Interpress News Service

Financing Will Continue to be Key Issue in Battling Climate Change

17 November 2017 - 2:02pm

Extreme poverty makes women more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Credit: IPS

By Paula Caballero
BONN, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

“The Bonn climate talks were foundational, paving the way to finalize the rules that underpin the Paris Agreement next year and setting the stage for countries to commit to enhance their national climate plans by 2020. On both counts, the climate talks in Bonn were a success. However, negotiators have plenty of homework to do to get there.

“An appeal for developed countries to ramp up their climate efforts before 2020 became an unexpectedly prominent topic at the talks. Delegates reached common ground by agreeing to form special stocktaking sessions to review progress towards curbing emissions and delivering on climate finance in the immediate term.

“Today, the Fiji Presidency unveiled a roadmap for the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue, a year-long process to assess progress and identify opportunities for countries to make bolder commitments. This process will conclude at the climate summit in Poland next year. As the birth place for nationally determined contributions (NDCs), Poland can uphold its legacy by facilitating a smooth path to the next round of national climate commitments.

“As climate change intensifies, so too will its devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people. Climate finance is critical to help developing countries respond to climate change. Support is and will continue to be an important issue in these negotiations.

“Outside the negotiating rooms, a broad range of voices continue to show strong support for climate action. We heard from companies like HP Inc., Mars, and Wal-Mart, which are among over 320 major companies that have committed to or have already set science-based emissions targets.

The Global Covenant of Mayors brings together 7,500 cities and local government with the potential to reduce the equivalent of 1.7 billion tons of emissions.

“Having already abandoned its leadership role, the Trump administration appears to be living in an alternate universe with its ill-advised focus on fossil fuels. And now that the United States is the only nation that is not on board with the Paris Agreement, the Trump Administration should carefully consider whether being completely isolated on the climate issue really benefits their agenda.

“While the U.S. official presence was subdued in the negotiations, the surge of subnational action in the U.S. is undeniable. The America’s Pledge report shows that a coalition of U.S. states, cities and businesses – equivalent to more than half of the U.S. economy and population – are carrying U.S. climate action forward.

“We are living in unusual and alarming times. The latest studies show that global emissions are again on the rise and the world is off track of where it needs to be. People are feeling the impacts from climate change that have long been predicted — from mega-storms that struck Florida and Texas, to hurricanes in the Caribbean and massive flooding in parts of Africa and South Asia.

In the coming months, we need a greater sense of urgency to make the deep shifts needed in our economies to address the global climate challenge. 2018 needs to be the year for countries step up.”

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The Birth of a Dictator

17 November 2017 - 8:26am

Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest.

The Cambodian government has launched a fierce crackdown on the opposition. For a few months now, politicians, journalist and activists have been harassed to make their work impossible. A new low point was reached on Thursday when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) ahead of the elections in 2018. Only the CNRP could have competed with the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party), which has been in power for more than three decades. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving prime minister."Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It's a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful." --Mu Sochua, vice president of the CNRP

The official dissolution of the CNRP was just a formality. The president of the Supreme Court is also a top committee member of de CPP and a longtime ally of Hun Sen. In Cambodia, justice is an auxiliary of the government – and the prime minister is pulling all the strings firmly, now more than ever.

“I could easily continue for another 10 years,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen told reporters on Thursday. Consequently, he acknowledged that he doesn’t consider an election as a consultation of the people, but as a way to varnish his dictatorial regime with a thin layer of legitimacy. The CNRP was the last democratic obstacle to his power over the country’s resources, which he needs to buy support from the elite.

Fear of reprisals

Since the government stepped up the crackdown on democracy, few Cambodians dare to speak out in public – certainly since the murder of Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic. That was a turning point. Until then, Cambodians thought that their country would slowly become more democratic. But that hope was buried together with Kem Ley in his hometown Takeo.

His mother is cutting vegetables at the grave of her son. Phauk Se had done that every day since July 2016. Next to the burial site are pictures taken moments after the shooting. Kem Ley is lying between tables and chairs, a puddle of blood under this head. He was killed while he was having his morning coffee in a gas station in Phnom Penh.

The 80-year-old mother receives guest every day with soup and a friendly chat. The grave of her son has become a place of pilgrimage. The gunman is behind bars. “That’s not the real killer,” Phauk Se says in a timid voice. “If the government really wanted, they would have found the real culprit.”

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

No Cambodian believes that the killer acted alone. But nobody dares to express their suspicion. “Who has the real power? There is only one party who can organize such a murder,” says Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, without naming it. “There was a second finger on the trigger, and everyone knows whose finger that was.”

Meanwhile at the market of Takeo, business is not good. Shopkeepers are lying in hammocks, waiting for customers. Mao Much Nech, a salesman of cheap jewelry, doesn’t want to say what party he supports. “That’s sensitive. But the government has lost dignity and credit because of the murder. It’s time to wake up and fight back.”

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” a woman says in her stall filled with colorful dresses. “We want change.” Most of the shopkeepers at the market use the same word to express their disappointment with the government.

Blood on the streets

The CPP knows it can’t survive a new popularity test. The CNRP almost won the elections of 2013. It made more progress with the local elections in June. It’s evident that the elections due in July 2018 are causing anxiety at the CPP headquarters. To prevent a defeat, it has started the final assault on the opposition. The CNRP is now dissolved and the party’s president Kem Sokha is in prison. Five thousand mandatories lost their jobs and half of the 55 members of parliament have fled the country.

Mu Sochua is one of them. She is preparing a vegetable soup during the phone call with this reporter. The sound of cutting, chopping and grating makes a fitting backdrop to the combative language of the vice-president of the CNRP.

“The dissolution of the CNRP is a big miscalculation of Hun Sen. The discontent will only continue to rise. Until now the CNRP has channeled this peacefully. But soon people might take their anger to the streets,” Mu says from a Moroccan kitchen. She fled Cambodia after she was tipped off about her impending arrest.

“It needs only one spark to start violent protests, like Tunisia and the Arab Spring,” the politician says while igniting a gas stove. “I’m very afraid of violence. Hun Sen will do anything to stay in power. If people would dare to protest, the tanks will be waiting. Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It’s a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful.”

The exiled Mu Sochua is now traveling the world to find support for the grassroots movement for democracy in Cambodia. “The CNRP is more than a party. We don’t care about the political game. We want democracy in Cambodia, that’s our real job.”

Sanctions please

The offices of the CNRP headquarters echo hollowly. The building is quiet and almost empty. A few guards are watching a Korean soap opera. Lawmaker Kimsour Phirith may get arrested any moment, but he keeps on smiling. “I’m not afraid. I have done nothing wrong. The CPP is afraid – of losing power.”

“We are witnessing the death of democracy in Cambodia,” Kimsour says. “Hun Sen is showing his true face. He is a dictator now. We are counting on the West. Only economic sanctions can help us.”

The Cambodian economy strongly depends on tourism and the garment industry. If the factories stop producing, 700,000 workers will lose their jobs. Hun Sun would have a major crisis on his hands.

The government may think that Beijing will come to rescue. China has proved in recent years that it has the will and the money to back up Phnom Penh. “But that’s not guaranteed,” says Ou Chanrath, who lost his job as a lawmaker on Thursday. “The Chinese are still dependent on the West. The garment factories are Chinese, but the exports go to the West. When sanctions hit Cambodia, they will pack their bags.”

Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The European Union issued a critical statement in which it linked human rights with access to the European bloc’s reduced and zero tariff trade scheme. The US government decided to discontinue funding for the NEC (the Cambodian election body), in case it still bothered to organise elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen tried to reassure the nation on Thursday evening. In his speech he said – without any hint of irony – that the government is still deeply committed to democracy. CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann reacted by saying that “they can never remove the CNRP from the heart of the people.”

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Rejoicing in the Other and Celebrating Diversity Are Needed More than Ever to Address the Root-Causes of Intolerance

16 November 2017 - 12:39pm

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalization – targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons – that is taking effect in many regions of the world.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

In his statement issued in relation to the observation of the 2017 International Day for Tolerance, the Geneva Centre’s Chairman remarked that people in conflict zones or in areas affected by climate change are left with no other option than to flee their home societies owing to the rise of violent extremism and the adverse impact of armed conflict. Dr. Al Qassim said:

“Meanwhile, populist movements and right-wing parties seek to legitimize their political ideologies through hate rhetoric, bigotry and stereotyping of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

“Exclusion and marginalization of displaced people – as witnessed in several countries – exacerbate xenophobia, bigotry and racism. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This explains the rise of social exclusion which leaves the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness,” stated the Chairman of the Geneva Centre.

Dr. Al Qassim called upon societies both in the Arab region and in the West to stand united in addressing simultaneously the rise of violent extremism and of populism. He also appealed to global decision-makers to step up their efforts to create a climate that is conducive to respecting the dignity of all communities and to the achievement of peace and stability in regions affected by conflict and violence.

“Changing people’s narratives and managing diversity is key to facilitating a successful integration process of displaced people in host societies and to overcome the worrying trend of a toxic discourse against the ‘Other’ that is gaining ground in many societies around the world.

“We need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about one another and to break down the walls of ignorance and prejudice that have insulated societies,”
highlighted Dr. Al. Qassim.

Against this background, he added the Geneva Centre is in the process of arranging a World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.” This event – Dr. Al Qassim noted – will be convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva in June 2018 and will bring together leaders from the world’s main religions whether spiritual or lay.

“The ambition of this conference is to chart a more inclusive understanding and forward-looking discussion in addressing religious intolerance and in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights. This will obviate the need for diverse segments of a native population to fall back on sub-identities heretofore referred to as ‘minorities’.

“The World Conference will become an opportunity to harness the collective energy of religious and lay leaders to capitalize on the convergence between religious faiths, beliefs and value systems to respond with a unified voice to the sweeping rise of intolerance affecting the world.

“In moments where the fear of the stranger has become the norm in many societies, rejoicing in the Other and celebrating diversity are needed more than ever to address the root-causes of intolerance worldwide,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Decent Toilets for Women & Girls Vital for Gender Equality

16 November 2017 - 11:55am

Tim Wainwright is Chief Executive at WaterAid

By Tim Wainwright
LONDON, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

This weekend marks World Toilet Day (November 19)– and the news is disheartening. One in three people are still waiting for a toilet; still having to face the indignity and often fear of relieving themselves in the open or using unsafe or unhygienic toilets.

Tim Wainwright, CEO, WaterAid UK

It is frustrating that the headline statistics have not made greater progress two years into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), when having a toilet is such a fundamental boost to gender equality, as well as health, education and economic opportunity.

In ‘Out of Order: State of the World’s Toilets 2017’, WaterAid’s annual analysis based on WHO-Unicef Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) data, we show that Ethiopia is now the worst country in the world for having the highest percentage of people without toilets, with a staggering 93% lacking access to basic household facilities. India remains the nation with the most people without toilets – 732.2 million people are still waiting for even basic sanitation.

Being denied access to safe, private toilets is particularly dangerous for women and girls, impacting on their health and education, and exposing them to an increased risk of harassment and even attack

There have been some improvements. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of people defecating in the open globally dropped from 1.2 billion (20% of the world’s population) to 892 million (12%). India is making incredible strides with its Clean India Mission, progress that has not yet been fully captured in the JMP data. In Ethiopia, the number of people defecating in the open has dropped from nearly 80% in 2000 to 27% today – a tremendous step towards the goal of safe sanitation for all.

However, change is not happening fast enough.

The 10 worst countries for access to basic sanitation are all in sub-Saharan Africa, where progress has been abysmally slow. In 2000, 75% of people lacked access to even basic toilets; by 2015, this had only dropped to 72%.

Population growth and the huge numbers of people moving to cities where services can’t keep up means sanitation is falling behind; the number of people practising open defecation in the region has actually increased.

Nigeria is among the countries where open defecation is increasing and is No. 3 in the world’s worst countries for the number of people without toilets. This comes at a heavy price: A WaterAid survey revealed one in five women in Lagos have experienced harassment or been physically threatened or assaulted when going for open defecation or using shared latrines. Anecdotal evidence suggests the problem may be underreported.

Rahab, 20, lives in a camp for internally displaced people in Abuja, where there are no decent toilets.

She said: “We go to the toilet in the bush. It is risky as there are snakes, and I have also experienced some attacks from boys. It is not safe early in the morning or in the night as you can meet anyone. They drink alcohol and will touch you and if you don’t like it, they will force you. If I see men when I go to the toilet, I go back home and hold it in.”

Imagine every time you need the toilet you are frightened. And what scares you is not only the threats you can see – any community without decent toilets is contaminated with human waste.

Diarrhoeal diseases linked to dirty water and poor sanitation and hygiene claim the lives of 289,000 children under 5 each year, while repeated bouts of diarrhoea contribute to malnutrition and stunting, causing impaired development and weakened immune systems.

Women who have suffered stunting are more likely to experience obstructions when giving birth. Poor sanitation and hygiene also increase the risk of infection during and after childbirth, with sepsis accounting for over one in ten of maternal deaths worldwide.

Girls are more likely to miss classes while on their periods when their schools don’t have private toilets, and the same goes for female workers in factories that don’t have decent facilities. None of this is acceptable and so much is preventable.

The world promised that by 2030 everyone will have a safe toilet, but at the current rate of progress, even the moment when everyone basic provision will be decades after that. Next summer, leaders will review progress on Goal 6 to ensure universal access to water and sanitation. As countries prepare for this, there needs to be a dramatic step change in ambition and action.

It is a no-brainer. For every $1 spent on water and sanitation, $4 is returned in increased productivity as less time is lost through sickness. We need governments and donors to acknowledge the importance of sanitation and make the urgent long-term investments needed.

Girls and women should feed into the decision making process to make sure the services meet their needs whatever their age or physical ability. And the issue of sanitation must be taken out of its cubicle – the health, education and business sector must realise that providing safe, accessible toilets to all within their premises is non-negotiable.

Only then girls and women be able to fully participate in their communities, enjoying the health, education and gender equality premiums brought by just being able to use a safe toilet.

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Climate Change: The World’s Poorest Will Judge us by Action

16 November 2017 - 9:48am

Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu is UN High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

By Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu
BONN, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

Two years ago, 197 parties came together in Paris and agreed to the historical Paris Framework. Since that December 2015, we all have seen countless pictures of utterly devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes happening more and more frequently all over our planet mainly affecting the poorest among us.

Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu

The pictures may appear remote to our own lives when we look at them in the safety of our houses on our screens. They are often a mere flash in the evening news. They may give rise to a family discussion, for others they induce anxiety, but none of the pictures can ever fully convey the utter devastation affected families are left with, the suffering of children left orphaned, the despondency of adolescents not seeing a future, the broken elderly person left without hope.

Whilst in Bonn this week for COP23, which is scheduled to conclude November 17, I have two words at the forefront of my mind. One is a word from my own culture ‘ talanoa ‘, the Pacific Islands’ word for dialogue. The other word is urgency. This for me is not yet another meeting, yet another travel, yet another series of talks.

I grew up as an islander and my child has grown up an islander. The word urgency for us is a word full of action, doing and ‘talanoa’ brings people together to talk.

As the representative of the UN Secretary- General for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable 91 countries, which make up more than one billion people on our shared planet, I am in Bonn for the 23rd conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Whilst here I am advocating for the world’s poorest and most challenged countries and above all expecting to get down to the nuts and bolts of taking urgent action. And urgent it is as commitments are already faltering and yet the times have never been more critical for the world’s most vulnerable nations.

These 91 diverse countries span our globe, each country faces unique challenges yet all are countries that have one feature in common – they contribute the least to climate change but feel its effects the most. They range from beautiful small islands in remote areas, with fragile ecosystems and rich cultural heritage, to landlocked states in the world’s mountain ranges and countries which span the length of Africa’s deserts, cities and forests.

Who has not marvelled at the picture perfect images of the South Seas, the beautiful mountains of the Himalayas, the imposing gold coloured sandy seas of the world’s deserts? It is these countries and their peoples most in need of action , immediate, urgent action.

Can we really just continue to marvel on the one hand at the beauty of their nature and then forget how our shared planet’s poorest and most vulnerable increasingly suffer the life-threatening effects of climate change? Are we prepared to leave them behind?

We live in times where the short-term, the ‘obvious’ almost appear to be the diktat of action. We live in times where the extremes draw attention. I must though caution you that many of the climate change effects on human lives and our very existence are not always as obvious as they may seem.

Yes, extreme weather events make our news headlines. But what about the affects of slow onset events such as sea level rise concerning all of the island nations, the glacial retreats, advancing desertification and biodiversity loss ? These are slow events but affecting the lives and livelihoods of communities.

The island nation of Fiji is the COP23 president in Bonn. This is the very first time an island nation has presided over the UN’s annual climate conference. Fiji’s presidency is not merely symbolic but represents a critical juncture in which some of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, the small island developing States, will be centre stage.

Island countries have been at the forefront of the strong push for greater ambition in global climate action. At the Paris climate conference in 2015, islanders were among those that led the charge for greater ambition through the aptly named ‘High Ambition Coalition.’

There is a very simple, existential reason for this. Island countries are well aware that the difference between a 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees goal of warming potentially means the loss of their islands and displacement of their people. It simply means a continued rise in sea levels and more destructive storms. Sea level rises coupled with the warming of oceans means more than just submerging islands, this deeply impacts overall extreme weather event occurrence.

Fiji knows first hand what climate change means. Fiji suffered from the destruction of Cyclone Winston in 2016, the most severe cyclone to ever make landfall in the Pacific and which left more than USD1 billion in damages.

And yet, progress in achieving the individual pledges which were made towards achieving the Paris Agreement are not on track to halt, let alone reverse climate change. It is highly alarming that the nationally determined contributions by countries currently amount to only a third of the emissions cuts needed by 2030.

Our window for reversing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius upper limit which leaders agreed to in Paris is closing rapidly. Studies indicate that we have until 2020, a mere three years, to implement mitigation action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

If we continue as we do right now, we may miss this opportunity to radically reduce global emissions in the next couple of years. This has a very serious bearing on how we go about achieving the UN’s wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Yet, there also are signs for hope. After all, Paris managed to bring together 197 parties to adopt the Paris Agreement. Importantly, it is the most vulnerable countries themselves working urgently to make a stand. Bhutan, for example, implements an initiative linking climate data with public health for greater resilience to climate change and more advanced warning systems for climate sensitive diseases.

Mali, where climate change has led to more and ever more severe droughts, works with women’s cooperatives in agricultural communities to clear plots for food gardens, helping to access clean water and solar power in an effort to ease the social and economic consequences of climate change, which can often also lead to conflict.

The time is now to ‘walk the talk’ and be consistent with our noble ambitions commitments is now. We must scale up support to the world’s most vulnerable countries. The world’s poorest will judge us by action.

We must practice Talanoa, dialogue. Talanoa is vital as we move forward. All countries, each one of us has a stake in tackling climate change. It is key to close the gap between what countries are currently prepared to do and what is necessary to avoid catastrophic future consequences by lack of action. The cost of inaction will be far higher than ramping up investments in climate mitigation now.

For the world’s most vulnerable countries, urgency is not a buzzword but an active state of mind and reality. Real lives and whole countries are at stake. The situation cannot get more urgent than this. Let us together walk the talk.

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Good to Know (Perhaps) That Food Is Being ‘Nuclearised’

16 November 2017 - 8:00am

Using nuclear sciences to feed the world. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

It might sound strange, very strange, but the news is that scientists and experts have been assuring, over and again, that using nuclear applications in agriculture –and thus in food production—are giving a major boost to food security. So how does this work?

To start with, nuclear applications in agriculture rely on the use of isotopes and radiation techniques to combat pests and diseases, increase crop production, protect land and water resources, and ensure food safety and authenticity, as well as increase livestock production.

This is how the UN food and agriculture organisation and the UN atomic energy agency explain this technique, highlighting that some of the most innovative ways being used to improve agricultural practices involve nuclear technology.

Both the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have been expanding knowledge and enhancing capacity in this area for over 50 years.

Climate Change

One reason is that the global climate is changing, altering the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and seriously impacting food security.

Rising sea levels, ecosystem stress, glacier melt and altering river systems exacerbate the vulnerability of particular social groups and economic sectors, FAO reports, adding that it is also altering the distribution, incidence and intensity of terrestrial and aquatic animal and plant pests and diseases.

“Most developing countries are already subject to an enormous disease burden, and both developing and developed countries could be affected by newly emerging diseases. Making global agricultural systems resilient to these changes is critical for efforts to achieve global food security.”

The two UN agencies have been assisting countries to develop capacity to optimise their use of nuclear techniques to confront and mitigate impacts of climate change on agricultural systems and food security – nuclear techniques that can increase crop tolerance to drought, salinity or pests; reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase carbon sequestration from agricultural systems.

They can also track and control insect pests and animal diseases; adjust livestock feed to reduce emissions and improve breeding; optimise natural resource management through isotopic tracking of soil, water and crops; and provide information essential for assessing ecosystem changes and for forecast modelling.

The results of “using nuclear sciences to feed the world” have led to some major success stories, they say.

The agricultural sector uses nuclear and related technologies to adapt to climate change by increasing resource-use efficiency and productivity in a sustainable way. Credit: FAO

Seven Examples

FAO provides the following seven examples of how nuclear technology is improving food and agriculture:

1. Animal Productivity… and Health

Nuclear and related technologies have made a difference in improving livestock productivity, controlling and preventing trans-boundary animal diseases and protecting the environment.

For example, Cameroon uses nuclear technology effectively in its livestock reproduction, breeding, artificial insemination and disease control programmes. By crossing the Bos indicus and the Bos taurus (two local cattle breeds), farmers have tripled their milk yields – from 500 to 1 500 litres – and generated an additional 110 million dollars in farmer income per year.

Another programme has dramatically curbed the incidence of Brucellosis, a highly contagious zoonosis, or disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans who drink unpasteurised milk or eat undercooked meat from infected animals.

2. Soils and Water

Nuclear techniques are now used in many countries to help maintain healthy soil and water systems, which are paramount in ensuring food security for the growing global population.

For instance, in Benin, a scheme involving 5 000 rural farmers increased the maize yield by 50 per cent and lowered the amount of fertiliser used by 70 per cent with techniques that facilitate nitrogen fixation.

Similarly, nuclear techniques allow Maasai farmers in Kenya to schedule small-scale irrigation, doubling vegetable yields while applying only 55 per cent of the water that would normally be applied using traditional hand watering.

3. Pests

The nuclear-derived sterile insect technique (SIT) involves mass-rearing and sterilising male insects before releasing them over pest-infested areas.

The technique suppresses and gradually eliminates already established pests or prevents the introduction of invasive species – and is safer for the environment and human health than conventional pesticides.

The governments of Guatemala, Mexico and the United States have been using the SIT for decades to prevent the northward spread of the Mediterranean fruit fly (medfly) into Mexico and USA.

In addition, Guatemala sends hundreds of millions of sterile male medflies every week to the US states of California and Florida to protect valuable crops, such as citrus fruits. With the sterile male medflies unable to reproduce, it is really the perfect insect birth control.

The nuclear-derived sterile insect technique (SIT) involves mass-rearing and sterilizing male insects before releasing them over pest-infested areas. Credit: FAO

4. Food Safety

Food safety and quality control systems need to be robust at the national level to facilitate the trade of safe food and to combat food fraud, which costs the food industry up to 15 billion dollars annually.

Nuclear techniques help national authorities in over 50 countries to improve food safety by addressing the problem of harmful residues and contaminants in food products and to improve their traceability systems with stable isotope analysis.

For example, scientific programmes in Pakistan, Angola and Mozambique now enable the testing for veterinary drug residues and contaminants in animal products.

Already some 50 Pakistani food production and export institutions benefit from the new laboratory testing capabilities, which help ensure they meet international food standards and boost the country’s reputation in the international food trade.

5. Emergency Response

Radioactivity is present in everything that surrounds us – from the sun to soil. But should a nuclear incident or emergency happen, an understanding of the movement of radioactivity through the environment becomes crucial to prevent or alleviate the impact on agricultural products.
During the 2011 nuclear emergency in Japan, FAO and IAEA compiled an extensive and authoritative database on food contaminated with radioisotopes. This database supported the information exchange and facilitated appropriate follow-up actions to protect consumers, the agri-food sector and the world at large.

6. Climate Change

The agricultural sector uses nuclear and related technologies to adapt to climate change by increasing resource-use efficiency and productivity in a sustainable way.

The nuclear-derived crossbreeding programme in Burkina Faso is a great example of helping farmers to breed more productive and climate-resistant animals. It is underpinned by genetic evaluations in four national laboratories, with scientists also able to use associated technology to produce a lick feed that provides the bigger, more productive livestock with the nutrients they need.

7. Seasonal Famine

Crop-breeding programmes use nuclear technology to help vulnerable countries ensure food security, adapt to climate change and even to tackle seasonal famine. New mutant crop varieties shorten the growing process, thereby allowing farmers to plant additional crops during the growing season.

In recent years, farmers in northern Bangladesh have been using a fast-maturing mutant rice variety called Binadhan-7. This variety ripens 30 days quicker than normal rice, giving farmers time to harvest other crops and vegetables within the same season.

Now that you know that food has been “nuclearised”… enjoy your meal!

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Coal Pollution Continues to Spread in Latin America

15 November 2017 - 5:23pm

In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
BONN, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source.

These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and renewable sources, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, approved in December 2015.

“Latín America doesn’t have a major global role in the sector, but it does have influence on the region…Colombia (for example) exports lots of coal. The problem is that there are many projects in the pipeline and that’s a threat of locking-in dependency for years,” Heffa Schucking, head of the non-governmental organisation Urgewald, told IPS in the German city of Bonn.

The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL), drawn up by the German organisation, reflects the use of coal in the region, in a global context.“A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn't only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.” -- Heffa Schucking

Urgewald presented the report during the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Nov. 6-17 in Bonn, a city that is part of what used to be Germany’s industrial belt, driven precisely by coal.

The list, a comprehensive database of some 770 companies participating in the thermal coal industry, points out that in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installed thermoelectric capacity based on coal amounts to 17,909 MW, most of which operates in Mexico (5,351 MW), Chile, (5,101 MW) and Brazil (4,355 MW).

However, new projects for the use of coal will add an additional 8,427 MW, of which Chile will contribute 2,647, Brazil 1,540, the Dominican Republic 1,070, Venezuela 1,000, Jamaica 1,000, Colombia 850 and Panama 320. These ventures will further expand the use of coal in the region, hindering its removal to combat climate change.

The GCEL identifies 14 companies based in the region, of which five are Brazilian, another five Colombian and one per country from Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It also identifies transnational corporations that operating in the coal industry in the region such as the U.S.-based AES and Drummond; Italy’s Enel, France’s Engie, the Anglo-Swiss Glencore, the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton and the British Anglo American.

At COP 23, whose electricity comes partially from the lignite mine Hambach, near Bonn, the protests against coal have resonated, due to the major role it plays in the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads “coal to museums”, during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombia extracts the largest volume of coal in the area – 90 million tons in 2016 – in a sector dominated by Drummond, Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo American.

Since 2013, coal extraction in Colombia has ranged between 85 and 90 million tons, mainly from open-pit mines and chiefly for export.

Meanwhile, thermoelectric generation from coal climbed to 1,369.5 MW in 2016.

Brazil produces about eight million tons of coal per year and operates 21 coal-fired thermoelectric plants, generating 3.71 million kilowatts, equivalent to 2.27 percent of the country’s installed capacity.

In 2015, Mexico produced about 7.25 million tons a year, the lowest level in recent years due to the fact that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has reduced its coal imports.

The country’s coal-fired power generation totaled 30.124 billion MW/h in 2015, 34.208 billion in 2016 and 24.274 billion in 2017, from three CFE plants.

Chile is one of the largest thermoelectric generators in the region, with 29 coal-fired power plants that produce 14,291 MW, equivalent to 61.5 percent of the national installed capacity.

Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian environmental organisations, complained that his country lacks a clear policy on coal.

“There are renewable energy goals for 2030, but the electricity capacity continues to be auctioned for fossil fuels and more thermoelectric plants are being built. There is no link between the energy agenda” and the voluntary goals of reducing polluting gases in Brazil, Rittl stressed.

The Brazilian ecologist is one of the 20,000 participants at COP 23, who include academics and delegates from government, civil society, international organisations and the business community.

The GCEL covers 88 percent of the world’s coal production and 86 percent of coal-driven thermoelectric installed capacity.

In addition, the database identifies 225 companies that plan to expand coal mining, and 282 that project more power plants.

Of the 328 mining companies listed, 30 are responsible for more than half of the world’s coal production, and of the 324 thermoelectric plants, the largest 31 cover more than half of the global installed capacity.

The campaign seeks for investors to withdraw funds from the coal industry, in order to cancel new projects and gradually close down existing plants.

Colombia has 16.54 billion tons in coal reserves. Mariana Rojas, director of Climate Change in the Environment Ministry, acknowledged to IPS the difficulty of abandoning coal.

“Different strategies are being used for the different sectors. We want to encourage the increase of renewables in the energy mix; they have become more competitive due to the lower prices. But we cannot reach all sectors,” she said.

Coal was left out of the carbon tax created by the December 2016 tax reform – a reflection of the industry’s clout.

The report “Coal in Colombia: Who wins? Who loses? Mining, global trade and climate change“, drawn up in 2015 by the non-governmental Tierra Digna Centre for Studies on Social Justice, warned that the Andean country plans to continue mining coal until at least 2079.

Brazil already has another plant under construction with a capacity of 340 MW, and plans for at least six more facilities, that would generate 804 MW.

Mexico is in a similar situation, since the current mining permits would expire in 2062, for over 700 million tons in reserves.

Since 2015, the state-run company CFE has been holding online auctions of coal, to control the supply of more than two million tons per year and regulate the activity.

Urgewald’s Schucking called for turning off the financial tap for these projects. “A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn’t only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.”

Germany has set a 2018 deadline for shutting down its last coal mines, while Canada announced that it would stop using coal by 2030 and Italy promised to do so by 2025.

“The first step is to eliminate subsidies for coal” and redirect them to solar and wind energy, Rittl proposed.

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Girls in Afghanistan—and Everywhere Else—Need Toilets

15 November 2017 - 5:04pm

Girls cover their faces to protect themselves from the stench of a filthy and malfunctioning restroom in their school. at this school, girls have no toilets of their own and their only option is to use the ones on the far side of the buildings where the boys study. They do not have locking doors and are several minutes’ walk from a water point. ©2017 Paula Bronstein for Human Rights Watch

By Heather Barr and Amanda Klasing

“I never come here, just because of boys,” Atifa says, pointing at the door of the stall. “They’re opening the door.” Atifa, a sixth grader in Kabul, Afghanistan, attends a school of 650 girls. Since they study in tents in a vacant lot, the only toilets the girls have access to are on the far side of the boys’ school next door. The school is one of a very few for girls in the area, so some students walk over an hour each way to get there.

The toilets in the boys’ school consist of two separate blocks of pit toilets with four stalls per block. Both blocks are used by the boys, none of the stalls have locking doors, and none are reserved for  the girls’ use. On the day Atifa showed Human Rights Watch around, the floors were awash with urine and feces.

The school’s only water point—for drinking, handwashing, and any other uses— is a several-minute walk down a hill. Girls using the toilets have to cope with sexual harassment from male students on the way there, and boys trying to open the stall doors while girls are using the toilet.

When we interviewed girls, parents, and experts about this situation for a new report they said  that lack of access to toilets is a major barrier to education for girls in Afghanistan. Sixty  percent of schools here do not have toilets, 85 percent of out-of-school children are girls, and two-thirds of girls ages 12 to 15 are out of school.

Lack of access to toilets is a major barrier to education for girls in Afghanistan. 60% of schools here do not have toilets, 85% of out-of-school children are girls, and two-thirds of girls ages 12 to 15 are out of school.
Lack of access to clean, safe, private toilets is a major barrier around the world to girls like Atifa, and it’s an issue that disproportionately affects girls. No child should have to attend a school without toilets. But put bluntly, where toilets are not available it is easier–and more socially accepted–for boys to urinate outside than for girls, even in countries with far less strict views on girls’ behavior than Afghanistan.

When girls reach puberty and begin menstruation, the problem becomes even worse. Without privacy in the toilets, somewhere to dispose of waste or clean reusable hygiene materials, and running water in close proximity to toilets, girls face great difficulty managing menstrual hygiene. This leads many girls to stay home during their periods, and as these absences accumulate, they fall behind on their studies, suffer poor academic achievement, and are at increased risk of dropping out completely.

Countries around the world have recognized the need to reach universal coverage for sanitation—put simply people should be able to use a safe, hygienic toilet wherever they are—home, work, the hospital, and, yes, at school. As part of the global sustainable development goals– the 17 goals agreed upon by the United Nations in 2015 as part of a new sustainable development agenda– governments have set ambitious targets to end open defecation and achieve universal access to basic sanitation services by 2030.

Such a clarion call is nearly herculean. Six out of every 10 people in the world lack safely managed sanitation. That is 4.5 billion people. Given these numbers, it is easy to conclude a safe toilet is a privilege of the rich and urban, not a universal right.

Today is World Toilet Day. An odd thing to celebrate, perhaps. Yet, given those numbers it’s easy to see why we should stop and consider the humble toilet and all the benefits it provides to those who have access to it. For starters, those of us who can use the toilet and wash our hands are at reduced risk of the diarrheal diseases that claim the lives of more than 350,000 children a year.

But sanitation is more than just a privilege or a tool to prevent disease. It is a fundamental human right, one that can  enable people to realize other rights—like the right to health. For girls like Atifa, a simple, safe and private toilet can be essential to putting education within reach.

Governments will face many competing demands as they work to try to reach universal coverage by 2030. In the crush of priorities, there is a grave risk that the most marginalized and vulnerable will be left behind. In Afghanistan and in places around the world where girls have to fight and struggle to receive a basic education, toilets in school for girls should  not be lost in the shuffle.


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IOM Learns of ‘Slave Market’ Conditions Endangering Migrants in North Africa

15 November 2017 - 2:19pm

Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
Libya, Nov 15 2017 (IOM)

Over the past weekend, IOM staff in Niger and Libya documented shocking events on North African migrant routes, which they have described as ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as SC to protect his identity) who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

According to SC’s testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay 200,000 CFA (about USD 320) to continue north, towards Libya. A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

The journey – over two days of travelling – through the desert was relatively smooth for this group. IOM has often heard from other migrants on this route who report seeing the remains of others abandoned by their drivers – and of trucks ransacked by bandits who siphon away their fuel.

SC’s fate was different. When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. “Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported this week.

SC described being ‘bought’ and then being brought to his first ‘prison’, a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages.

He said the kidnappers made the migrants call their families back home, and often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured. In order to be released from this first house, SC was asked to pay 300,000 CFA (about USD 480), which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house – where a new price was set for his release: 600,000 CFA (about USD 970), to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.

SC managed to get some money from his family via mobile phone and then agreed to work as an interpreter for the kidnappers, to avoid further beatings. He described dreadful sanitary conditions, and food offered only once per day. Some migrants who couldn’t pay were reportedly killed, or left to starve to death.

SC told IOM that when somebody died or was released, kidnappers returned to the market to ‘buy’ more migrants to replace them. Women, too, were ‘bought’ by private individuals – Libyans, according to this witness – and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves.

IOM collects information from migrants returning from Libya and passing through IOM transit centres in Niamey and Agadez. “Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories. They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers. Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself,” said an IOM Niger staffer.

During the past week, IOM Libya learned of other kidnapping cases, like those IOM Niger has knowledge of.

Adam* (not his real name) was kidnapped together with 25 other Gambians while traveling from Sabha to Tripoli. An armed Gambian man and two Arab men kidnapped the party and took them to a ‘prison’ where some 200 men and several women were being held.

According to this witness, the captives were from several African nations. Adam explained that captives were beaten each day and forced to call their families to pay for their release. It took nine months for Adam’s father to collect enough money for Adam’s release, after selling the family house.

Adam said the kidnappers took him to Tripoli where he was released. There, a Libyan man found him and due to his poor health condition, took him to the hospital. The hospital staff published a post on Facebook requesting assistance. An IOM colleague saw the post and referred the case to an IOM doctor who visited him in the hospital. Adam spent 3 weeks in the hospital trying to recover from severe malnutrition – he weighed just 35 kilograms – and the physical wounds from torture.

Upon release from the hospital, IOM found a host family who sheltered him for approximately one month, while the IOM doctor and protection colleagues made frequent visits to the host family to provide Adam with food and medication and assist him with his rehabilitation. They also brought him fresh clothes.

Adam was also able to call his family in the Gambia, and after his condition stabilized, he was assisted by IOM Libya’s voluntary returns programme. On 4 April, he returned to Gambia.

The IOM doctor escorted Adam to Gambia where he was reunited with his family and immediately hospitalized. IOM Libya will continue to pay for his treatment in Gambia and he will also receive a reintegration grant.

Another case IOM learned of this month, involves a young woman being held in what she describes as a warehouse near the port in Misrata by Somalian kidnappers. She is believed to have been held captive for at least 3 months, although the exact dates are unknown. Her husband and young son have lived in the United Kingdom since 2012, and they have been receiving demands for money.

It has been reported that this victim is subjected to rape and physical assault. The husband has paid via family and members of the Somalia community USD 7,500, although they have recently been told the kidnappers are demanding a second payment of USD 7,500.

“The situation is dire,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, who recently returned from a visit to Tripoli. “The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions. “What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

He said so far this year the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Doyle added: “To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalized and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.”

For further information, please contact Giuseppe Loprete, IOM Niger, Tel: +227.980 543 31, Email

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Climate Change is Already Upon us & Will Only Worsen in Short Term

15 November 2017 - 1:07pm

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his address to the UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 23) in Bonn

By António Guterres
BONN, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

It is fitting that this year’s conference of parties (on climate change, COP 23) is led by Fiji, a nation on the frontlines.

Last month I visited other small islands facing the impacts of a warming world: Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. The hurricane damage was beyond belief. The catastrophic effects of climate change are upon us. Floods, fires, extreme storms and drought are growing in intensity and frequency.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are higher than they have been for 800,000 years. Climate change is the defining threat of our time. Our duty — to each other and to future generations — is to raise ambition.

We need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership.

First, reducing emissions.

The latest UN Environment Programme Emissions Gap Report shows that current pledges will only deliver a third of what is needed to stay in the safety zones of the Paris Agreement.

The Global Carbon Project reported earlier this week that 2017 will see the first increase in CO2 emissions in three years.

The window of opportunity to meet the 2-degree target may close in 20 years or less. And we may have only five years to bend the emissions curve towards 1.5 degrees.

We need at least a further 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020. Yet there are also encouraging signs of progress.

For years, many insisted that lowering emissions would stifle growth, and that high emissions were the unavoidable cost of progress. Today that dogma is dead. We are beginning to de-couple emissions from economic growth.

Massive economies such as China and India are on track to surpass their Paris pledges. Carbon markets are growing and merging. The Green Bond market is expanding.

It is crucial for all countries to follow through on their Paris commitments. The agreement itself calls for raising ambition — and so I urge you to use the 2020 revision of the Nationally Determined Contributions to close the 2030 emissions gap.

The second area for greater ambition is: Adaptation.

Mitigation is essential, but climate change is already upon us, and will only worsen in the short-term. It is essential that we adapt and that we strengthen resilience.

The Green Climate Fund can play a catalytic role on this, and I appeal to its members, especially donor nations, to bring this mechanism fully to life. I have also asked the UN system to promote adaptation and resilience efforts at the country level.

I commend the 2015 pledge by G7 nations to provide insurance against extreme weather events for 400 million more vulnerable people by 2020. And I welcome the announcement here in Bonn, led by the Government of Germany, to fast forward this ambition.

The insurance industry itself has long sounded the alarm about climate change. The industry is keen to promote coverage for people at risk — and it is pressing business and governments alike to figure climate shocks into their planning, policies and operations. I will facilitate these efforts.

Third, finance.

Greater ambition on emissions, adaptation and resilience is inextricably linked to funding. We need to mobilize the agreed 100-billion-dollars annually for developing countries.

Upholding this promise is essential for building confidence and trust. It is crucial for enabling all countries, but especially the most vulnerable, to face inevitable climate impacts and grow their economies cleanly.

In addition, markets can and must play a central role in financing a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. Yet markets need to be re-oriented away from the counter-productive and the short-term.

In 2016, an estimated 825 billion dollars were invested in fossil fuels and high-emissions sectors. We must stop making bets on an unsustainable future that will place savings and societies at risk.

Earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that bringing together the growth and climate agendas could add 1 per cent to average economic output in the G20 countries by 2021.

If we add the economic benefits of avoiding the devastation of climate change impacts, gross domestic product in 2050 would soar by 5 per cent. Infrastructure investment will be crucial.

The world should adopt a simple rule: If big infrastructure projects aren’t green, they shouldn’t be given the green light. Otherwise we will be locked into bad choices for decades to come.

Investing in climate-friendly development is where the smart money is headed. I welcome the initiative of President Macron to convene the “One Planet summit” next month to focus on financing.

I will be working to scale up international financing in renewable and energy efficiency projects to reduce at least 1 gigaton or more of carbon emissions by 2020. The formation of a clean energy investment coalition, as proposed by Denmark, is an idea worth pursuing.

We should also work with greater determination towards carbon pricing. This is a key instrument for driving down greenhouse gas emissions.

More than half of the nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement cite the need for carbon pricing. Last year, carbon pricing initiatives generated 22 billion dollars.

Growing carbon markets in Europe and North America, and China’s expected announcement of one of the world’s largest emissions trading systems, are a good sign.

But to meet the Paris goals we need at least 50 per cent global coverage and a higher price on carbon to drive large-scale climate action. I urge G20 countries to set a strong example.

The fourth ambition action area is partnerships.

The dramatic steps we need require action coalitions across all key sectors and by all actors. Partnership –with the private sector, local and regional governments and civil society — will make or break efforts to implement the Paris Agreement.

In particular, the only way to keep below 2 degrees and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees is to mobilize the private sector to move on an energy transformation. With government incentives, such as clean energy and transport policies, business can move the markets to promote the green economy we need.

We need to engage global technology giants, the oil and gas sector and the automotive industry so their business plans are consistent with the Paris goals. And we need to engage the agricultural and forestry sectors to ensure climate friendly land use.

But we must engage all actors — national, regional and local governments, philanthropists and investors and consumers — in the transformation to a low-emission economy. Next year, the Governor of California and my special envoy Michael Bloomberg, together with Anand Mahindra, will bring together cities, states, businesses and citizens’ groups to encourage further commitments from these vital actors.

One can see action everywhere, at all scales, at all levels, involving an ever-wider landscape of actors and institutions. Let us build on this momentum.

Fifth, we need heights of political leadership.

Solutions to climate change will enable us to meet many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I encourage you to be bold in your deliberations and decisions here in Bonn – and at home.

By embracing low-carbon climate-resilient policy making you can set the world on the right path. And where you lead, business and civil society will follow.

In September 2019, I will convene a Climate Summit to mobilize political and economic energy at the highest levels. More immediately — in this 20th anniversary year of the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Climate Change Convention — I call on all nations that have not yet done so to ratify the Doha Amendment.

I also call on world leaders to ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which destroy the ozone layer and contribute significantly to temperature rise.

I can think of no greater way to show your people that you care for the well-being of your citizens than to claim the mantle of climate leadership. Show courage in combatting entrenched interests.

Show wisdom in investing in the opportunities of the future. Show compassion in caring what kind of world we build for our children.

As a former politician myself, I have no doubt that in today’s world, this is the path to progress today and a meaningful legacy for tomorrow.

Ultimately, there is only one ambition that matters – to build a secure world of peace, prosperity, dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.

The world counts on your wisdom and foresight.

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Vanuatu: Community Farms Helping Small Islands Adapt to Climate Change

15 November 2017 - 12:27pm

Mala Silas was involved in a project to help the people of Fotuna in Vanuatu build home gardens to bring them more food that can handle changing weather patterns and disease. Credit: CARE

By Mala Silas
PORT VILA, Vanuatu, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

Here in Vanuatu, the ocean has been getting warmer and more acidic. Scientists are predicting that cyclone patterns will change, we’ll see heavier rainfalls, a wetter wet season and a drier dry season. We’re already seeing the sea rising six millimeters per year in the capital, Port Vila; higher than the global average.

For many people, the ocean rising by a few centimeters doesn’t sound like much, but for those of us living in small island nations like Vanuatu, it will mean the waves are rising higher than ever during storms; changes to where and how we get our food; and fishermen, farmers and growers face more uncertainty.

With world carbon emissions on the rise again after a three year hiatus, our future in Vanuatu is being compromised. The latest projections show that we are on track for a 3.2C rise in temperature by 2100 and sea level rise will be measured by the meters. UN assessments on the impacts for small island states, such as Vanuatu, show we are not ready.

Recently, I was on the island of Futuna, a place that, even by Vanuatu standards, is quite remote. There are no roads (just rugged footpaths) and only a couple of boats to get between communities. There’s little or no mobile reception and poor radio coverage.

People in Futuna mostly rely on the land and the ocean for their food, and their water comes from natural springs, which are a long walk from home. In dry times, water is harder to find, and in floods, the soil runs off the gardens, and with more erratic weather and a rising sea, the job of growing or gathering food is becoming tougher.

It’s particularly tough for women in Futuna; they are often isolated by cultural traditions that keep them at home and silent in community meetings.

With CARE, I was involved in a project to help the people of Futuna build home gardens to bring them more food that can handle changing weather patterns and diseases. Before the project, the people of Futuna mostly ate boiled fish and boiled cassava (a root vegetable common in the Pacific).

If they wanted to eat any other vegetables, they had to send money (which was, of course, hard to come by) to islands many hours away by boat. As well as helping to introduce these new, durable crops, CARE has run classes on food storage and cooking (using traditional and modern methods).

This means families on Futuna can have food all year-round, and they are no longer relying on just one or two types of food. Despite the cyclones that frequently pass across Vanuatu, the communities of Futuna are now much more resilient, because they know how to store and preserve food and protect the fresh water they have.

Many families on Futuna now have gardens next to their houses. They grow vegetables like cucumber, carrot and tomato. Jeannine Roberts, a mother of four from Futuna’s Mission Bay, told me that her children are now eating more and are much healthier, because they’re eating more than just boiled fish and cassava.

Children in Futuna learn about agriculture and nutrition in their school´s community garden. Credit: Daniel Vorbach/Oxfam

When I first arrived on Futuna a few years ago, I wouldn’t have seen a woman stand up or speak during a community meeting; they were too shy and didn’t seem comfortable getting involved. When I now go back to Futuna, I can see the progress that’s been made.

Seeing the women standing up to talk – even challenging the men – was something very special. These inspiring women have plenty of knowledge about their local environment, gardens and households, and I feel lucky to be working with them to improve their lives and break down many cultural and social barriers.

Futuna is just one small island among hundreds across Vanuatu and hundreds of thousands across the Pacific. But the progress there – achieved through teamwork and giving women a voice – is a great example of what can be achieved in the face of a changing planet.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement calls on Arab and Western societies to stand united against violent extremism

15 November 2017 - 4:45am

GENEVA, Nov 15 2017 (WAM)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, has deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalisation targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons that is taking effect in many regions of the world.

In his statement issued in relation to the observation of the 2017 International Day for Tolerance, which falls on 16th November, he remarked that people in conflict zones or in areas affected by climate change are left with no other option than to flee their home and societies owing to the rise of violent extremism and the adverse impact of armed conflict.

“Meanwhile, populist movements and right-wing parties seek to legitimise their political ideologies through hate rhetoric, bigotry and stereotyping of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons,” he added.

"We need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilisations and cultures. We need to learn more about one another and break down the walls of ignorance and prejudice that have insulated societies," Dr. Al. Qassim
Dr. Al Qassim called on societies both in the Arab region and in the West to stand united in addressing the rise of violent extremism and populism simultaneously. He also appealed to global decision-makers to step up their efforts to create a climate that is conducive to respecting the dignity of all communities and to the achievement of peace and stability in regions affected by conflict and violence.

“We need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilisations and cultures. We need to learn more about one another and break down the walls of ignorance and prejudice that have insulated societies,” Dr. Al. Qassim highlighted.

Against this background, he added that the Geneva Centre is in the process of arranging a World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.” This event, Dr. Al Qassim noted, will be convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva in June 2018.

“The ambition of this conference is to chart a more inclusive understanding and forward-looking discussion in addressing religious intolerance and in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights. This will obviate the need for diverse segments of a native population to fall back on sub-identities heretofore referred to as ‘minorities.’ “The World Conference will become an opportunity to harness the collective energy of religious and lay leaders to capitalise on the convergence between religious faiths, beliefs and value systems to respond with a unified voice to the sweeping rise of intolerance affecting the world.

“In moments where the fear of the stranger has become the norm in many societies, rejoicing in the Other and celebrating diversity are needed more than ever to address the root-causes of intolerance worldwide,” Dr. Al Qassim said in conclusion.


WAM/Tariq alfaham/Hassan Bashir

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On Gender Day at Climate Meet, Some Progress, Many Hurdles

14 November 2017 - 8:42pm

Representatives of over a dozen women’s organizations from Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Asia stage a protest at the COP23 talks in Bonn. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BONN, Germany, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

“Five years ago, when we first started talking about including gender in the negotiations, the parties asked us, ‘Why gender?’ Today, they are asking, ‘How do we include gender?’ That’s the progress we have seen since Doha,” said Kalyani Raj.

Raj is a member and co-focal point of the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).“The representation of women environment and climate defenders is minimal at the COP as the UNFCCC has built a firewall around it." --indigenous leader Lina Gualinga

Established in 2009, the WGC is an umbrella group of 27 organizations working to make women’s voices and rights central to the ongoing discussions within the UNFCCC and the climate discussions known as COP23 in Bonn.

On Tuesday, as the COP observed Gender Day – a day specifically dedicated to address gender issues in climate change and celebrate women’s climate action – UNFCCC had just accepted the Gender Action Plan, a roadmap to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment in all its discussions and actions.  For WGC and other women leaders attending the COP, this is a clear indication of progress on the gender front.

“For the first time ever, we are going to adopt a Gender Action Plan. It’s very good and over one year, it will be a matter of implementing it. So that’s where we are,” said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Climate Change.

Gender Action Plan: The main points

The creation of a Gender Action Plan (GAP) was agreed upon by the countries at last year’s conference (COP22) in Morocco. All over the world, women face higher climate risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. Yet they are often left out of the picture when decisions on climate action are made.

The aim of the GAP is to ensure that women can influence climate change decisions, and that women and men are represented equally in all aspects of the UNFCCC as a way to increase its effectiveness.

The GAP is made of five key goals that are crucial for improving the quality of life for women worldwide, as well as ensuring their representation in climate policy. These range from increasing knowledge and capacities of women and men to full, equal and meaningful participation of women in national delegations, including women from grassroots organizations, local and indigenous peoples and women from Small Island Developing States.

In brief, the five goals are:

  • Gender-responsive climate policy including gender budgeting
  • Increased availability of sex and gender disaggregated data and analysis at all levels
  • Gender balance in all aspects of climate change policy including all levels of UNFCCC.
  • 100% gender-responsive climate finance
  • 100% gender responsive approach in technology transfer and development.

The adopted draft, however, is a much watered-down version of the draft GAP that the GEC submitted. It has omitted several of the demands, especially on including indigenous women and women human rights defenders in the climate action plan.

“I would have expected a much-expressed acknowledgement of the participation, the voices and the knowledge of the indigenous and local women. We worked very hard to get that in, but it’s not there as much as I would have liked,” said Robinson, before adding that the adoption of the GAP, nonetheless, is “definitely some progress.”

Nobel laureate Mary Robinson poses impromptu before a wall covered in portraits of male leaders at the Bonn climate talks. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Omission leads to disappointment

Not everyone, however, is taking the omissions in the GAP quietly. At Tuesday noon, representatives of over a dozen women’s organizations from Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Asia gathered at Bula zone 1 – where the negotiations are taking place and held a protest.

“We are here because we want to tell the parties that women human rights defenders are legitimate and critical actors not only in SDG 5, but all the SDGs including combating climate change and all areas of 2030 agenda and Paris Agreement,” said a protester as others nodded in silence, their mouth sealed with black tape.

Prior to the protest, however, Lina Gualinga, an indigenous leader from the Kichwa tribe in Ecuador shared some details of how women environmental activists feel.

“The representation of women environment and climate defenders is minimal at the COP as the UNFCCC has built a firewall around it. So, very few women can actually be here and be part of the COP,” she said.

“In the meantime, the language of the negotiations is drafted and shaped leaving no room to address our concerns. For example, what is sustainable development? For us, it’s nothing but clean water, fresh air, fertile land. Is that reflected in the language of the COP?” she asked.

No access to climate finance

Besides the continuous disappointment over human rights and indigenous issues, accessing finance has emerged as the biggest hurdle for women climate leaders. According to Robinson, the number of women who are getting climate finance is shockingly small.

“The latest figures by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) shows that only 2 percent of the finance is going to women in the grassroots and southern groups. Only 2 percent! Its tiny. And yet that is where an awful lot of climate work is taking place, where women are trying to make themselves resilient,” Robinson said.

There are three simple ways to solve this, she said:  One, increase local funding. Two, simplify the process to access climate. And three, train women in new, green technologies.

Citing the example of the Barefoot College in India –  a government funded and NGO-run institution that trains women from developing countries in solar technologies before they become “Solar Mamas” or solar entrepreneurs – Robinson said that trainings like this are a great way to include women in climate action at the local level.

“This not only builds their capacity to be more climate resilient, but also helps them become economically empowered,” she said, before admitting that more such initiatives would require more direct funding by local institutions.

Numbers still missing

White the central debate is on mainstreaming gender in the core process of negotiations, some also want to draw attention to the low representation of women in the conference. At the 2015 Paris summit, just over 38 percent of national delegations were women, with Peru, Hungary, Lesotho, Italy and Kiribati among the most balanced delegations and Mauritius, Yemen, Afghanistan and Oman the least.

This year, some countries such as Turkey, Poland and Fiji have 50 percent female delegates while three countries – Latvia, Albania and Guyana – have sent all-female delegations. But the average percentage of female negotiators at country delegations is still 38. Several countries, including Somalia, Eritrea and Uzbekistan, did not include a single women in their delegations.

Noelene Nabulivou, an activist from Fiji, said that it’s time to seriously fill the gender gap at the conference.

“If we are asking for equal opportunity, why can’t we ask for equal participation?” asked Nabulivou.

Meanwhile, Kalyani Raj thinks that quotas could limit the potential scope. “We want a balance, but at the same time, why limit ourselves to a mere 50 percent? It could be anything!” said Raj.

The first report to evaluate the progress on the implementation of the Gender Action Plan will be presented in November 2019.

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How to Ensure Farming is More Than Just a Footnote in Climate Talks

14 November 2017 - 1:11pm

Olga Speckhardt is the Head of Global Insurance Solutions, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which has co-hosted a series of side events at COP23 on the Agriculture Advantage.

By Olga Speckhardt
BONN, Germany, Nov 14 2017 (IPS)

If change comes from within, then climate action in agriculture must logically start with farmers. They need to find ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

But when that involves 800 million of the world’s poorest people, they are going to require systematic and dedicated support.

Olga Speckhardt

For too long, agriculture has stagnated on the edge of official negotiations around climate action. As this year’s climate talks draw to a close, though, negotiators have finally caught up and agreed to discuss concrete options at future meetings.

Now, the onus falls on governments, international organizations and the private sector to continue to champion climate action to transform agriculture outside of the UN talks to keep up this momentum.

Insufficient funding is just one of the barriers that must be overcome if we are to scale up these methods. It was great news that, during COP23, currently underway, Germany pledged an extra €50 million to the Adaptation Fund. However, more funding should be dedicated to climate adaptation in agriculture.

Agriculture, forestry and other forms of land use contribute almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past two weeks, the climate talks have featured many ways to help better manage agriculture’s impact on the environment. Solutions have included improved crops, better irrigation systems and ways to diversify farmer incomes.

But when it comes to public climate finance, agriculture receives just 2.5 per cent of the total funds allocated for adaptation and mitigation. That needs to change if smallholders are to better cope with extreme weather while feeding a booming population.

We also need regulation that supports climate action rather than restricting it.

Through the Syngenta Foundation, I oversee ACRE Africa, which provides speciality, smallholder weather insurance and which is highly regulated. In many developing countries, this has caused the private sector to shy away from investing in similar products that can offer a lifeline to vulnerable farmers.

Behind every regulator there is a government. It is essential that governments create the conditions – including business environments – that make it easy for the private sector to engage in climate action.

Almost every country in the world makes agriculture a priority in its plans to meet the Paris Agreement targets. This must now also translate into action on the ground. And these actions must also embody the best interests of an often-overlooked end-user – the smallholder farmer.

We have experience of this at ACRE Africa, carefully tailoring insurance products to smallholders’ needs. Our insurance enables them to protect themselves from weather-related losses and adapt to climate change.

As well as being appropriate, such insurance needs to be affordable and accessible. We achieved both, by automating key processes and using mobile money services like M-Pesa to make quick and simple pay-outs.

As of 2016, more than one million farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda were insured against weather risks. We are now building up our insurance work in five Asian countries.

It was encouraging to see the announcement during COP23 of a new website devoted to climate-related insurance. We urge private sector companies, research institutes and governments to support it and share information via this important tool so we can continue to benefit from each other’s experiences.

We also need to foster better partnerships to unlock new funding opportunities. Climate insurance, microfinance and agricultural development must come together to form a united support system for agricultural transformation.

Engaging here really pays dividends. The UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says that each dollar invested in its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme will generate up to $1.63 annually for smallholders over 20 years.

Sustainable agriculture must be at the heart of every debate around climate change. With an increasing population, farmers need to produce 60 per cent more food by 2050, while also minimizing agriculture’s environmental impact.

But the millions of smallholders who feed the planet while earning less than $2 a day cannot do it alone. We need to go beyond incremental solutions if we are to lift more people out of poverty and achieve food security despite climate change.

Insurance can help, by enhancing smallholders’ resilience and reducing their risk when they invest in their crops.

But success across the board requires public and private support and initiative. Only with a new and comprehensive approach to investment, better public policies, and strong farmer organizations will we bring about the changes we all need.

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Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 157,020 in 2017; Deaths Reach 2,966

14 November 2017 - 12:28pm

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Nov 14 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, reports that 157,020 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 12 November, with about 75 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. This compares with 341,215 arrivals across the region through the same period last year.

IOM Rome reported Monday (13 November) Italy’s Ministry of Interior has registered 114,606 migrants arriving by sea so far, this year, which is down from 164,872 at this time in 2016. That is a 30.5 per cent drop-off over last year’s totals at this time.

IOM Spain’s Ana Dodevska reported Monday (13/11) total sea arrivals had topped 16,000, including 418 registered during the past weekend: 276 on Saturday and 142 on Sunday. She said the main ports of arrivals were Almeria, Tarifa, Malaga, Motril, Barbate and Algeciras.

IOM Athens’ Kelly Namia reported Monday (13/11) of at least three incidents this weekend off the island of Lesvos that required search and rescue operations. The Hellenic Coast Guard rescued 148 migrants and transferred them to safety.

Almost 14,000 (13,932) men, women and children have entered Greece by sea from the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean since 1 August, or more migrants than entered during all of 2017’s first seven months. Namia further reported that more than 1,500 migrants or refugees entered Greece by sea through November’s first 11 days, bringing migrant sea arrivals to Greek territory to 25,337 for the year so far (See chart below).

IOM Libya’s Christine Petré reported Monday (13 November) the remains of two bodies were discovered by locals onshore at Al Maya, west of Tripoli, on 12 November. These latest fatalities are not part of the 2,966-figure cited above.

IOM’s Missing Migrants Project reported the remains of three children were recovered over the last few days in the same area near Mantamados, on the north-eastern coast of Lesvos, Greece. In the Western Mediterranean, the remains of two young men were recovered from a beach on 9 November near Tangiers, Morocco. These deaths bring the total of fatalities in the Mediterranean in 2017 to 2,966, a figure that compares with 4,329 at this same point last year.

IOM Cyprus’ Dimitrios Tsagalas reported new details of a boat arrival on 3 November with 176 migrants on board. The boat was spotted off Pyrgos in the Tylliria area in Paphos and was towed to Latchi harbour.

Initial media reports talked about 100 migrants; however, as IOM Cyprus confirmed with authorities, there were 176 people aboard: 175 Syrians and one Ethiopian. More specifically, there were 63 females (34 adults and 29 minors) and 113 men (83 adults and 30 minors), who travelled from Turkey to Cyprus. All migrants were transferred to Purnara Reception Centre.

With this incident, the total number of migrants who have arrived irregularly by boat in Cyprus is 1,028 people, or roughly three times 2016’s total of 345 migrants (through nine months).

Worldwide, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) has recorded the deaths of 5,014 people migrating in 2017 – or a daily average of 16 men, women and children per day this year.

In addition to five new deaths reported in the Mediterranean, MMP recorded the deaths of two young men on the US/Mexico border: on 5 November, one man drowned while attempting to cross the Río Bravo near Nuevo Laredo in Mexico.

Another drowning in the Río Bravo was recorded near Reynosa on 9 November. In Central America, two South Asian migrants died in a vehicle accident near Malpaisillo in Nicaragua, near the border with Honduras. Both were from India.

Missing Migrants Project data are compiled by IOM staff but come from a variety of sources, some of which are unofficial. To learn more about how data on missing migrants are collected, click here.

Latest Mediterranean Update infographic:
For latest arrivals and fatalities in the Mediterranean, please visit:
Learn more about the Missing Migrants Project at:

For more information, please contact:
Joel Millman at IOM HQ, Tel: +41 79 103 8720, Email:
Mircea Mocanu, IOM Romania, Tel: +40212115657, Email:
Dimitrios Tsagalas, IOM Cyprus, Tel: + 22 77 22 70, E-mail:
Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM Italy, Tel: +39 347 089 8996, Email:
Kelly Namia, IOM Greece, Tel: +30 210 991 2174, Email:
Julia Black, IOM GMDAC, Tel: +49 30 278 778 27, Email:
Abby Dwommoh, IOM Turkey, Tel: +90 312 454 3048, Email:
Christine Petré, IOM Libya, Tel: +216 29 240 448, Email:
Ana Dodevska, IOM Spain, Tel: +34 91 445 7116, Email:
Myriam Chabbi, IOM Tunisia, Tel: +216 28 78 78 05, Mobile: +216 71 860 312 ext. 109, Email:

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Finance Following Growth

14 November 2017 - 9:53am

Recent research suggests that eyond a certain point, the benefits of financial development diminish, with further development possibly even hurting growth. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 2017 (IPS)

Economists of all persuasions recognize the critical role of finance in economic growth. The financial sector’s stability and depth are widely considered important in this connection.

Thus, many believe that the lack of a well-developed financial sector constrains growth in developing countries. Neoliberals generally attribute this to excessive regulation, especially the role of state-owned financial institutions, interest rate limits and restrictions on short-term cross-border capital flows.

It is often assumed that banks and financial markets allocate capital to the most productive endeavours, and that the financial infrastructure for credit reduces ‘information inefficiencies’, such as ‘moral hazard’ and ‘adverse selection’. Another presumption is that greater financial development will ensure sufficient finance for otherwise excluded sectors, thus raising growth potential.

Financial deregulation
Following the sovereign debt crises of the early 1980s precipitated by the sudden hikes in US Federal Reserve interest rates, neoliberal economists have advocated financial sector deregulation. It was a standard part of the Washington Consensus also including privatization and economic liberalization more broadly.

This agenda was typically imposed as part of structural adjustment programmes required by the Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs), led by the World Bank. However, many developing country and transition economy governments adopted such policies even if not required to do so, following the neo-liberal counter-revolution against Keynesian and development economics.

Financial deregulation, privatization and liberalization also gained momentum in the developed world, especially in the UK and the USA following the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in 1979 and 1980 respectively. In the US, such reforms culminated in the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 when President Clinton declared “the Glass-Steagall law is no longer appropriate”.

Initial results of financial liberalization generally seemed encouraging. Deregulating countries experienced rapid financial expansion and innovation. Finally, it seemed that the long elusive elixir of growth had been found. Finance had a free hand, expanding much faster than the real economy.

But soon, with inadequate prudential regulation and supervision, booms became bubbles as excesses threatened financial and economic stability, besides undermining the real economy. Economies became increasingly prone to currency, financial and banking crises such as the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, 1998 Russian financial crisis and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis.

Tipping point?
Recent research suggests that beyond a certain point, the benefits of financial development diminish, with further development possibly even hurting growth. In other words, the finance-growth relationship is not linear; it may be positive to a point, before turning negative.

Additional finance beyond this tipping point thus becomes increasingly counterproductive. By exacerbating macro-financial fragility, credit growth thus leads to bigger booms, bubbles and busts, ultimately leaving countries worse off. Interestingly, research done at the BWIs also finds that rapid credit growth is commonly associated with banking crises.

The IMF found that three quarters of credit booms in emerging markets end in banking crises. The OECD found that deregulating finance over the past three decades has stunted, not boosted, economic growth. It concluded that further credit expansion beyond exceeding three-fifths of GDP not only dents long-term growth, but also worsens economic inequality.

A commonly used measure of financial development – average private credit to GDP – increased steadily from about 1960. It has grown more rapidly since around 1990 – exceeding 100% in developed economies and 70% in emerging market developing economies (EMDEs).

The OECD report also found that over the past half century, credit from banks and other institutions to households and businesses has grown three times faster than economic activity. But GDP growth per capita changed little before and after 1990, with a strong negative relationship between finance and growth emerging after 1990, especially in the Eurozone.

EMDEs with lower credit-to-GDP ratios benefited from more credit growth, experiencing a positive finance-growth relationship until about 1990. But with higher credit-to-GDP ratios, the finance-growth relationship turned negative in developed economies well before 1990. Hence, thresholds for credit-to-GDP ratios are likely to be higher for EMDEs than for developed economies.

Finance following growth?
The new research also points to the possibility of reverse causality – of financial development necessitated by growth. This seems to support Joan Robinson’s suggestion that “where enterprise leads, finance follows”. More money and credit become available as demand for both increases with economic growth.

After all, money and credit are supposed to lubricate the real economy. EMDEs start from relatively low incomes and therefore have greater growth potential. As they realize that potential, demand for finance leads to greater financial development.

In the case of developed economies, especially the Eurozone, finance continued to grow even as growth slowed. Apparently, savings adjusted slowly to sluggish income growth, resulting in a rising wealth-to-GDP ratio.

This, in turn, creates demand for finance as households seek to ‘park’ their savings, borrow for consumption and buy new consumer durables. Thus, the financial system grows even as economic growth continues to decline. This may result in rising household indebtedness, or increasing debt-to-income ratios, ending in debt defaults.

Policy lessons
Besides being cognizant of “too much finance” beyond a tipping point, policymakers need to be aware that causality may run in both directions. Therefore, financial development must accompany productivity enhancement.

Financial liberalization, or other financial development policies alone cannot spur productivity growth. Without entrepreneurship, finance is likely to prove to be an illusory source of growth.

This is important as short-term capital inflows cannot enhance productive long-term investments. Short-term capital flows are easily reversible, and can suddenly leave, plunging countries into financial crisis.

If the financial sector continues to grow after growth potential falls, it greatly increases the relative size and role of finance, thus accelerating the likelihood of financial instability. Countries need strong macro-prudential regulations to contain such vulnerabilities.

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UN Migration Agency Warns of Trafficking, Labour Exploitation, Sexual Abuse of Rohingya Refugees

14 November 2017 - 9:39am

Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees sheltering in Kutupalong makeshift settlement are at risk from exploitation and human trafficking. Photo: Muse Mohammed / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

By International Organization for Migration
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 14 2017 (IOM)

Human trafficking and exploitation are rife among Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to seek safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, according to interviews and community focus groups conducted in the district’s makeshift settlements by IOM, the UN Migration Agency.

Over 617,000 Rohingya refugees have settled in Cox’s Bazar since 25 August, but exploitation of the Rohingya population in the district has been occurring since well before this most recent influx of people.

IOM has identified cases reported by Rohingya refugees who have lived in Bangladesh for years, by those who arrived within the past few years, and by those who have arrived since August. Some people had only been in the country for a few weeks before they were targeted.

Desperate men, women and children are being recruited with false offers of paid work in various industries including fishing, small commerce, begging and, in the case of girls, domestic work.

With almost no alternative source of income, the refugees are willing to take whatever opportunities they are presented with, even ones that are risky, dangerous and that involve their children.

Once they start the job, they usually find that they are not paid what was promised. They are often deprived of sleep, made to work more hours than was agreed, not allowed to leave their work premises and not allowed to contact their family. Women and girls are often physically or sexually abused.





Some report being forced into jobs which they never agreed to do. In one case, a number of adolescent girls, who were promised work as domestic helpers in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong, were forced into prostitution. Others reported being brought to locations different from the agreed destination.

In one case, a woman reportedly went to work for a family and was brought back to the settlements dead. The family of the victim received a settlement from the employers.

Many of the recruiters are Bangladeshi, while some are Rohingya, and many were established in the area prior to the most recent influx. The number of criminals and trafficking rings operating in the district has expanded with the population.

The abuse mainly occurs in neighbourhoods surrounding the settlements, but recruiters are also taking people to places as far away as Cox’s Bazar city, Chittagong and Dhaka.

IOM is also aware of cases where Rohingya have been trafficked to outside Bangladesh, and is assisting the victims. Most of the trafficking is taking place inside the country, which follows the pattern of trafficking globally.

Forced and early marriages are also taking place among the Rohingya population. For many families, it is a coping mechanism that offers protection and economic advancement for young Rohingya women and girls.

“Understanding the scope of human trafficking is difficult in most settings due to the hidden nature of the crime,” said Kateryna Ardanyan, an IOM counter-trafficking expert currently deployed in Cox’s Bazar.

“In the chaos of a crisis like this, trafficking is usually invisible at first, as there are so many other urgent needs like food and shelter. But agencies responding to this crisis should not wait until the number of identified victims increases. Rohingya refugees need preventative and proactive action now to mitigate risks of human trafficking, and the survivors need help, before this spirals out of control,” she added.

For more information please contact Olivia Headon at IOM Cox’s Bazar. Tel: +8801733335221, Email:

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The Mekong, Dammed to Die

14 November 2017 - 6:45am

A boat navigates the Mekong, whose combined fisheries are valued at 17 billion dollars. Credit: Francisco Anzola/cc by 2.0

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 14 2017 (IPS)

In Laos, the lush forests are alive with the whines of drills that pierce the air. On the Mekong, a giant concrete wall rises slowly above the trees. The Don Sahong dam is a strong symbol, not only for a power-hungry Asia but also for what critics fear is a disaster in the making.

Landlocked Laos wants to become ‘the battery of Southeast Asia’. The mountainous country with swirling rapids has the ideal geography for hydropower production and Don Sahong is just one of nine dams that Laos wants to build on the mainstream Mekong, claiming that this is the only way to develop the poor country.Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.

But there are serious drawbacks. The Don Sahong dam is being built with little or no consideration of the impact on ecosystems and communities along the Mekong. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Mekong is the second most biodiverse river in the world, after the Amazon. It supports the world’s largest freshwater capture fishery. The Lower Mekong Basin provides a wide variety of breeding habitats for over 1,300 species of fish. But damming the Mekong will block fish migration towards these habitats.

The FAO calculated that about 85 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s population lives in rural areas. Their livelihoods and food security is closely linked to the river and is vulnerable to water-related shocks – not just for fishers but for thousands more who sell food products or provide hundreds of related services, says FAO. Millions of people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam could lose the fish they rely on for food.

Chhith Sam Ath, the Cambodian director of the World Wide Fund (WWF), claimed in The Diplomat that the Don Sahong Dam is “an ecological time bomb”.

“It threatens the food security of 60 million people living in Mekong basin,” he said. “The dam will have disastrous impacts on the entire river ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam.” This is particularly devastating for downstream Cambodia because more than 70 percent of the protein consumed there comes from fish.

The 260-megawatt dam can also endanger the Irrawaddy dolphins, which are an important source of ecotourism on the Cambodian side of the Mekong. There are only 80 dolphins left. Some live just a few miles from the Don Sahong dam site. WWF warns that damming the Mekong will soon drive all the remaining dolphins to extinction.

A battery worth 800 million dollars

Laos is going forward with the dam all the same, without approval from the Mekong River Commission and in defiance of protests from NGOs and downstream countries. Lao officials say that they cannot stop the country from pursuing its right to development. They argue that they will address some of the concerns with ‘fish-friendly turbines’ and fish ladders. But critics are not convinced that these measures are sufficient.

Downstream, Cambodia is making things much worse. On a Monday morning in September, Prime Minister Hun Sen pushed a symbolic button. For the first time the floodgates of Lower Sesan 2 Dam closed and an artificial lake started to fill. Cambodia now has its own 800-million-dollar battery, built with Chinese funds and knowhow.

In the opening ceremony, Hun Sen praised the technological miracle and the Chinese investors. He pointed out that the need for electricity is growing rapidly. Cambodia has the most expensive electricity in Southeast Asia. That will change with this 400-megawatt dam on the river Sesan, close to its confluence with the Mekong.

Drowning village

In Kbal Romeas, upstream the Sesan, fishermen waited in vain for the yearly migration in May and June. No more fish to catch. The villagers have moved elsewhere, escaping the rising water and increasing poverty. The only reminder of a once lively Kbal Romeas is the roof of a pagoda that seems to float on the empty water.

“The river Sesan is blocked by the dam,” Maureen Harris of NGO International Rivers writes in her report. “That’s a problem for the 200 species that migrate from the Mekong to their breeding grounds in the Sesan.”

The American National Academy of Sciences predicts that the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin will decline by 9.3 percent. That’s just one dam. More dams are on the drawing table. The Mekong River Commission (MRC), the intergovernmental body charged with coordinating the river’s management, recently released provisional but alarming results of their research. The two finished dams and the 11 scheduled dams will decimate the fish population in the Lower Mekong Basin by half.

The dams would also affect roughly 20 million Vietnamese people in the Mekong Delta, an area that accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s GDP. Dams block the flow of sediments, rich with nutrients needed to make soil suitable for cultivation. In Vietnam eroded riverbanks and houses tumbling in the water have become a common spectacle.

The Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen dismissed these environmental concerns, criticising “radical environmentalists”.

“How else can we develop?” he said. “There is no development that doesn’t have an effect on the environment.”

The international NGO Mother Nature mapped the environmental consequences of the Lower Sesan 2 dam. Consequently, the Cambodian government revoked its license. One of the founders, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, has been banned from the country.

Costs outweigh benefits

The dams come at a high environmental cost, imperil food security and risk increasing poverty for millions of people. Moreover, the river’s potential is overestimated by dam developers, says the Mekong River Commission. Dams will meet just 8 percent of the Lower Mekong Basin’s projected power needs. The MRC proposes a ten-year moratorium on dam building. But few governments are listening.

The MRC valued the combined fisheries for the Mekong Basin at 17 billion dollars. Energy from the 13 dams may yield 33.4 billion, according to an international study by Mae Fa Luang University in Chiang Rai. But a denuded river system carries a price tag of 66.2 billion dollars, the same study predicts.

The real costs of hydropower seem to outweigh the benefits. But the projects still go ahead. The thump of jackhammers will become more common. The mother of all rivers will have to face an army of men with safety hats that want to stop her from flowing freely.

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International Red Cross Commends UAE’s Humanitarian Work in Yemen

14 November 2017 - 5:17am

By Hatem Mohamed
ABU DHABI, Nov 14 2017 (WAM)

The UAE’s soft power policy is a great profile that contributes to the positive reputation boasted by the UAE outside this region, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, has said.

In an exclusive interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM, ICRC President, Peter Maurer, commended the significant humanitarian role played by the UAE in Yemen.

“Over the last couple of years, we have been increasingly cooperating with the UAE. The beginning was through our presence in the Dubai Humanitarian City, then we cooperated across multiple humanitarian responses. We very much appreciate the support of the UAE for the activities of ICRC across the world, specially in Yemen. I have been specially encouraged by my meeting today with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as well as my meeting yesterday with H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

"The meetings helped chart the way forward to cementing cooperation in areas of training and education. I am very happy and satisfied with how this kind of collaboration is progressing,"
Peter Maurer, ICRC President
“The meetings helped chart the way forward to cementing cooperation in areas of training and education. I am very happy and satisfied with how this kind of collaboration is progressing,” Maurer told WAM on the sidelines of an interactive discussion session yesterday on, “Effective Diplomacy in Humanitarian Action”, organised by the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Speaking of current channels of collaboration with the UAE main humanitarian aid provider, the international official said that the Emirates Red Crescent, ERC, is a “valued partner of ICRC wherever we work and under whatever context we operate. We work with national societies and sometimes these societies work on their own, but ultimately they work with both the Red Crescent and Red Cross movement, which is committed to impartial, neutral and independent humanitarian work. It goes without saying that the ERC is a valued partner of ICRC throughout the world.”

The ICRC President commended the philosophy adopted by the UAE in its generous foreign aid. A philosophy, he affirmed, is not governed by politics, neither is it restricted by gender, race or religion. “This is the philosophy under which we operate. The ICRC adopts an approach of impartial and neutral humanitarian work, which is based on needs and not on any alliances, religion or culture. This is the very philosophy we adopt towards all the conflicts we address today. It is the most practical approach in today’s world. In order to work in this field, you have to respect international humanitarian law and that is the basic framework according to which international humanitarian work has to be done. We don’t do assistance work only, we also engage with ‘belligerents’, so they behave and comply with necessary rules and regulations.”

On the significance of the Soft Power Council established by the UAE government earlier this year, the ICRC President said, “As a Swiss diplomat who has been in charge of soft power diplomacy in Switzerland, I can only add a personal note which is I truly appreciate, value and cherish when a country develops soft power skills, and engages in negotiated solutions to convince conflicting parties of using non-military means to achieve stability. I appreciate every country and every political actor who is investing in, and developing, skills of soft power. I think it is a great profile which contributes to the positive reputation of the UAE outside this region and a promising way forward for a policy of a country.”

WAM/Hatem Mohamed/Esraa Ismail/Chris Moran

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