow Growth Stalls SDGs’ Progress

25 May 2017 - 2:49am

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The world will not be on track to eradicate poverty by 2030 if current growth trends continue, a UN task force found.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, briefs journalists on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The Inter Agency Task Force, comprising over 50 international institutions, launched a report assessing progress on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a global framework on development financing to help implement the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Though there has been some progress in development financing, slow global economic growth and decreased trade and investment growth since the 2008 financial crisis has hampered progress on the SDGs, including the eradication of poverty by 2030.

“Despite expectations of improved growth in 2017 and 2018, the current global environment bodes poorly for the achievement of the SDGs,” said Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.

In 2016, the world economy grew at its slowest rate since the crisis and the global GDP is projected to grow at less than 3 percent over the next two years. Such rates are likely to leave almost 7 percent of the world’s population extremely poor by 2030. Least developed countries (LDCs) will fall the farthest behind, Hongbo stated.

Though the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars per day has decreased dramatically in the last few decades, the decline largely relied on strong economic growth in developing countries, the report notes.

Low economic growth is also contributing to rising levels of unemployment. The International Labor Organisation estimates that there will be 3.4 million more unemployed people in 2017 than in 2016, and further increases are expected in 2018.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Director of the Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies Richard Kozul-Wright noted that these trends are partly due to the failure to develop sustainable growth strategies.

“A lot of people expected that the post financial crisis that there will be a serious reflection on the kinds of growth strategies forged prior to the crisis which were clearly unsustainable and not inclusive, but that hasn’t really happened,” he said.

Weak investment is another major challenge hindering the achievement of the SDGs and thus growth, he added.

Between 1 and 5 trillion dollars of additional investment is needed for infrastructure alone, a key element to help sustain growth in developing countries. Transportation infrastructure enables trade and economic development, which is particularly important in land-locked developing countries, while energy-related infrastructure is essential for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

However, public and private infrastructure investment has declined globally. Though official development assistance (ODA) increased by almost 9 percent in 2016 from 2015, escalating humanitarian needs have led to significant short-term and long-term financial gaps.

Uncertainty in key policies of major countries only heightens risks in the global economy, including the U.S.’ proposals to cut foreign aid and climate finance.

Hongbo noted that the creation of national policies that align with the SDGs as well as international cooperation to boost sustainable and inclusive growth is crucial.

“Many of the challenges that countries face, including slow economic growth, climate change, and humanitarian crises, have cross-border or global repercussions and it cannot be addressed by any one actor alone,” he stated.

The launch of the report coincided with the second annual forum on financing for development which brought together member states and international organizations to discuss the pressing issues laid out in the report and its potential solutions.

Participants reached an agreement on SDG financing, calling on governments to increase and adhere to their ODA commitments and improve tax policies, including international efforts to fight tax evasion, while urging development banks and private sector actors to help mobilize catalytic resources.

“We will have our voice heard whenever we can, we will speak loudly for the LDCs and the vulnerable countries and its people,” Hongbo concluded.

Q&A: “It’s a Crime” that 35 Million Latin Americans Still Suffer from Hunger

24 May 2017 - 6:33pm

Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 24 2017 (IPS)

The fight against hunger has been “remarkably successful” in Latin America and the Caribbean, but “it is a crime” that 35 million people still go to bed hungry every day, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.

Berdegué, who is also assistant director-general of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), with decades of experience in matters related to rural development, said during his first interview as the new regional representative that the biggest challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is inequality, which “is present in every action and contributes to many other problems.”

In the FAO regional office in Santiago, Berdegué, from Mexico, discussed with IPS issues such as obesity, “in which we are losing the fight,” the weakness of rural institutions, which facilitates corruption, or the weakness of the social fabric, which drug trafficking mafias in many countries depend on, as well as the need to address the question of water scarcity which is here to stay due to climate change, and where the key is the transformation of agriculture, which uses 70 per cent of all water consumed.

IPS: What do you consider are the greatest debts of the region in the agri-food sector?

JULIO BERDEGUÉ: We unfortunately still have very high levels of rural poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of the rural population is still living in poverty conditions and almost 30 per cent in extreme poverty. There are 58 million rural poor and 35 million living in conditions of indigence, who are not even able to feed themselves adequately.

IPS: This is happening in the region that has been the most successful in reducing poverty and hunger in this century…

JB: We have a problem with malnutrition and hunger, which even though they have been notably reduced, still stand at 5.5 per cent, which in human terms means that 35 million Latin Americans are still going to bed hungry every day, and six million children are chronically undernourished… Which is a crime. And of these, 700,000 children suffer from acute and chronic undernutrition… that is terrible.

IPS: In that context, which will be the priorities of your administration?

JB: The main thrust has been continuity, and I want to adhere to that. FAO’s mission and strategic objectives are clearly defined in a medium-term work plan discussed and approved in May in Rome (at FAO’s global headquarters).

The first objective has to do with hunger…undernourishment and malnutrition will continue to have a central role in the agenda. The second has to do with greater sustainability of agriculture, contributing to global food security, in a sustainable manner.

The issues of rural poverty, where unfortunately family agriculture is included, beyond what people might think, are not yet lost, but we still have a long way to go. Also the importance of food systems, which have experienced in the past 25 to 30 years a radical shift in their depth and speed, and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change.

IPS: And what are the regional assets available to carry out these tasks?

JB: We must not lose sight of the fact that Latin America is a great contributor to global food security. What our region does in this matter is very important, and we must take advantage of this strength.

This is also a region with enormous biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity the region is a player of global importance and whatever we do well or badly affects each person on this planet.

IPS: Has there been progress in the political and social spheres?

JB: The question of peace in the region is another asset. What has happened in Colombia (with the peace agreements that came into force in late 2016) is exciting for all of us, and is of utmost importance. In the last 20 years there has also been heavy spending in rural areas, on roads, electrification, telecommunications, and access to basic services, education and health. The educational levels of our rural people under 35 are far higher than that of their parents. These are assets that we need to mobilise.

IPS: And what are the weaknesses you perceive in these same fields?
JB: In rural areas, government institutions are very weak, in most countries in the region… The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand… and they are weak because they are outdated, because there is much corruption, patronage, use of public budgets for particular interests, and that weakens the government and public action for the benefit of society as a whole. It makes our job difficult.

IPS: Apart from that difficulty, what other challenges does the region face?

JB: The rural social fabric has been weakening in some countries. The penetration of drug trafficking, of violence, which often goes hand in hand with corruption, makes life very hard for the inhabitants of those rural areas and makes it very difficult to bring political solutions that would increase their opportunities and well-being. The situation in some Central American countries is extremely concerning. In my own country, Mexico, the situation worries all Mexicans. The levels of violence in Venezuela… There are countries where the weakening of the social fabric is a warning sign.

IPS: Latin Americans are facing a new and growing problem, obesity, without yet having solved that of chronic malnutrition…

JB: Malnutrition is a crime. The fact that more than half of the rural children in Guatemala suffer from chronic undernutrition is unacceptable in the 21st century, but obesity is killing us. Not long ago, Mexico’s minister of health, Dr. José Navarro, who until recently was the provost of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reminded us that obesity kills more people than organised crime in Mexico. Obesity is definitely killing us.

IPS: Do malnutrition and obesity have anything in common?

JB: First, let me say in what they differ. We have greatly reduced undernutrition. In this, Latin America has been remarkably successful, even at a global level. We are the only region that has met its Millennium Development Goals. But in terms of obesity we are losing the fight badly. Every day there are more overweight and obese people.

What they have in common, from FAO’s perspective, is a radical change in Latin America’s food systems. The world in which we had local markets and people ate locally produced food, where many people went home to eat, has disappeared forever.

Today our food systems are globalised, the bulk of the distribution of food products is through supermarket chains, most of what we eat are ultra-processed foods. Even our farmers eat mostly purchased food: processed and ultra-processed.

IPS: But this is a global phenomenon, as you say, not only regional…

JB: The point is not the transformation of the agri-food systems. That transformation can also be observed in Norway, Canada or New Zealand. They have the same patterns of urbanisation, of eating outside the home, purchasing in supermarkets, ultra-processed foods, etc. The difference is that in those places there are public policies. Ours is a transformation that responded to market forces without public policies. The market achieves important things… today food products are much cheaper, but with enormous consequences, one being obesity and the erosion of public health in all aspects that have to do with what and how we eat.

IPS: So, what public policies are needed in the region to tackle obesity?

JB: What has to be done is to ‘redirect’ these transformation processes of the food systems, bearing in mind that we have public objectives. Redirecting means setting certain limits. For example, what is being done in Chile and to some extent in Mexico with sugary beverages, and labeling. There are healthy and unhealthy foods, and consumers have to know this.

Redirecting also means putting greater emphasis on public education with regard to healthy eating. It means that if there are places with less access to a more varied diet, to fresh fruit and vegetables, we cannot leave it to be solved by the market.

IPS: Another problem that is creating conflicts is water, its scarcity and its uses. What should be done from the agri-food sector?

JB: We have a terrible problem here, which is that agriculture is consuming 70 per cent of our planet’s fresh water. This is not sustainable and has no future. If I were president of a given country in 30 or 50 years, and they told me: ‘To produce potatoes you are using 70 per cent of the water and people have no water in the cities because of climate change,’ as president I would say: ‘well, we will import potatoes, and stop growing them.’

Between giving water to the people or producing potatoes, lettuce or asparagus… we are going to lose that fight. Our farmers fight, they organise to get more water, and it is good that they do that. We make dams and reservoirs, that’s great. But we have to start thinking how we can practice agriculture using less water, how we can produce the same amount of food without using 70 per cent of the water, and using half of that instead. We cannot talk about ‘zero water’ agriculture, but it should be much less than 70 per cent, and this is something that we are not thinking about.

We are used to using water almost without restrictions, and climate change is putting an end to that. We will not be able to go rapidly from 70 to 35 per cent water use in agriculture, but we better start now because otherwise climate change will win the race.

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Nutrition Key to Developing Africa’s “Grey Matter Infrastructure”

24 May 2017 - 5:56pm

AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina adressing delegates at the nutrition event while Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation, listens. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
AHMEDABAD, India, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Developing Africa’s ‘grey matter infrastructure’ through multi-sector investments in nutrition has been identified as a game changer for Africa’s sustainable development.

Experts here at the 2017 African Development Bank’s Annual Meetings say investing in physical infrastructure alone cannot help Africa to move forward without building brainpower.“We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” --Muhammad Ali Pate

“We can repair a bridge, we know how to do that, we can fix a port, we know how to do it, we can fix a rail, we know how to do that, but we don’t know how to fix brain cells once they are gone, that’s why we need to change our approach to dealing with nutrition matters in Africa,” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, pointing out that stunting alone costs Africa 25 billion dollars annually.

Malnutrition – the cause of half of child deaths worldwide – continues to rob generations of Africans of the chance to grow to their full physical and cognitive potential, hugely impacting not only health outcomes, but also economic development.

Malnutrition is unacceptably high on the continent, with 58 million or 36 percent of children under the age of five chronically undernourished (suffering from stunting)—and in some countries, as many as one out of every two children suffer from stunting. The effects of stunting are irreversible, impacting the ability of children’s bodies and brains to grow to their full potential.

On a panel discussion Developing Africa’s Grey Matter Infrastructure: Addressing Africa’s Nutrition Challenges” moderated by IFPRI’s Rajul Pandya-Lorch, experts highlighted the importance of urgently fighting the scourge of malnutrition.

Laura Landis of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the cost of inaction is dramatic. “We have to make an economic argument on why we need action,” she said. “The WFP is helping, in cooperation with the African Union and the AfDB, to collect the data that gets not just the Health Minister moving, but also Heads of State or Ministers of Finance.”

The idea is to get everyone involved and not leave nutrition to agriculture and/or health ministries alone. And panelists established that there is indeed a direct link between productivity and growth of the agriculture sector and improved nutrition.

Baffour Agyeman of the John Kuffuor Foundation puts it simply: “It has become evident that it is the quality of food and not the quantity thereof that is more important,” calling for awareness not to end at high level conferences but get to the grassroots.

Assisting African governments to build strong and robust economies is accordingly a key priority for the AfDB. But recognizing the potential that exists in the continent’s vast human capital, the bank included nutrition as a focus area under its five operational priorities – the High 5s.

And to mobilise support at the highest level, the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative was launched last year, bringing together Heads of State committed to ending malnutrition in their countries.

As a key partner of this initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation foresees improved accountability with such an initiative in place. “ALN is a way to make the fight against malnutrition a central development issue that Ministers of Finance and Heads of State take seriously and hold all sectors accountable for,” said Shawn Baker, Nutrition Director at the Foundation.

However, African Ministers of Finance want to see better coordination and for governments to play a leading role in such initiatives to achieve desired results. “Cooperation and coordination are key between government and development partners,” said Sierra Leone’s Finance and Economic Development Minister Momodu Kargbo. “Development partners disregard government systems when implementing programmes whereas they should align and carefully regard existing government institutions and ways of working.”

Notwithstanding the overarching theme of Africa rising, Muhammad Ali Pate, CEO of Big Win Philanthropy, says, “We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” He pointed out the need to close the mismatch between the continent’s sustained GDP growth and improved livelihood of its people.

With the agreed global SDG agenda, Gerda Verburg, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement Coordinator sees nutrition as a core of achieving the goals. “Without better nutrition you will not end poverty, without better nutrition you will not end gender inequality, without better nutrition you will not improve health, find innovative approaches, or peace and stability, better nutrition is the core,” she says.

Therefore, developing Grey Matter Infrastructure is key to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa. But it won’t happen without leadership to encourage investments in agriculture and nutrition, and more importantly, resource mobilization for this purpose.

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The Ocean Conference: An Integrated Vision that must be Delivered

24 May 2017 - 12:23pm

Jan Kellet is Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Risk Management, UNDP

By Jan Kellet
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 2017 (IPS)

In March 2015 at the Sendai World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, the then President of Kirbati, Anote Tong, made it very clear how vulnerable his country was to climate and disaster risk, when he informed the room (which was sadly less than half full) that his country had purchased land in Fiji.

Credit: UN Photos

The reason was simple: the threat that climate change to every aspect of life and living of his country, and that belief that one day, should the world not change its path on emissions that it might simply disappear under the waves.

At the Ocean Conference (scheduled to take place 5-9 June) in New York, nations will gather to discuss how best to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. This event is critical because it will, for perhaps the first time, focus the international community on how critical our oceans to our life and livelihoods.

Even a glance at the targets and indicators of this goal make that clear: the Ocean SDG is about poverty reduction, economic development, adapting to climate change and protecting the environment, not just the health of the oceans and those who depend on it. Delivering on SDG 13 will help deliver on the other 16 and they in turn will be essential to its delivery.

For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, this integrated approach is not just important, it is critical. On the one hand their ocean environment provides them with critical needs, with communications, transportation, livelihoods, trade and more. But it also makes them vulnerable in many inter-connected ways.

Logistics, transportation and communications are complex and expensive given these island nations’ distance to other nations and distance between their own islands. Their income is vulnerable, with often middle-income status masking very narrow productive sectors, such as tourism. Often lacking in fossil fuels themselves, they import heavily and in some cases access to energy remains poor. And these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the increasing disaster and climate risk, the growing threat of cyclones and the seemingly every-rising sea-levels.

We can look across a diverse set of small islands to see this in practice. The Federated States of Micronesia (and its ‘associated states’) has a population of just over a 100,000 consist of 607 separate islands of just over 700 km squared within waters of more than 2,600,000 kms.

Tourism accounts for a very high percentage of GDP for small islands, making these nations very susceptible to climate and disaster risk; in the Maldives, for example, it accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of its foreign exchange receipts. The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu meanwhile, have at times drawn close to half of their entire national income from international development assistance. Palau has been increasing the percentage of its population that have access to energy and has reached nearly 70% but despite significant potential for renewable energy it still relies on almost all of its power generation on the import of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, climate change is an existential threat, and not only to Kiribati; the Maldives, the Marshall Islands as well as Kiribati all have more than 90% of their population living below five metres above sea level. In these and many other small island nations, sea levels are already eroding land, significantly threatening tourism, making agricultural land untenable, increasingly infiltrating fresh water wells, while storm surges and extremely hide tides are in some cases increasing in both number and severity.

Given the multiplicity of inter-connected vulnerabilities and risks that face SIDS in particular, the ocean conference has the task of delivering a thoroughly integrated vision for not only achieving on the significant ambition of SDG 13; it can and it must ensure a message of integration is at the heart of its deliberations, and especially its solutions to the complex inter-related issues of SIDS.

Tackling economic development, poverty reduction, coastal erosion, agricultural adaptation and more, can only be successful if it is thought of as a single inter-connected problem, to which must be applied integrated solutions.

The Samoa pathway developed by SIDS in 2014 makes such an integrated approach clear when it states that ‘promoting the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports, inter alia, economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration, restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges’ is key to sustainable development.

With Fiji both the co-chair of the Oceans conference and current president of the climate negotiations, there is no better opportunity to deliver on this challenging ambition, an ambition that binds actors together in a vision to deliver on all their global commitments -Sendai, Paris, the SDGs – at the country level. It is here where UNDP works, and here that the commitments to act, integrated, need to be delivered.

Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanization

24 May 2017 - 11:27am

125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

Mideast: Growing Urbanisation Worsens Water Scarcity, Food Imports

24 May 2017 - 9:47am

Egyptian countryside south of Luxor, Egypt. In the background: the village of Al Bayadiyah. Photo: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Conflict and insecurity remain the key barriers to development progress in the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, about half the population—around 40 million people—require humanitarian assistance. Across the region, countries depend heavily on food imports. As their populations urbanise and grow, the need for imports will increase.

These are some of the Middle East and North of Africa related key findings of the 2017 Global Food Policy Report, which was issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on 24 May at an international experts meeting in Cairo.

Dealing with the major challenges facing the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) social and economic development, the Cairo international experts seminar focused on food import dependency in a region rife with population growth, urbanisation and conflict.

Organised by IFPRI and the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University under the theme “Rapid Urbanisation Challenges Food Security in Egypt” the meeting examined the situation in Egypt, where “the combination of high domestic population growth and swelling refugee and migrant populations is adding stress to an already vulnerable food system,” according to Shenggen Fan, IFPRI’s director general.

Clemens Breisinger

In an interview to IPS, Clemens Breisinger, economist and senior research fellow based in IFPRI’s Cairo office, said that rapidly growing populations and the related increase in food consumption are likely to increase MENA countries’ dependence on food imports.

Countries with sizable agriculture sectors, such as Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia, generally have a low food import dependency ratio of between 10 and 20 per cent—that is, food imports account for 10 to 20 per cent of food consumption, he said.

Food Imports Dependency

Nevertheless, the food imports dependency ratio of all other MENA countries exceeds 30 per cent, with Iraq, Mauritania, Oman, and Yemen reaching about 50 per cent, and Gulf countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates reaching up to 70 per cent, said Breisinger.

According to the researcher, scope remains for increasing agricultural output in the region—but additional land and water resources for crop production are limited; climate change is expected to reduce crop yields; and fast-growing cities are encroaching on (often fertile) agricultural land.

“To ensure future food security, MENA countries should be prepared to import more food from international markets in the near future.”

Asked about the growing water challenges in the region, Breisinger said to IPS that water scarcity is projected to get much more severe in MENA, but there are technical and policy options to avoid disaster.

The food security challenges place an added burden on the available water sources over and above the higher demand brought about by population increases, he said, while informing that by 2050, projections show that global per capita renewable water resources will fall by 25 per cent.

“These pressures vary greatly across different regions of the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, further declines, estimated from 778 m3 to 506 m3 per capita per year, are expected to severely constrain livelihoods and economic development.”

According to Breisinger, possible solutions to mitigate climate change impact on water scarcity include: increasing water use efficiency, and investing in alternative sources of water.

The former can be achieved through investing in improved irrigation schemes and improving wastewater reuse, while the latter includes investing more in desalination technology, water harvesting, groundwater extraction, he explained.

Breisinger added that the share of people living in urban areas is projected to overtake the share living in rural areas in most MENA countries by 2030—with the notable exceptions of Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

“In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanisation can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods. This likely trend provides an opportunity for agroindustry-led economic transformation in the MENA region to generate employment opportunities, improve food security, and reduce poverty.”

Credit: IFPRI

The Double Burden of Malnutrition

Asked about the “the double burden of malnutrition” in MENA, i.e. “over-and-under-nutrition,” he said this has been particularly prevalent in middle-income countries and especially those in the region.

“Egypt faces relatively more pronounced instances of the double burden of malnutrition than other developing countries. For instance, almost every third Egyptian child under five years of age is chronically undernourished, while 78 per cent of all (non-pregnant) ever-married women 15–49 years of age are overweight.”

According to the researcher, addressing these challenges through the reform of existing policies and programs can be expected to make a critical contribution to accelerating the country’s economic and social development.

Economic and Social Safety Net Reforms in Egypt

Many of the economic challenges that Egypt is facing today have for decades been deeply rooted in the country, he said. “To tackle these longstanding issues, such as slow progress in economic diversification and persistently high levels of unemployment and poverty, Egypt recently embarked on a historic economic reform process.”

The year 2016 witnessed several of these reforms, including the imposition of a value-added tax (in August 2016), the floatation of the Egyptian pound (in November 2016), and further reductions in energy subsidies (in November 2016, following the 2014 partial removal of the subsidy,) explained Breisinger.

The Egyptian government estimates current population growth rate of 2.4 per cent, which is double the average of other developing countries. Much of that growth is concentrated in urban areas, with the Cairo metropolitan area expected to grow by half a million people by the end of 2017, more than any other city in the world.

In addition, armed conflict and drought in the region are exacerbating the challenges high growth and urbanisation bring, by adding displaced migrants and refugees to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations, according to the report.

To meet the challenges of feeding these ballooning populations, IFPRI’s director general stressed the importance of connecting rural and urban areas.

“Improving rural-urban linkages can decrease hunger and malnutrition, and bring growth and prosperity in both rural and urban areas,” he said.

“Connecting farmers to cities provides farmers access to large markets where they can sell higher-value crops, and can provide city dwellers with access to more healthy and nutritious foods.”

IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyse alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups. It is member of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development.

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