Interpress News Service

Water, the Great Enabler

21 March 2017 - 1:42pm

Girls by well. Credit: GWP

By Rudolph Cleveringa
STOCKHOLM, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

I listened to a Haitian farmer share solutions with neighbouring water users on how best to allocate scarce water resources. I learned about the resolution of inter-village water conflicts after sitting in a longboat for hours on the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh. On the dry floodplains of Ethiopia, I heard how local solutions benefitted women and outperformed ‘imported’ ones.

These experiences taught me that one person’s water problem can’t be solved without involving others. I learned that poor water management is a barrier to development. I began to understand that water problems require not just ‘hard’ solutions such as infrastructure but also ‘soft’ ones such as community participation, unbiased information, and strong institutions. I also became convinced that research and knowledge contribute to smart policies and practices.

What can you do to make water an enabler of development? Assert your role as a stakeholder, advocate for an end to fragmented responsibility for water, insisting on an integrated approach to water management across all sectors – agriculture, energy, tourism, education, transport, health, etc.
Every March 22nd is World Water Day, when people are made aware of the urgent need to provide clean water to 800 million people who lack it and sanitation to 2.5 billion people who have inadequate facilities. It is a day when this violation of human dignity is, rightly, thrust into our faces, urging us to make water resources a top development priority.

My experiences taught me that solving water problems – whether floods or drought or overuse or scarcity – require more than technical fixes. Water problems are usually problems of management or governance: having (or not having) water policies, laws, financing, and institutions that are transparent, accountable, and integrated across sectors. Without inclusive governance processes, there will be little if any agreement on how to solve the problems.

There isn’t a global water crisis; rather, there are multiple water crises around the globe. Water problems manifest themselves in local communities and need to be solved locally. But the solutions are similar no matter the locality: stakeholder inclusion, cross-sector cooperation, institutional capacity building, reliable information, transparent decision-making, benefit-sharing, and, of course, technical expertise and financial resources. These are governance solutions.

Fortunately, this is recognised in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Aside from the targets for safe water and adequate sanitation, other targets include water quality, water use, a cross-sector (integrated) approach, ecosystem protection, and even transboundary cooperation.

Those targets require massive changes in the way we manage water resources. If we keep doing it the way we always have – usually a fragmented approach with each sector acting unilaterally – then SDG 6 and all water-dependent SDGs risk not being achieved. Water is a key enabler to reach the ambitions of the SDGs.

How is the global community held accountable to deliver on the SDGs? Who is the global community if solutions are mostly local? Surely different levels of government are involved. But so are other actors such as civil society, including faith-based organisations that work at the grassroots, and the private sector.

Rudolph Cleveringa, Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership

What Global Water Partnership (GWP) wants to say – after 20 years of improving water governance – is that one of the single, most effective ways to hold governments and society accountable is to build broad, diverse, influential multi-stakeholder partnerships. These partnerships are vital to the large-scale transformational change required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a fact recognised by SDG #17: “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

One essential component of those global partnerships must be a ‘bottom-up’ mechanism for ensuring that local communities and businesses are heard at national, regional, and international levels. Stakeholder inclusion is paramount to managing water for sustainable economic growth. GWP has consistently called on governments to invest in water by strengthening institutions and financing infrastructure. Foreign aid alone cannot do it. The billions of dollars raised pale in comparison to the trillions needed. Fortunately, the business community is beginning to answer the call of mobilising investment finance.

What can you do to make water an enabler of development? Assert your role as a stakeholder, advocate for an end to fragmented responsibility for water, insisting on an integrated approach to water management across all sectors – agriculture, energy, tourism, education, transport, health, etc. You can also call on your political leaders at all levels to deliver sustainable water management now that the SDGs have made it a political priority.

There’s enough water for the world’s growing needs, but only if it is managed well. That’s why GWP created the SDG Preparedness Facility: to mobilise our partners to support countries in the implementation of water-related SDGs.

Good water governance is the foundation for achieving food and energy security, poverty reduction, creating social stability, reducing disaster risk, and promoting peace. With empowered, active, multi-stakeholder partnerships that are passionate about contributing holistic and lasting solutions, we will get to water security. Join us to get there!

Rudolph Cleveringa is Executive Secretary at Global Water Partnership

Cities: a Hub for Wastewater Innovation

21 March 2017 - 12:56pm

Bellandur Lake, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. Credit: SIWI

By Torgny Holmgren
STOCKHOLM, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

Water is a finite resource. With a growing population, an expanding global middle class and a rise in energy and industrial production, the demand for water is reaching new levels. According to the OECD, global demand for freshwater will increase by 55 percent between 2000 and 2050. By 2050 it is expected that roughly 6.4 billion people will live in cities, making urban water management an essential building block for resilience and sustainable growth.

A growing number of users with competing demands further propels the issue of global water scarcity. A variable climate with unpredictable precipitation patterns intensifies this issue. It is now more important than ever to find ways to be more careful with the water we have and to better balance competing water needs between different users.

The good news is that we know we can be far more efficient in our use of water, and many actors, such as cities already are.

At SIWI, we believe that a circular economy in which water is reused and waste is managed as an economic asset are important parts of the solution to this challenge.

By 2050 it is expected that roughly 6.4 billion people will live in cities, making urban water management an essential building block for resilience and sustainable growth.
The opportunities for exploiting wastewater are enormous. When properly harnessed, wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other consumables. This is one of the many reasons why the theme of the world’s leading annual event on water and development – World Water Week in Stockholm – is ‘Water and waste: reduce and reuse’.

The Week will address the challenges presented by two ambitious targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Goal 6, target 3:
“by 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”

Goal 12, target 5:
“by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse”.

These are just two of the 169 SDG targets, that along with the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the annual Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum, highlight our challenge to achieve sustainable development in a changing world.

Water is a great connector and is at the core of sustainable development. It is the ‘blue thread’ that runs through the SDGs – without reliable access to water almost none of the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved.

In recent years, business leaders and city mayors have become more engaged in water and sustainable development, becoming important partners in achieving a water wise world.

Torgny Holmgren

Cities are increasingly recognized as critical to achieving the SDGs. They are the frontline for institutional, economic and social change; they are the future for humanity and the stage upon which the SDGs will unfold.

While wastewater isn’t only an urban challenge, cities can serve as a hub for wastewater innovation as they present some of the greatest wastewater challenges. Challenges from sewage management, stormwater runoff and urban flooding are further exaggerated by intensified urbanization and climate change.

Water supply, sanitation and stormwater are integral components of the urban water system, yet they are often not planned or operated in an integrated way. Viewing them as a single system can greatly enhance the utility of water, both in the context of everyday use and under stress.

This calls for new approaches to ‘smart cities’, with greater emphasis on integrated urban water and wastewater management, with stronger links to spatial planning and inter-institutional collaboration.

Success in urban water management relies on people, good governance and cross-sectoral collaboration. World Water Week offers a place for addressing this by bringing together scientists, policy makers, and private sector and civil society actors to network, exchange ideas and foster new thinking. I invite you to join SIWI at World Water Week, 27 August – 1 September, to help develop expertise and discuss today’s biggest water-related issues.

Torgny Holmgren is Executive Director at Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

 

2017 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

21 March 2017 - 11:15am

Message by the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”) Ambassador Idriss Jazairy

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Mar 21 2017 (Geneva Centre)

The 2017 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and this year’s theme addressing racial profiling and incitement to hatred, in the context of migration, comes at a timely moment.

We are witnessing a populist tidal wave deriving from the disruptive effects of globalization. Populist parties are on the march strengthening their presence in numerous countries. They are becoming part and parcel of the political landscape.

In an attempt to find shortcuts and easy excuses for the failures of political elites in addressing the plights of ordinary citizens, migrants are being scapegoated and accused of being the root-causes of the failures of societies.

The messages of populists and extremists stimulate xenophobia, bigotry and racial discrimination.

They build on fear, intolerance and prejudice manifested through hate crimes, political chauvinism and isolationism jeopardizing social harmony.

One is particularly shocked by the policies of selective compassion concerning migrants.

This has been expressed recently by political leaders claiming superiority of the culture of the Enlightenment that prevails in Europe, and yet refusing migrants fleering death or persecution from the Middle East if they happen to be Muslims.

One can but be dismayed by the rise of hate crimes and discrimination witnessed in many countries which openly targets migrants.

As global citizens, we cannot turn a blind eye to incitements of hatred and discrimination being promulgated by populists in an attempt to seize political power.

We must stand up to these dangerous forces that seek to distort societies that were once praised for their openness and tolerance towards migration.

Migrants deserve stronger recognition for their contributions to societal development, economic growth and creation of employment.

They need to feel that their contributions are being valued, and that they are considered as vectors of development, peace and economic prosperity.

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I would like to strongly endorse the statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein calling upon governments to address the rise of hate crimes and of xenophobia witnessed across the world.

His statement illustrates the need to eliminate all forms of practices of discrimination that are widespread in many countries of the world:

“This day reminds us that States have no excuse for allowing racism and xenophobia to fester, much less flourish.

“They have the legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee the right of everyone, no matter their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law.“

Decision-makers around the world need to unite their voices in making a common stand against discrimination that prevails in our societies.

Discrimination needs to become a closed chapter of history; it does not belong in the 21st century.

No Water, No Life – Don’t Waste It!

21 March 2017 - 10:55am

Pastoralists in the Ufeyn region of Puntland are walking further and further to find water for their livestock. Credit: @WFP/K Dhanji

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

During the final exams of Spanish official high school of journalists, a student was asked by the panel of professors-examiners: If scientists discover that there is water in Planet Mars, how would you announce this news, what would be your title? The student did not hesitate a second: “There is life in Mars!” The student was graduated with the highest score.

In spite of this simple truth, human beings have been systematically wasting this primordial source of life. So much, that the United Nations has warmed ahead of this year’s World Water Day, marked on March 22, “We’re all wasters when it comes to wastewater.”

In fact, the world body reminds that every time “we use water, we produce wastewater. And instead of reusing it, we let 80 per cent of it just flow down the drain. We all need to reduce and reuse wastewater as much as we can. Here are three ideas for all us wasters!”

“Water is finite. It has to serve the need of more and more people and we only have one ecosystem from which to draw our water, “ says the UN-Water’s Chair Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization.

What to Do Then?

Key organisations involved in the hard task of raising awareness among the world’s seven billion inhabitants on the vital importance of not wasting water, now remind, once more, of some simple, obvious recommendations.Key Facts
• Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.
• 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
• Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.
• 663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.
• By 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 50% today.
• Currently, most cities in developing countries do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way.
• The opportunities from exploiting wastewater as a resource are enormous. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.
• The costs of wastewater management are greatly outweighed by the benefits to human health, economic development and environmental sustainability – providing new business opportunities and creating more ‘green’ jobs.

SOURCE: World Water Day

For instance: to turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth or doing dishes or scrubbing vegetables. Otherwise you’re just making wastewater without even using it!

Also to put rubbish, oils, chemicals, and food in the bin, not down the drain. The dirtier your wastewater, the more energy and money it costs to treat it.

And, why not, collect used water from your kitchen sink or bathtub and use it on plants and gardens, and to wash your bike or car.

“The water passing through us and our homes is on a journey through the water cycle. By reducing the quantity and pollution of our wastewater, and by safely reusing it as much as we can, we’re all helping to protect our most precious resource,” says the World Water Day 2017.

Wasting Water in Workplaces

Water wasting is not at all limited to house. Workplaces represent a major focus in the life of workers and employers. Having access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) can contribute greatly to people’s health and productivity, and to making economies grow, says the UN.

Sanitation at the workplace means more than just toilets, it adds. It also refers to proper use and cleaning of toilets, wastewater management, and the promotion of individual employee sanitation behaviour, including the proper use of toilets and prevention of open defecation.

“Sanitation also encompasses interventions that reduce human exposure to diseases by providing a clean environment in which to work.”

There is more to learn about “Wastewater and faecal sludge management” in the International Labour Organization (ILO) toolkit WASH@Work a self-training handbook.

This handbook is a combined training and action tool designed to inform governments, employers, and workers on the needs for WASH at the workplace.

The New Black? What Is That?

The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a book at World Water Week 2016 pushing for a radical rethink of the inefficient way we deal with our excreta and wastewater – and illustrating how it can be done.

Credit: UN Water

“We need to recognize wastewater and sanitation waste for what they are –a valuable resource– and their safe management as an efficient investment in long-term sustainability.”

The book provides shocking data. In fact, the Sanitation, Wastewater Management and Sustainability: From Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery, suggests that just the 330 km3 of municipal wastewater produced globally each year is enough to irrigate 40 million hectares – equivalent to 15 per cent of all currently irrigated land – or to power 130 million households through biogas generation.

UNEP and SEI–an international non-profit research organisation that has worked with environment and development issues from local to global policy levels for a quarter of a century– also say,

“When excreta from on-site systems such as pit latrines – still common across much of the world – and other organic waste such as livestock and agricultural residues and food waste are included, the potential for productive reuse gets much greater.”

Furthermore, the publication adds, these waste streams are a rich source of plant nutrients essential for agriculture; globally produced municipal wastewater alone contains the equivalent of 25 per cent of the nitrogen and 15 per cent of the phosphorus applied as chemical fertilizers, as well as vital micro-nutrients and organic matter that chemical fertilizers lack.

“In just one day, a city of 10 million flushes enough nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to fertilize about 500,000 hectares of agricultural land. In poor rural areas resource recovery could be a lifeline for small farmers.”

“Throughout history, sanitation has catalysed development,” says Kim Andersson, an SEI Research Fellow and head of the SEI Initiative on Sustainable Sanitation. “We’re at a point where it can really do that again. I’d go so far as to say that a transition to sustainable development cannot happen without a radical rethink of the way we deal with our excreta and wastewater.”

The book promises to be a key text in a growing movement to frame wastewater as a resource issue. This trend is clear not only in the number of sessions this year on wastewater and resource recovery, but also in the theme announced for next year’s gathering: “Why Waste Water”.

“How we deal with excreta and wastewater should be front and centre in discussions about water, food security and health and the future of cities – in fact about development and human well-being,” says Sarah Dickin, Research Fellow at SEI. Download the book.

Don’t know how big are you as water-wasters? Take this quick quiz. You will be amazed!

‘Words of Fear and Loathing Can -and Do- Have Real Consequences’

21 March 2017 - 9:51am

Students watch a performance by their peers at Barros Barreto School, in Salvador, Brazil. The performance tackled social issues such as racism and gender discrimination. Credit: UNICEF/Claudio Versiani

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

“Politics of division and the rhetoric of intolerance are targeting racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrants and refugees. Words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences,” warns the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March that Governments around the world that they have a legal obligation to stop hate speech and hate crimes, and called on people everywhere to “stand up for someone’s rights.”

The theme for the Day this year is ending racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including as it relates to people’s attitudes and actions towards migration.

At the Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016, UN member states adopted a Declaration strongly condemning acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The Summit also sparked the UN’s Together initiative to change negative perceptions and attitudes aimed at refugees and migrants.

Zeid said that States do not have any excuse to allow racism and xenophobia to fester.

States “have the legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee the right of everyone, no matter their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law,” the senior UN official said.

He urged governments to adopt legislation expressly prohibiting racist hate speech, including the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, and threats or incitement to violence.

“It is not an attack on free speech or the silencing of controversial ideas or criticism, but a recognition that the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities,” Zeid said.

To promote human rights, the UN High Commissioner’s office, known by its acronym OHCHR, is asking people around the world to , “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today”.

The campaign urges people to take practical steps in their own communities to take a stand for humanity.

Rising Populism and Extremism

For his part, UN secretary general António Guterres had on 27 February said that “disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading – North, South, East and West.”

Addressing the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council http://www.ohchr.org, he urged member states to uphold the rights of all people in the face of rising populism and extremism.

Having lived under the dictatorship of Portugal’s António de Oliveira Salazar, Guterres explained that he was 24 before he knew democracy. Denying his compatriots their human rights had oppressed and impoverished many of them, resulting in a mass exodus, and also brought bloody civil wars to Portugal’s former colonies in Africa.

World, More Dangerous Today

Calling today’s world “more dangerous, less predictable, more chaotic,” the Secretary-General called for making prevention a priority, tackling root causes of conflict and reacting early and more effectively to human rights violations.

He highlighted the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the treaties that derive from it, and urged the Council to be “fully engaged” on the issues that require their attention.

“We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomenon of populism and extremism feeding off each other in a frenzy of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance,” said Guterres.

“Minorities, indigenous communities and others face discriminations and abuse across the world,” he added, noting abuse targeting refugees and migrants, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex.

Among other issues raised, Guterres also called for protection of the human rights defenders and of journalists who are “essential” to the checks and balances of any society.

In his address, UN High Commissioner Zeid denounced “reckless political profiteers” who threaten the multilateral system or intend to withdraw from parts of it.

“We have much to lose, so much to protect,” the UN High Commissioner said.

“Without a commitment to fundamental human rights, to the dignity and worth of the human person and to the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, our world will become chaos, misery and warfare,” he warned.

“Of all the great post-war achievements, it is this assertion of the universality of rights in human rights law that may be the most noteworthy.”

Speaking directly to the political actors, Zeid said “the sirens of historical experience ought to ring clear” and pledged that “we will not sit idly by” in the face of violations.

“Our rights, the rights of others, the very future of our planet cannot, must not be thrown aside by these reckless political profiteers,” he added.

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Asia’s Water Politics Near the Boiling Point

21 March 2017 - 8:44am

Clean drinking water is available to no more than half of Asia’s population. Water is fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

In Asia, it likely will not be straightforward water wars.

Prolonged water scarcity might lead to security situations that are more nuanced, giving rise to a complex set of cascading but unpredictable consequences, with communities and nations reacting in ways that we have not seen in the past because climate change will alter the reliability of current water management systems and infrastructure, say experts.China plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetan Autonomous Region; the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 said a water crisis is the most impactful risk over the next 10 years. The effects of rising populations in developing regions like Asia, alongside growing prosperity, place unsustainable pressure on resources and are starting to manifest themselves in new, sometimes unexpected ways – harming people, institutions and economies, and making water security an urgent political matter.

While the focus is currently on the potential for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and a much greater flow of forced migration that is already on our doorsteps, a 2016 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warns Asia not to underestimate impact of industrial and population growth, including spiraling urban growth, on serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by 2050.

Asia’s water challenges escalate

To support a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 percent and water demand is projected to go up by 55 percent. But the horizon is challenging for developing regions, especially Asia, whose 3.4 billion population will need 100 percent more food – using the diminishing, non-substitute resource in a warming world said the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, the latest regional water report card from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More than 1.4 billion people – or 42 percent of world’s total active workforce – are heavily water dependent, especially in agriculture-dominant Asia, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2016.

With erratic monsoons on which more than half of all agriculture in Asia is dependent, resorting to groundwater for irrigation, whose extraction is largely unmonitored, is already rampant. A staggering 70 percent of the world’s groundwater extraction is in Asia, with India, China and Pakistan the biggest consumers, estimates UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

By 2050, with a 30 percent increase in extraction, 86 percent of groundwater extracted in Asia will be by these three countries, finds the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal use 23 million pumps with an annual energy bill of 3.78 billion dollars for lifting water – an indicator of the critical demand for water, and to an extent of misgovernance and lack of water-saving technologies (AWDO 2016).

AWDO sounds alarm bells warning that we are on the verge of a water crisis, with limited knowledge on when we will tip the balance.

Analysts from the Leadership Group on Water Security in Asia say the start of future transboundary water conflicts will have less to do with the absolute scarcity of water and more to do with the rate of change in water availability.

 

Water, known as Blue Gold, provides a broad range of livelihoods to communities as in India’s Kerala state. Here coconut farmers ferry a boatload to sell at tourist spots. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

‘Resource nationalism’ already strong in water-stressed Asian neighbours

With just 30 days of buffer fresh water stock, Pakistan’s renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 2014 measured a perilous 297 cubic metres, Bangladesh’s 660m3 India’s 1116m3 and China’s 2062m3. When annual water access falls below 1700m3 per person, an area is considered water-stressed and when 1000m3 is breached, it faces water scarcity.

ADB describes Asia as “the global hotspot for water insecurity.

By 2050 according to AWDO, 3.4 billion people – or the projected combined population of India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2050 – making up 40 percent of the world population, could be living in water-stressed areas. In other words, the bulk of the population increase will be in countries already experiencing water shortages.

Underlying geo-political standpoints are slowly but perceptibly hardening in Himalayan Asia nations over shared river basins, even if not intensifying as yet, seen in the latest instances last year. They are, as water conflict analysts predict, spurts of bilateral tension that might or might not suddenly escalate to conflict, the scale of which cannot be predicted. The following, a latest instance, is a pointer to future scenarios of geographical interdependencies that riparian nations can either reduce by sensible hydro-politics or escalate differences by contestations.

There was alarm in Pakistan when Indian Prime Minister took a stand in September last year to review the 57-year-old Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours. India was retaliating against a purportedly Pakistan terrorist attack on an Indian army base at Uri in Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.

By co-incidence or design (several Indian analysts think it is the latter), at the very same time China blocked a tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo River which is the upper course of the Brahmaputra in India, as part of the construction of its 740-million-dollar Lalho hydro project in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River originates in the Himalayan ranges, and is called the Brahmaputra as it flows down into India’s Arunachal Pradesh state bordering Tibet and further into Bangladesh.

China’s action caused India alarm on two counts. Some analysts believed Beijing was trying to encourage Dhaka to take up a defensive stand against India over sharing of Brahmaputra waters, thereby destabilizing India-Bangladesh’s cordial ally status in the region.

The second possibility analysts proffered is an alarming and fairly new military risk. River water, when dammed, can be intentionally used as a weapon of destruction during war.

Pakistan had earlier raised the same security concern, that India may exercise a strategic advantage during war by regulating the two major dams on rivers that flow through Kashmir into Pakistan. Indian experts say China is more likely than India to take this recourse and will use the river water as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations.

South Asia as a region is prone to conflict between nations, between non-state actors and the state. Its history of territorial issues, religious and ethnic differences makes it more volatile than most other regions. Historically China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had territorial wars between them. The  wary and increasingly competitive outlook of their relationships makes technology-grounded and objective discussions over the erupting water disputes difficult.

China already plays an increasingly dominant role in South Asia’s water politics because it administers the Tibetian Autonomous Region with the Tibetan Plateau, around which the Himalayan mountain range contains the largest amount of snow and ice after Antartica and the Arctic. The glacier-fed rivers that emanate from this ‘water tower’ are shared across borders by 40 percent of world population, guaranteeing food, water and energy security to millions of people and nurturing biodiverse ecosystems downstream.

The largest three trans-boundary basins in the region – in terms of area, population, water resources, irrigation and hydropower potential – are the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra.

Both India and China have embarked on massive hydropower energy generation, China for industrialization and India to provide for its population, which will be the world’s largest by 2022.

With growing food and energy needs, broad estimates suggest that more than half of the world’s large rivers are dammed. Dams have enormous benefits, but without comprehensive water-sharing treaties, lower riparian states are disadvantaged and this could turn critical in future.

While there are river-water sharing treaties between India and Pakistan, and with Bangladesh, there is none with China except a hydrological data sharing collaboration.

Security threats emerge when it becomes difficult to solve competition over scarce natural resources by cooperation. Failure may result in violent conflicts. A ‘zero-sum’ situation is reached, when violence is seen as the only option to secure use of the resource, says a 2016 report by the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

When drivers in Asia, like population growth, the need for economic growth, poverty reduction, energy needs, the impact of high rate of urbanization and changing lifestyles, confront resource scarcity, it could bring a zero-sum situation sooner than anticipated.

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Coming Home for Good

21 March 2017 - 8:07am

By Dodo Dulay
Mar 21 2017 (Manila Times)

Every Filipino aims for a better life. Whether they toil in the hinterlands or in our concrete jungles, our kababayan have one common aspiration: to have work that provides them a steady source of income and allow them to lead a comfortable life. Some choose to go into business while others prefer the corporate world. And yes, there are millions of our countrymen who have taken a leap of faith to work abroad. I’m certain many ordinary Filipinos view overseas employment as a ticket to a more prosperous future.

Dodo Dulay

But no overseas employment is really ever permanent. Political turmoil, natural disasters or calamities, accidents, workplace or employment issues, or just plain weariness can put an end to one’s overseas job. And with our OFWs serving as a lifeline for many families in the Philippines, an abrupt or unexpected end to overseas employment can be a traumatic experience.

This is why the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) headed by Secretary Silvestre Bello III has made it a priority to bolster a key strategy known as the “Reintegration Program,” which is primarily geared for returning Filipino migrant workers.

So, what is reintegration? Reintegration is the process of re-inserting our Filipino migrant workers back into Philippine society and enabling him or her to become a productive member of the community and to participate again in the social, cultural, economic and political life of his or her residence.

For overseas Filipinos who have been away for a long time, adjusting to life back home is not an easy task. At the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), we devised a program precisely to help our OFWs ease their way back into their communities. For one, our reintegration program has already been rolled out in select OWWA offices overseas so that our migrant workers can seek assistance even before they come home. Our welfare officers conduct trainings and briefings for our OFWs abroad who have decided to return to the country for good. Upon their arrival in the Philippines, our returning OFWs can augment their reintegration with the help of our 17 regional welfare offices scattered throughout the country.

OWWA’s reintegration program has two categories: “on-site” and “in-country.” The on-site program is conducted at OWWA offices abroad and includes training sessions and seminars on value formation, personal finance, entrepreneurial development, and techno-skills. The in-country reintegration program, meanwhile, is implemented by OWWA’s regional welfare offices through job referrals, business counselling, community-organizing and other initiatives to help them become economically self-sufficient.

While reintegration is ideally suited to gainfully employed migrants workers who eventually plan to come home permanently, it is our distressed OFWs who have returned involuntarily due to the mass lay-offs in their country of employment that are the target of OWWA’s reintegration efforts, such as in the case of our displaced migrant workers from Saudi Arabia.

As oil prices plummeted from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to below $30 in 2016, construction projects in Saudi Arabia have fallen off dramatically along with the drop in oil revenue. The Saudi government cut spending and delayed or stopped payments to several private contractors since early 2016, forcing many big companies employing thousands of Filipinos to cut jobs, and leaving many of our OFWs without any salary and visas to exit the kingdom.

After the Duterte administration took over, Labor Secretary Bello immediately visited the stranded workers in Saudi Arabia and assured them of the government’s help. Keeping his promise, Bello, as chair of the OWWA board, immediately established the Relief Assistance Program (RAP) – a program which provides financial assistance to affected OFWs and their families, food and toiletries at the job sites, as well as post-repatriation assistance to those who have already returned to the country.

As of 12 March 2017, some P427 million from the relief assistance program has been disbursed by OWWA to 19,062 OFW beneficiaries, including those workers who have already been repatriated and those who remain stranded at their job sites in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Around 9,697 OFW families have also availed of RAP benefits amounting to some P61million, bringing the total disbursement of financial aid from July 2016 up to March 2017 to P489million plus.

As part of the Duterte administration’s commitment to bring our stranded OFWs back home, 3,525 workers have been repatriated since July 2016. Moreover, two OWWA augmentation teams were sent to Saudi Arabia to assist in the processing of RAP applications and in the distribution of approximately P2.3 million worth of food and hygiene kits to stranded OFWs.

But OWWA’s assistance does not end with RAP. To help in the economic reintegration of our distressed and displaced OFW kababayan from Saudi Arabia residing in the NCR, Regions 3 and 4-A, OWWA slated a three-day pre-registration activity on March 13, 14, and 15, 2017, for the Job and Livelihood Fair to be held on March 28 at the Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC), Quezon City.

Interested OFWs may register online at “www.jobphilnet.gov.ph,” or by visiting the OWWA offices in NCR, Regions 3 and 4-A. “Walk-in” applicants will also be accepted. This job fair is a collaborative effort of DOLE-NCR, POEA, Bureau of Local Employment, DOLE-NCR and the National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO).

With 40employers both for overseas and local employment participating in the job fair, we anticipate the on-the-spot hiring of our OFWs. Meanwhile, those who want to try their hand at business can attend livelihood briefings at training rooms manned by Landbank, OWWA and NRCO. We hope all our OFWs will join us in this endeavor.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

An Opportunity

21 March 2017 - 7:38am

By Moeed Yusuf
Mar 21 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Pakistan’s leaders often boast of our vital strategic geographical location. Yet this location has done little more than thrust the country into global wars and force it to become a proxy battleground for foreign ideological agendas. Pakistan now has an opportunity to turn this reality around courtesy of the profound geopolitical changes facing the world today.

There is increasing talk of a shift from America`s global hegemony to multipolarity and of a new emerging Great Game in which Washington is being challenged by aspiring competitors. Smaller states seldom have a chance to influence the direction of such hegemonic competition. But Pakistan finds itself suitably placed to force the great powers to be more cooperative and extract benefits for itself.

Geography is the principal enabler.

Competition is most pronounced in the South China Sea, in Russia`s extended backyard, and in the Middle East. Each of these regions intersects with Pakistan`s neighbourhood, and herein lies the opportunity.

China`s `Belt and Road` initiative is the poster child for Beijing`s willingness to prove its global mettle. CPEC is the quintessential test case whose success is necessary to convince China`s aspiring allies of its ability to lead independent geostrategic initiatives of serious consequence. This implies that Pakistan will be centre stage in Chinese foreign policy.

Second, Russia is looking for new partners and markets to export arms. India`s tilt towards the US has provided Pakistan an opening to mend ties with Moscow.

Third, because of the Middle East chaos, the world is struggling to find geopolitically relevant Muslim country partners that can have a moderating influence in the Islamic world. Pakistan is an obvious candidate.

Finally, the presence of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent implies that the costs of a total blow-up of Pak-India ties or Pakistan`s implosion are prohibitive.

With some visionary thinking, Pakistan can work the global chessboard in its favour by bringing the US, China, Russia, among others, together on these issues. China will remain CPEC`s driving force but proactive outreach from Pakistan to identify options to involve the US, UK, and Russia more seriously could transform an initiative otherwise seen as one of the flagships of Sino-US competition in Asia into a cooperative one.

Likewise, the US, China, and Russia share concerns about Islamist extremism. Pakistan is seen as part of the problem but its recent domestic counterterrorism successes imply that it can present itself as a potentially stable Muslim country that can stand up to the onslaught of Salafi-inspired radicalism thatis beginning to face pushback in Pakistan.

The fact that Islamabad maintains deep ties with the Gulf/Middle East positions it well to play this role.

Further, the world`s shared interest in avoiding a Pak-India disaster implies the need for the great powers to keep Pakistan engaged. This militates against the Modi government`s self-stated policy to isolate Pakistan and leaves space open for continued relations between Pakistan and the great powers, even if India remains their preferred partner. This will require Pakistan to reconsider its foreign policy orientation in at least two respects.

Foremost, the Cold War mentality of putting all eggs in one basket still lingers in Pakistani thinking. The emerging global order will prize countries able to demonstrate their importance for all competing camps.

The current discourse in Pakistan about Sino-Pak relations and improved Pak-Russia ties offsetting the deteriorating Pak-US equation is self-defeating in this regard. The USremains Pakistan`s largest export partner, it holds most influence over international donors that Pakistan relies on, and only it has the military, economic, and diplomatic tools to isolate Pakistan. No good can come of being on America`s wrong side.Second, Pakistan`s role as a melting pot for great power cooperation requires a bettermanaged neighbourhood. The tendency to allow ties with India to drive the country`s global policy orientation and the nature of its ties with other important countries has hurt Pakistan. The smarter policy would be to isolate Pak-India problems from broader discussions about Pakistan`s relations with the great powers. Refusal of other countries to support Islamabad on Pak-India issues must not be allowed to overshadow the need to work with them to establish Pakistan`s utility as a key enabler of great power cooperation in and around the South Asian region.

Finally, the vision purported here is predicated on Pakistan`s internal strength.

Economic and governance reforms that create opportunities for inclusive growth and stability remain crucial. So does the need for the state to consolidate counterterrorism gains and push ahead with the agenda to reverse the growing extremism in society.

This implies the need to ensure zero tolerance for all terrorist outfits in the country. The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.

Three Times as Many Mobile Phones as Toilets in Africa

20 March 2017 - 8:02pm

Clean water is still a pipe dream for more than 300 million Africans. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

Though key to good health and economic wellbeing, water and sanitation remain less of a development priority in Africa, where high costs and poor policy implementation constrain getting clean water and flush toilets to millions.

A signatory to several agreements committing to water security, Africa simply cannot afford the infrastructure to bring water to everyone, argues water expert Mike Muller.Lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

Sub-Saharan Africa uses less than five percent of its water resources, but making water available to all can be prohibitively expensive, Muller, of the Wits University School of Governance in South Africa and a former director general of the South African Department of Water, told IPS.

“Domestic water supply is a political priority in Africa and sanitation has grown in importance,” he said, “but the services cost money.”

According to the World Water Council, a global body with over 300 members founded in 1996 to advocate for world water security, the world needs to spend an estimated 650 billion dollars annually from now to 2030 to build necessary infrastructure to ensure universal water security.

Water woes still running

Africa is still far from enjoying the returns from investments in the water sector; for example, it has more citizens with mobile phones than access to clean water and toilets. A 2016 report published by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, which explored access to basic services and infrastructure in 35 African countries, found that only 30 percent of Africans had access to toilets and only 63 percent to piped water – yet 93 percent had mobile phone service.

Governments need to invest in water projects that will avail clean water to all in a world where over 800 million people currently do not have access to safe drinking water, and where water-related diseases account for 3.5 million deaths each year, said the World Water Council in a statement ahead of the World Water Day. The WWC warned that water insecurity costs the global economy an estimated 500 billion dollars annually.

“World leaders realize that sanitation is fundamental to public health, but we need to act now in order to achieve the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goal Number 6 – to deliver safe water and sanitation to everyone everywhere by 2030,” World Water Council President Benedito Braga said in a statement. “We need commitment at the highest levels, so every town and city in the world can ensure that safe, clean water resources are available.”

Noting the key impact of water access, Braga warned that lack of access to clean water can contribute to famine, wars and uncontrolled and irregular migration.

“Water is an essential ingredient for social and economic development across nearly all sectors. It secures enough food for all, provides sufficient and stable energy supplies, and ensures market and industrial stability amongst others benefits,” he said, adding that the world has missed the sanitation target, leaving 2.4 billion people without access to improved sanitation facilities, necessitating the investment in water and sanitation which the World Water Council said brought an estimated 4.3 dollars in return for every dollar invested through reduced health care costs.

Children fetch water from a canal at the Magwe irrigation scheme in south Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Wealth from wastewater

World Water Day 2017 focuses on waste water, which the United Nations inter-agency entity UN-Water says is an untapped source of wealth if properly treated.

The United Nations defines wastewater as “a combination of domestic effluent consisting of blackwater (excreta, urine and faecal sludge) and greywater (kitchen and bathing wastewater) in addition to water from commercial establishments and institutions, industrial and agricultural effluent.”

According the fourth World Water Development Report, currently only 20 percent of globally produced wastewater receives proper treatment, and this was mainly dependent on a country’s income. This means treatment capacity is 70 percent of the generated wastewater in high-income countries, compared to only 8 percent in low-income countries, according to a UN-Water Analytics Brief, Waste Water Management.

“A paradigm shift is now required in water politics the world over not only to prevent further damage to sensitive ecosystems and the aquatic environment, but also to emphasize that wastewater is a resource (in terms of water and also nutrient for agricultural use) whose effective management is essential for future water security,” said UN-Water.

Muller said Africa cannot talk of waste water without first delivering adequate clean water.

“The focus on waste water reflects the rich world’s desire to reduce pollution, protect the environment and sell technology,” Muller said. “There are some major cities and towns where ‘used’ water is treated and reused, in others untreated water is sought after by peri-urban farmers because it provides valuable fertilizer as well.

“But in places without adequate water supplies or sewers to remove the wastewater, waste water treatment is not yet a priority, [and] without water supply there can be no waste water.”

According to the World Water Council, about 90 percent of the world’s wastewater flows untreated into the environment. More than 923 million people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion others do not have adequate sanitation.

“Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population already faces water scarcity, which may increase to two-thirds of the population by 2025. In addition, approximately 700 million people are living in urban areas without safe toilets,” the Council said.

Waste water can be a drought-resistant source of water especially for agriculture or industry, nutrients for agriculture, soil conditioner and source of energy.

Some impurities in wastewater are useful as organic fertilizers. With proper treatment, wastewater can be useful in supporting pasture for grazing by livestock.

Clever Mafuta, Africa Coordinator at GRID-Arendal, a Norway-based centre that collaborates with the UN Environment, says an integrated and holistic approach is needed in water management across the world.

“Making strides in safe drinking water alone is a temporary success if other elements such as sanitation and wastewater management are not attended to, especially in urban areas,” Mafuta told IPS. “Wastewater often ends up in drinking sources, and as such if wastewater is not managed well, gains made in the provision of safe drinking water can be eroded.”

The UN estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water – the same as an entire year’s labour by the population of France.

The Africa Water Vision 2025 launched by a number of UN agencies and African regional bodies in 2000 noted extreme climate and rainfall variability, inappropriate governance and institutional arrangements in managing national and transactional water basins and unsustainable financing of investments in water supply and sanitation as some of the threats to water security in Africa.

African ministers responsible for sanitation and hygiene adopted the Ngor Declaration on Sanitation and Hygiene in May 2015 in Senegal, committing to access to sanitation and eliminating open defecation by 2030. However, this goal remains extremely distant.

African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) has developed an African monitoring and reporting system for the water and sanitation sector. Executive Secretary Canisius Kanangire calls it an important step in ensuring effective and efficient management of the continent’s water resources and the provision of adequate and equitable access to safe water and sanitation for all.

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Fishing Villages Work for Food Security in El Salvador

20 March 2017 - 4:17pm

Rosa Herrera returns to the village after spending the morning digging for clams in the mangroves that border Isla de Méndez in Jiquilisco bay, in the southeastern department of Usulután. The struggle to put food on the table is constant in fishing villages in El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
ISLA DE MÉNDEZ, El Salvador, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

After an exhausting morning digging clams out of the mud of the mangroves, Rosa Herrera, her face tanned by the sun, arrives at this beach in southeastern El Salvador on board the motorboat Topacio, carrying her yield on her shoulders.

For her morning’s catch – 126 Andara tuberculosa clams, known locally as “curiles”, in great demand in El Salvador – she was paid 5.65 dollars by the Manglarón Cooperative, of which she is a member.

“Today it went pretty well,” she told IPS. “Sometimes it doesn’t and we earn just two or three dollars,” said the 49-year-old Salvadoran woman, who has been harvesting clams since she was 10 in these mangroves in the bay of Jiquilisco, near Isla de Méndez, the village of 500 families where she lives in the southeastern department of Usulután.“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams.” -- Rosa Herrera

Isla de Méndez is a village located on a peninsula, bordered to the south by the Pacific ocean, and to the north by the bay. Life has not been easy there in recent months.

Fishing and harvesting of shellfish, the main sources of food and income here, have been hit hard by environmental factors and by gang violence, a problem which has put this country on the list of the most violent nations in the world.

For fear of the constant raids by gangs, the fishers shortened their working hours, particularly in the night time.

“We were afraid, so nobody would go out at night, and fishing this time of year is better at night, but that is now changing a little,“ said Berfalia de Jesús Chávez, one of the founding members of the Las Gaviotas Cooperative, created in 1991 and made up of 43 women.

But the gang was dismantled and, little by little, life is returning to normal, said the local people interviewed by IPS during a two-day stay in the village.

“Climate change has also reduced the fish catch, as have the la Niña and el Niño climate phenomena,” said María Teresa Martínez, the head of the cooperative, who added however that fishing has always had periods of prosperity and scarcity.

Ofilio Herrera (L) buys a kilo of fish freshly caught by Álvaro Eliseo Cruz off the coast of Isla de Méndez, a fishing village in southeastern El Salvador. Cruz caught 15 kilos of fish this day, including red porgy and mojarras, which he uses to sell in the market and feed his family. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The women in Las Gaviotas are making an effort to repair their three canoes and their nets to start fishing again, a real challenge when a good part of the productive activity has also been affected by the violence.

Fishing and selling food to tourists, in a small restaurant on the bay, are the cooperative’s main activities. But at the moment the women are forced to buy the seafood to be able to cater to the few visitors who arrive at the village.Sea turtle project suspended due to lack of funds

Another project that was carried out in Isla de Méndez but has now been suspended was aimed at preserving sea turtles, ensuring the reproduction of the species and providing an income to the gatherers of turtle eggs.

All four species that visit El Salvador nest in Jiquilisco bay: the hawkbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback or lute (Dermochelis coriácea), olive or Pacific ridley (Lepidochelys olivácea) and Galápagos green turtle (Chelonia agassizii).

In 2005, this bay, with the biggest stretch of mangroves in the country, was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, and in 2007 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared it the Xiriualtique – Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve.

The gatherers were paid 2.5 dollars for 10 turtle eggs, which were buried in nests until they hatched. The hatchlings were then released into the sea.

But the project was cancelled due to a lack of funds, from a private environmental institution, to pay the “turtlers”.

“Our hope is that some other institution will help us to continue the project,” said Ernesto Zavala, from the local Sea Turtle Association. To this septuagenarian, it is of vital importance to get the programme going again, because “those of us who cannot fish or harvest clams can collect turtle eggs.”

“Now tourists are beginning to come again,” said a local resident who preferred not to give his name, who had to close his restaurant due to extortion from the gangs. Only recently did he pluck up the courage to reopen his small business.

“Before, at this time, around noon, all those tables would have been full of tourists,” he said, pointing to the empty tables at his restaurant.

In Isla de Méndez, each day is a constant struggle to put food on the table, as it is for rural families in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.

According to the report “Food and Nutrition Security: a path towards human development”, published in Spanish in July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment – food intake insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements – in El Salvador stands at 12.4 percent of the population.

The United Nations are still defining the targets to be achieved within the Sustainable Development Goals, but in the case of El Salvador this prevalence should at least be cut in half, Emilia González, representative of programmes at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

“Sometimes we only manage to catch four little fishes for our family to eat, and nothing to sell, but there is always something to put on the table,” said María Antonia Guerrero, who belongs to the 37-member Cooperative Association of Fish Production.

“Sometimes what we catch does not even cover the cost of the gasoline we use,” she said.

Because of the cooperative’s limited equipment (just 10 boats and two motors), they can only go fishing two or three times a week. When fishing is good, she added, they can catch 40 dollars a week of fish.

The local fishers respect the environmental requirement to use a net that ensures the reproduction of the different species of fish.

“We do it to avoid killing the smallest fish, otherwise the species would be wiped out and we would have nothing to eat,” said Sandra Solís, another member of the cooperative.

González, of FAO, said one of the U.N.’s agency’s mandates is to strive for food and nutrition security for families, adding that only by empowering them in this process can their standard of living be improved.

“We have worked a great deal in these communities for families to be the managers of their own development,” she said.

In this community, efforts have been made to develop projects to produce organic compost and to treat solid waste, said Ofilio Herrera with the Community Development Association in Area 1.

More ambitious plans include setting up a processing plant for coconut milk and cashew nuts and cashew apples, he added.

Rosa Herrera, meanwhile, walks towards her house with a slight smile on her face, pleased with having earned enough to feed her daughter, her father and herself that day.

As a single mother, she is proud that she has been able to raise her seven children, six of whom no longer live at home, on her own.

“Because I had to work to get food I was not able to go to school. We were eight siblings; the younger ones studied, and the older ones worked. My father and mother were very poor, so the older of us worked to support the younger ones. Four of us did not learn to read and write. The others learned as adults, but I didn’t,” she said.

“I have left my life in the mangroves, I was not able to go to school to learn to read and write, but I am happy that I have provided an education for all my children, thanks to the clams,” she said.

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“Hate Group” Inclusion Shows UN Members Still Divided on LGBT Rights

20 March 2017 - 1:14pm

Participants at a gay pride celebration in Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

A group designated as a hate group for its “often violent rhetoric” against LGBTI rights was an invited member of the United States Official Delegation to the annual women’s meeting say rights groups.

C-FAM – one of the invited members of the United States official delegation to the meeting – has been designated as an Anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center “for its often violent rhetoric on LGBTQI rights” according to the International Women’s Health Coalition, who opposed the appointment.

Including C-Fam on the US delegation reflects ongoing disagreement between UN member states – and even within UN member states domestically – about the importance of including LGBTI rights within the UN’s work.

For the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) community, there were many reasons to come to this year’s annual women’s meeting with “battle scars,” and “eyes open” says Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

In a statement issued in response to C-Fam’s appointment to the US delegation, Stern said described C-Fam as an organisation with a “violent mentality” and said that “it is essential that the US uphold American values and prevent all forms of discrimination at the CSW” and that “the US government must ensure protection for the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Globally LGBTI people are among those most vulnerable to discrimination, violence and poverty.  Yet explicit references to LGBTI rights continue to be left out of major UN documents, including the annual outcome document of the CSW, Stern told IPS.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people," -- Pepe Julien Onzema

“The agreed conclusions of the CSW have never in all of its history ever made explicit reference to sexual orientation, gender identy or intersex status so that’s decades of systematic exclusion,” she told IPS.

“What we’re asking is that our allies in government and our allies in different civil society movements understand that we need them to stand up for and with us in demanding inclusive references to our needs.”

However Stern said that she was also “very happy to say” that there is ”extraordinarily strong representation of LBTI rights” in side events at the year’s meeting, which each year brings thousands of government and non-government representatives to New York.

LBTI representatives at this year’s meeting included Pepe Julien Onzema, a trans male Ugandan activist who was a presenter at a non-government side event on Wednesday.

Onzema told IPS that although he has seen some open-mindedness in including trans people in the feminist movement internationally that there are still some challenges.

“I see that the international (feminist) spaces are beginning to be receptive of trans people,” but Onzema added that thinks that there is still “a lot of work to do.”

“Even we as activists we are still looking at each others’ anatomy to qualify people for these spaces.”

However Onzema who was attending the CSW for the first time said that he had felt welcomed at the meeting:

“I’m receiving warmth from people who know I am trans, who know I am from Uganda,” he said.

The Ugandan government’s persecution of the Ugandan LGBTI community has received worldwide attention in recent years. International organisations both for and against LGBTI rights have also actively tried to influence the domestic situation in the East African nation.

The US Mission to the United Nations could not immediately be reached for comment on the inclusion of C-Fam in the US delegation.

Responding to US Budget Cuts for United Nations

20 March 2017 - 12:08pm

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

It is in UN’s long-term interest to gradually reduce its dependence on US funding and undue influence, as proposed by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme

Kul Chandra Gautam

US President Donald Trump’s first budget proposing a 28 percent cut in foreign aid, including drastic reduction in US funding for the United Nations has caused much alarm and anxiety among UN officials. Many enlightened Americans and other citizens of the world who believe in multilateral cooperation to tackle pressing global problems, such as poverty, population growth, climate change, peaceful resolution of conflicts and humanitarian assistance feel dismayed by Trump’s nativistic ‘America First’ chest thumping.

But instead of lamenting and pleading for restitution of proposed cuts, friends of UN should welcome it as a strong incentive for seriously reducing the UN’s over dependence and vulnerability to blackmail by US and occasionally by some other donors.

Part of the response would be for the UN to take a fresh look at a very creative proposal made by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1985 to significantly change the system of financing the UN that would be more sustainable as well as fair and practical.

Revisit the Olof Palme proposal

A great supporter of the UN and a true multilateralist, Olof Palme had the best interest of the UN at heart when he proposed that no member state should be asked or allowed to pay more than 10 to 12 percent of the UN’s core budget. A 10 per cent cap, he reasoned, would limit the UN’s political dependence on its largest contributors.

Any resulting deficit from decreasing the share of the US could easily be counter-balanced by relatively modest increases among other rich member countries. Today, many middle-income countries and even some lower middle-income countries can afford to pay more towards the UN budget than they do at present.

It is interesting to note that when the Palme proposal was floated in 1985, the US opposed it, fearing that it would lose its leverage over the UN. And other states, particularly the Europeans, balked at the proposal although the increased amounts they would have to pay would have been quite modest. One wonders how the US and other countries would react today, but I believe it is the right time now to explore such alternative.

Ideally, we should also look at some more innovative financing proposals such as the Tobin tax on currency or financial transactions, a carbon tax, taxes on the arms trade, and raising resources from the deep seas and other global commons, which are considered the common heritage of humankind.

But we know that the US and many other states are likely to oppose such schemes as most states want to safeguard their monopoly over taxing powers and will not be keen to give such authority to the UN or anyone else. This must, therefore, remain part of a longer-term agenda.

Today the financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private financing and those by philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and increasingly cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different forms of public-private partnerships. Harnessing such possibilities must also be part of the new UN agenda as recognized in the context of sustainable development goals.

Current funding formula

For the past seven decades, funding for the UN’s core budget and peace-keeping operations has been based on an internationally negotiated and agreed system of assessment of each member state’s “capacity to pay”.

Based on this, the US share currently comes to 22 percent of UN’s regular budget and 28% of its peace keeping budget, or approximately $600 million plus $1.1billion respectively per year, for a total of $1.7 billion in absolute amount (not including voluntary contributions and membership fees for specialized agencies).

According to this formula Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5% and Russia 3.1%. Permanent members of the UN Security Council pay a slightly higher percentage for the separate peace-keeping budget.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001%, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have a cap of 0.01% each. Thus, very small and poor countries like Gambia, Somalia and Vanuatu pay about $27,000; Nepal $162,000; Bangladesh $270,000 and India $20 million per year.

It should be noted that historically the US paid a much larger share of the UN’s regular budget than it does today. At the time of the founding of the UN when there were only 50 member states, and most European countries were bankrupt after the Second World War, the US paid 49 percent of the UN budget.

As Europe recovered, its share was increased and the US share was decreased to 33 per cent in 1952; 30 per cent in 1957; 25 % in 1972 and the current 22%. Combining peace-keeping operations and other voluntary contributions, the US pays an average of 25 % of the UN’s bills.

As the assessed contributions are mutually agreed and equitable treaty obligations, normally they can only be changed through multilateral negotiations. Sudden, arbitrary and unilateral cuts, like those proposed by President Trump are, therefore, tantamount to violation of the spirit of international treaty obligations.

Regrettably, money and military power often talk louder than democratic norms or treaty obligations in the realpolitik of international relations. Continuation of the undemocratic veto power by the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, a legacy of a different era, is the most glaring example of this reality.

Besides the assessed contribution for the UN’s regular budget and peace-keeping operations, the Trump budget proposals pose an even bigger threat to the “voluntary” contributions that the US makes to such UN funds and programs as the UN Population Fund, UNDP, and perhaps even UNICEF.

The threat goes beyond funding to the US backing out of some widely agreed global treaties such as the recent Paris agreement on climate change, the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Threats beyond Trump

Though Trump’s threats and actions are intemperate and extreme, they are not unprecedented. From time to time, members of the US Congress have made threats to cut funding for various UN agencies and programs as their hobby-horse. One of the worst periods in recent memory was during 1995-2001 when Senator Jesse Helms was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, the threat of US funding cuts has been a Damocles’ sword hanging over the UN from the early days of its founding. Occasionally such threat has led to some useful reforms in the UN, including a more stringent review of its budget and operations. But more often it has led to distorting the globally agreed program priorities, and giving undue and unfair advantage to the US in appointment of high-level officials in the UN Secretariat, Specialized agencies and Funds and Programs.

To be fair, it is not only the US but several other major donors too often exert the power of their purse to influence the staffing, election outcomes and policy priorities of the UN. Sometimes even lesser powers like oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia exercise what is known as “cheque-book diplomacy” to buy undue influence in UN reports and decision-making.

Like our national governments and other public as well as private institutions, the UN is not perfect. Those of us who have worked in the UN system would acknowledge that there certainly are many inefficiencies and waste in the UN system that need to be fixed. But big powers unilaterally flaunting their power of the purse to dictate their brand of reform will make the UN weaker, not stronger.

UN budget in perspective

The totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year. In the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, this is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle. The total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Wiser and more enlightened American leaders recognize this. In today’s world, America cannot be a walled, fortified and prosperous island. In a world where epidemic diseases respect no boundaries, and do not need a passport or visa to travel, nor does the impact of global warming and climate change, America’s security is inter-dependent on global human security. America’s own military leaders argue that ruthlessly cutting foreign aid and throwing more money for the military cannot enhance America’s security.

But lacking humility and sagacity, Trump and his associates seem to prefer pumping more money into the military machine. Trillions of dollars that US invested in military ventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have brought little tangible benefits to the US or to world peace and security.

There is no evidence to believe that a whopping increase in the already bloated military budget, homeland security and building border walls will make America safer from terrorism or other threats to its security. Mr. Trump should listen to the wise words of fellow billionaire Bill Gates who says: “The world will not be a safer place if the US stops helping other countries meet their people’s needs”.

The UN certainly has its work cut out to reform itself constructively, and to come up with more durable and reliable funding alternatives to protect itself from the whims of future Trumps elsewhere. The visionary Olof Palme proposal can be one part of the solution along with other innovative measures that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team must be contemplating.

Secret Tax Deals Increased Dramatically After Luxleaks

20 March 2017 - 11:39am

By Ida Karlsson
STOCKHOLM, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Despite the LuxLeaks scandal, the number of secret tax deals is skyrocketing. Such deals between companies and governments across Europe increased by almost 50 percent the year after the scandal broke.

Despite the controversy, the number of these individual secret agreements drawn up between European governments and multinational corporations in the EU have soared from 545 in 2013, to 1444 by the end of 2015, according to official data from the European Commission. It is an increase of 160 percent in just two years.

“This is obviously deeply concerning and shows that reforms in Luxembourg and elsewhere are a bit of a mirage, in particular since there is still no public scrutinity of these rulings yet,” Fabio De Masi, a politician from Die Linke in Germany and a Member of the European Parliament, told IPS.

The LuxLeaks scandal erupted in 2014 and sparked a major global push against generous deals handed to multinationals, which grew even stronger with new revelations such as the Panama Papers.

The two whistleblowers who exposed the profit-shifting of some multinationals such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi were convicted again last Wednesday by Luxembourg’s court of appeal, but with reduced sentences compared to the first verdict. Antoine Deltour, a former PWC employee was given a 6-month suspended sentence and a 1,500 euro fine and Raphaël Halet, another PWC employee, was given a 1,000 euro fine.

“It is scandalous that those who did an invaluable service to society, risking their careers, have again been found guilty while the rich and powerful rob hundreds of billions of euros from citizens,” Fabio de Masi said.

Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, has described the leak as “the worst attack” his country has ever experienced.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager appeared to back the whistleblowers in comments last week.

“I think it was a good thing (the leaks),” she told a news conference in Brussels last Wednesday.

“I think it is important when people tell if they find that something is not the way it should be. Then authorities, law enforces, can do their job and do that in a better way. I think that a lot of people actually have benefitted from them telling what they knew.”

Developing countries lose an estimated 1,000 billion dollars annually to corporate tax dodging according to Global Financial Integrity.

For the first time, the group of countries in Europe in favour of transparency around the true owners of businesses is larger than the group against, according to the report “Survival of the Richest” by the European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad. But there are still more governments against measures to show what multinationals are paying in taxes in the countries they operate in than those in favour.

Eurodad, the coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for greater tax transparency, analyzed European Commission data for 18 countries.

Eurodad also warned that European governments were signing controversial tax treaties with developing countries. The treaties were undermining taxations in those countries, it said. On average these treaties lower tax rates in developing countries by 3.8 percent, according to the coalition.

Sri Lanka and the Born-again Commonwealth

20 March 2017 - 3:12am

By the Editorial Desk, Sri Lanka Sunday Times
Mar 20 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Interestingly, if not ironically, the British Government having voted to exit the European Union (EU) in accordance with the wishes of a majority of its people, is now looking forward – or maybe looking back – at the Commonwealth once again.

The 53-nation Commonwealth, the third largest global grouping, next only to the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, was often contemptuously dismissed as a club living in the somewhat inglorious past of the British Empire serving neither man nor beast. And then, Britain, the primus inter pares in this club, itself dumped the Commonwealth for a new and more attractive bride – the EU, until it found that was a mistake.

Marking Commonwealth Day last Monday, a day long forgotten except by the titular head of the group, the Queen of the United Kingdom, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of a “truly global Britain”, a clear reference to looking beyond Europe – and re-engaging with other countries, mainly the Commonwealth of nations.

The week before, Trade Ministers from 35 of the 52 member-states, including Sri Lanka’s Trade Ministers met in London. (Yes; we have two Trade Ministers). The fact that the Commonwealth Trade Ministers were meeting for only the first time since 2005 spoke for itself.

Sri Lanka’s International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama gave a sound-bite to the media on the sidelines of the meeting saying it was the right time “for a new Commonwealth trading bloc”. Unfortunately, we have no further information on what this ‘new Commonwealth bloc’ is until the Minister enlightens us.

Britain’s decision to sideline its age-old trading partners in the Commonwealth was recognised at that very meeting and the country was asked, not necessarily to beg forgiveness, but to re-approach with “a degree of humility” old partners who were cast aside.

As Britain moved away from the Commonwealth (its funding dried up so much that the Commonwealth Press Union once known as the Empire Press Union, had to fold up, one day short of a hundred years of existence), so did the other Commonwealth countries move away from Britain. They had to seek new trading partners. Many countries found a great new economic partner — China.

China has spread its tentacles — and its influence far and wide, especially in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa where much of the Commonwealth membership is. As everyone knows, Sri Lanka too has had to look to China in recent years for economic succor, though not necessarily in trade.

Last year, Sri Lankan exports plummeted by as much as 3 percent and this decline continues despite what was an anticipated prognosis that a new pro-West Government in 2015 would attract more markets abroad. With its mainstay, garments only showing a marginal increase, and the EU still keeping Sri Lanka waiting for the GSP+ concessions, the country’s Balance of Payment problems have aggravated. The domino effect on the ordinary citizen is felt by inflation topping income levels and the resultant rise in the Cost of Living.

With the rupee continuing to slide to the US dollar, some expecting it to hit Rs. 160 sooner than later, all imported items will be costlier. Economic analysts point out that if the Sri Lankan consumer, especially the growing middle class, is forced to cut back on his or her lifestyle, it would have a knock-on effect on foreign investors who will not see Sri Lanka as a worthwhile market to invest in. The only attraction then in Sri Lanka would be for manufacturers seeking re-export facilities to third countries.

Our Economic analyst, Dr. Nimal Sandaratne, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank said last week in his column that Sri Lanka’s crisis is because of “the fundamental weaknesses in the trade balance, capital outflows, the non-realisation of expected inflows of Chinese capital and inadequate foreign investment”. Our exports earnings are only a little over a half of our import bill.

Many economic analysts blame inconsistent statements and actions by the National Unity Government for the lack of investor confidence in Sri Lanka. UNP Ministers and SLFP Ministers talk differently on economic policy leading to confusion all round. Unable to articulate their intentions properly, coupled with a veil of secrecy in what the pro-free market UNP Ministers want to do has given rise to suspicion that a cabal is dictating the Government’s economic agenda. This in turn, has met with objections from SLFP Ministers, including the President. SLFP Ministers more comfortable with an outdated pro-centralised economy are often tripping up the UNP Ministers, the result being the Government is going nowhere.

Sri Lanka is not ‘the only girl on the beach’ anymore. Many other countries have already made inroads into markets which Sri Lanka long thrived on; tea, apparels, tourism and while some of these newly emerging countries have already forged into diversified fields like electronics, Sri Lanka stagnates. Free Trade Agreements with Singapore, China etc., controversial as they are, still remain on the drawing boards and an FTA + called ETCA with India has already raised an anti-Indian bogey.

Going back to Britain’s Commonwealth ‘Born Again’ strategy, it is pertinent to note that while it calls for a return to the past, an all-party parliamentary group for Tamils (Sri Lankan Tamils only, it seems) just late last month slammed the Government of Sri Lanka for slow progress in post-war reconciliation and the setting up of a war crimes tribunal with foreign judges via the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in Geneva.

The British Government, with its Lilliputian allies like Macedonia and Montenegro, who have nothing to do with Sri Lanka are now the new promoters of Resolution 30/1 in Geneva. Only MP Ian Paisley defended Sri Lanka in the House of Commons committee saying when Britain rejects an international inquiry into ‘Bloody Sunday’ or the Iraqi invasion, it runs the risk of being hypocritical in asking others to hold international inquiries. To a lesser degree, the former foreign affairs state minister Sir Hugo Swire said that the very fact that the parliamentary group was for the interests of the Tamils in Sri Lanka displayed how anti-integration the British Parliament might be seen to be and added that what all Sri Lankan communities want right now is “economic prosperity”.

Last month, Sri Lanka marked 69 years of Independence from Britain, but it has not sunk into many British MPs that the writ of Westminster no longer holds sway over this country. Maybe, they are only pandering to some of their constituents, but the British Government will have to make a call on wanting to do business with its old Commonwealth partners, while hauling some of them over the coals at the same time.

Smiling Towards Development

19 March 2017 - 8:01pm

Happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger and stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Credit: Mahmud Rassel/cc by 2.0

By Andrea Vale
ROME, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Previous indications of national prosperity have focused on income, poverty, health and, above all, Gross Domestic Product, but on March 20th, World Happiness Day commemorates what is perhaps becoming the new way to measure welfare: happiness.

On this day, the 2017 World Happiness Report – the fifth to be published since the inaugural 2012 report – will be released by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting years of research and development that began in 2015.

In contrast to the shorter World Happiness Report 2016 Update released last March, World Happiness Report 2017 will be a more comprehensive look at the factors leading to, as well as implications of, happiness. The report will include two separate chapters which each focusing on a sub-population in China and Africa, as well as deeper analyses of workplace happiness.

The 2017 report will also introduce a focus on the happiness implications of immigrants and refugees, reflecting a necessity brought on by the rising rates of migration worldwide.

The 2016 report listed the happiest country in the world as Denmark, followed in descending order by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Conversely, Burundi was ranked least in happiness, claiming the bottom spot just below Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia and Tanzania, in ascending order of happiness.

In this instance, happiness was gauged by measuring a combination of GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. But as Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb recently pointed out in an article published in Blue Wings, “it’s difficult to measure the happiness of a nation or what a country should do in order to boost it. The feeling of happiness is personal and by definition subjective.”

Governments, Stubbs noted, “do not create individual happiness, but they can focus on at least five things that create the right conditions for individuals to thrive: security, health care, education, equality and infrastructure.”

Why devote so much time and effort into measuring happiness? Because happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two form a complementary relationship – the happier a country is, the more progress it has made towards the SDGs, and the more progress a country has made towards the SDGs, the happier it is.

In the 2016 World Happiness Report, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs compared progress towards the SDGs, national competitiveness and economic freedom in a regression chart, finding that though the former two accounted for high levels of positive increase in a country’s happiness, the latter had increasingly less.

“Economic freedom per se does not seem to explain much, if anything, about cross-country happiness after controlling for national competitiveness and progress towards the SDGs,” Sachs said.

Happiness is a particularly relevant concept considering the spike of mental health awareness among high school and college-aged persons. Talking openly about depression, anxiety and general well-being has become increasingly important to young people, and has begun to be considered as vital to assessing one’s life as income, health and other classic gauges of prosperity. In other words, it is no longer enough to simply be in good health and have a well-paying job; in order to have a ‘good’ life, one must feel fulfilled and satisfied in their daily lives. One must be happy.

Making a country happier could result in more than just a brighter day: it could result in less hunger, higher education rates and better equality.

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Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Out

18 March 2017 - 6:39pm

Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
DUBAI, UAE, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network.

Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

Hope persists

“My dream is to be a medical doctor in the future and inspire others and go back to my home country and help those kids to go back to school and assist others get the education they deserve,” Sa’a says.

Rachel, who is back at school in Nigeria, says she wanted to be medical doctor as well but would now like to be a top ranking military officer after what happened to her father and three brothers.

“I would like to contribute to a better nation. I am not conformable because of what I have seen and I feel bad,” Rachel said. “Some girls cannot go to school now because of what happened and do not value education because without education they can survive. This is sad.”

Rachel is a teenager that went to school in northeast Nigeria. Her father was a plainclothes policeman who had moved his family with him to a smaller town where he thought it would be safer. He was assigned to protect the local church. Rachel’s mum found a job working in the Education department of the church that her father was on security detail to.

Then one day in late 2014, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the church that her father had been assigned to protect.  Rachel’s father fled to his house to gather his children. Unfortunately, as they tried to escape, they ran into the terrorists who shot dead her father and three younger brothers on the spot. They were 14, 12 and 10 years old and in secondary and primary school, respectively.

Vikas Pota, Chief Execuive of the Varkey Foundation, the hosts of the Global Education Forum, said the Boko Haram question is wider than simply the question of the girls, and is related to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and elsewhere. He said collective action was needed to make the world more inclusive thereby creating an environment to access education to all.

“I think it is ridiculous in today’s age that so many girls and all the human intelligence that exists that we do not know where these girls are. It shows we do not care,” Pota told IPS, adding that,” As a father, how can we tolerate this situation? I think the government not – just the Nigerian one but governments around the world – should help and make sure this situation is resolved.”

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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‘Religious Discrimination, Fanaticism and Xenophobia Worsened’

18 March 2017 - 4:52pm

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America, thus there is a need for alternatives to identify a common strategy to address these challenges, a Geneva-based think tank promoting global dialogue stated.

The issue has been top on the agenda of a meeting organised by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on Mar. 16 at the United Nations Office in Geneva, during which representatives from the Muslim and Christian regions of the world exchanged views on the convergence between Islam and Christianity,

William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) who participated in this meeting, entitled “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights, highlighted the importance of recognising the convergences of the Abrahamic religions – Islam and Christianity – in order to overcome religious divisions.

“We live today in turbulent and troubled times. There are many and loud voices that take perverse delight in drawing attention to what divides and splits our global community. In these circumstances, it is all too easy to forget that Islam and Christianity – two of the world’s three ancient Abrahamic monotheist religious traditions – have more in common than in contention.”

Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan underlined in a video message the importance of fostering religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony between Christians and Muslims as well as intra-faith cohesion.

Referring to the Brussels Declaration entitled “The Peace of God in the World’ Towards Peaceful Coexistence and Collaboration Among the Three Monotheistic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”, he underscored the importance of bringing peace to the world and the need for peaceful co-existence between religious groups.

“All of our religions disapprove of religious justification of violence and inhumane actions, none of them approve of violence, terrorism or ill treatment of human beings,” he said.

For his part, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim highlighted the significance of garnering the support of Muslim and Christian leaders to restore relations between Islam and Christianity.

“Today we have a tremendous opportunity to discuss the convergences between Islam and Christianity and to continue our joint efforts combining our strengths to promote equal citizenship rights,” he added.

The Minister of State for Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi, for her part emphasised the need for Christian-Muslim dialogue as a necessary condition for peace, tolerance and harmony.

“Irrespective of national identity, all citizens need to be granted equally universal human rights. Our states need to protect these human rights. To grant equal protection, we need to rethink our Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is only through engaging in dialogue and accepting the diversity of each other that we can reach a peaceful reconciliation.”

Representing over 500 million Christians in more than 110 countries of the world, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said, “that the nature of the relationship between these two faith communities is of vital significance for the welfare of the whole human family.”

For his part, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, Lakhdar Brahimi, condemned the hijacking of religious faiths by violent and extremist groups stating that the “majority of people in the so-called Muslim majority countries are horrified by the barbaric violence committed by groups who claim to serve Islam.”

“Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram and similar groups in our countries and in Europe are abusing Islam and gravely trying to destroy its values, its cultures and its civilisation.”

Equal, Inclusive Citizenship Rights

As part of the meeting’s agenda, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Idriss Jazairy presented a draft agenda for a forthcoming world conference entitled “Religions, Creeds or Other Value Systems and Equal Citizenship Rights” that will build on the discussions initiated during the meeting.

The goal of this conference would be to initiate a structured dialogue that might lead to the obsolescence of the concept of minority and to its replacement by that of a model of inclusive and equal citizenship rights.

On the conference, the Former Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the current Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Dr. Tarek Mitri, argued that states should be established on the principles of citizenship, equality and law to create an environment of plurality and tolerance.

“Re-vitalising the pact of citizenship necessitates the rebuilding of state institutions on the foundation of the rule of law. The state’s chief obligation is to protect its citizens, all its citizens. Politics of inclusion in fractured societies are a condition for equal citizenship,” he said.

The former US ambassador to the United Nations and former member of the US Congress, Dr. Mark D. Siljander, ascertained that the convergence and the commonalities between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity could lead to equal and inclusive citizenship rights. Drawing on his long-time expertise as a diplomat and peacemaker.

And Pakistan’s ambassador Tehmina Janjua reminded the participants that the concept of equal and inclusive citizenship should go beyond religious affiliation.

“If we are to address the issue of citizenship rights/minorities globally, then we need to go beyond the relationship of Christianity and Islam. We also need to go beyond viewing this issue from the perspective of religion alone.”

The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognise the potential of a “great convergence” between both religions, and to mitigate and reverse the social polarisation between affiliates of these two religions and the resulting marginalisation of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and violence.

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Oh Happy Day!

18 March 2017 - 3:46pm

A Sudanese girl beams with happiness at the inauguration ceremony of the Transitional Government of National Unity of Sudan in Khartoum. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Once a year, there is a day when the seven billion inhabitants of Planet Earth should feel happy or at least are encouraged to do so–the World Happiness Day, which is marked every year on March 20. So far, so good.

But what happiness is all about? And who are the world’s happiest people… or at least the happy ones?

According to the Day’s promoters—the United Nations “It’s –literally– a day to be happy, of course!” Consequently, the world body has celebrated, since 2013, the International Day of Happiness “as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.”

Now the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek “to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet– three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.” Fine!

Being this a really sound idea, the UN invites each person “of any age, plus every classroom, business and government to celebrate the International Day of Happiness using hashtag #SmallSmurfsBigGoals.”

And it asks you to pledge to create more happiness in the world, and to share your happiness with the world.

All this is fine. But how, and when did the idea of celebrating a world happiness day was conceived? Which countries are the happiest? And, more importantly, are people really happy?

Two happy students from the Kulturama School of Performing Arts in Stockholm pose for a picture during Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to their school. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe


The idea, according to former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in his address in Aril 2012 to a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm “ is that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

The meeting was convened at an initiative of small (770,000 inhabitants) but great Asian country–Bhutan, which already in the early 70s recognised the “supremacy” of national happiness over national income and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP), which measures the total value of goods and services produced by a country in one year, including profits made in foreign countries.

The Happy Kingdom of the Himalaya…

Well, that Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, which is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys, has been so far the first-ever country to apply the supremacy of people’s happiness—measured in terms of people’s happiness, over macro-economic indicators.

Children from the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced performed in 2015 traditional dances at the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, El Fasher, Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


In that period, in the 1970s, developing countries were focused on increasing economic success to help develop prosperity. Then, Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, however, believed an economic approach dehumanised the development process. Therefore, he instead decided to focus on a concept that he precisely called “Gross National Happiness.

For that there is an institution—the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, which works precisely on the Gross National Happiness. It is a government autonomous organisation, mandated to carry out research on GNH. Its first pilot GNH Survey was carried out in 2006 with 350 respondents.

The questionnaire was further refined after the pilot survey and it was administered to 950 respondents from 12 dzongkhags. And it was again reviewed and refined for a nation wide GNH Survey which was carried out in 2010.

The Survey’s result was then used to develop the indicators and set benchmark values for the different indicators that were used for the GNH Index. The next nation-wide GNH Survey was carried out in 2015. The results of both these surveys are available here, showing the people are happy.

… The Happy Emirates of the Gulf

There is another small (around 6 million inhabitants) but rich country (second richest in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia)—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has created a Ministry of Happiness.

It is a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain, located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. And it decided a year ago to create that Ministry for Happiness as part of the largest-ever government reshuffling that implied the appointment of a cabinet of 30 ministers and secretary of state, including 8 women.

The youngest woman minister–only 22-years-old, Ohoud al-Roumi, was appointed as minister of State for Happiness. Her mission is to drive policy “to create social good and satisfaction.”

In 2016, the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness and referenced GNH as the background for the initiative

Moreover, a new post of minister of State for Tolerance was also created “to promote such virtue “as a fundamental value in UAE society.” Another woman, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, heads this ministry.

The same year, 2016, Thailand launched its own GNH Initiative.

… And The Happy Women of Brazil

The GNH concept evolved through the contribution of international and local scholars and researchers to become an initiative beyond the borders of Bhutan.

The idea of measuring peoples’ happiness has been gradually extended to other countries. For instance, in the year 2012, studies showed that Brazilian women are happy. Not only happy—they declared being much happier than men.

According to a study published five years ago by Brazilian Bubble, which provides the business and financial community with an economic and investment perspective on Brazil, on a scale of zero to ten, the Brazilians had to rate their current perception of happiness and expectations of future joy.

Averaging 8.98 against 8.51 for the Danish women (second place), Brazilian women showed their grace and optimism about life, being the international average was 6.74. In the last place of the ranking were the women of Zimbabwe, with 4.04.

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Argentina and UAE Agree to Strengthen Economic Ties

17 March 2017 - 7:01pm

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade.

This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the latter’s official visit to Buenos Aires.

The two ministers held a working meeting at the San Martin Palace, the headquarters of Argentina’s foreign ministry, then gave a brief press conference before having lunch with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

“This week started and ended for us with the United Arab Emirates, which shows the importance that both countries put on this relationship and the shared interest in reinforcing our friendship,” Malcorra said.

She was referring to the visit to Argentina early this week by a high-level delegation from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, headed by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, that came to learn about the present economic situation and business climate in the country.

The delegation was received in the Casa Rosada, the seat of the central government, by President Mauricio Macri. The members of the delegation also met with Malcorra, Michetti, the president of the Central Bank, Federico Sturzenegger, and the ministers of the treasury, finance and energy and mines.

In addition, they held meetings with business representatives from different sectors of the economy: oil, steel, agriculture, food, real estate, energy and finance, among others.

A broad UAE delegation headed by UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammed Sharaf also visited Argentina this week.

Malcorra wore black at Friday’s meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Mar. 17, 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 22 dead and dozens injured.

During the news briefing, Minister Al Nayhan expressed his solidarity referring to the incident and said he hoped nations “will work more effectively to put a stop to terrorism.”

He had a message of political support for President Macri, congratulating the government on its determination “to take the very brave steps it has been taking to ensure that Argentina becomes the country it deserves to be, generating openness, not only for tourists but also for investors and for its different partners and allies.”

Since Macri, of the centre-right Cambiemos alliance, took office in December 2015, one of his priorities has been to generate the conditions for drawing foreign investors to Argentina and improving the country’s access to global credit markets.

The measures he has taken to that end include an agreement to pay 4.65 billion dollars to holdout hedge funds, creditors that have been in conflict with Argentina since the late 2001 default declared in the midst of the severe economic crisis that led to the resignation of then president Fernando de la Rúa.

This is the second time that the UAE foreign minister has visited Buenos Aires since Macri became president. The first visit was in early February 2016, when the main aim was to meet the new authorities here.

In November 2016, an Argentine delegation headed by Vice President Michetti visited the UAE and held several meetings, with the aim of “attracting investment and generating jobs for our countries,” as the vice president stated at the time.

In the trade balance between the two countries Argentina – which mainly sells food to the Gulf nation – has a surplus of 133.6 million dollars.

“Although it is true that trade between our countries has not yet reached the levels that we would like, our presence will help it grow and will bring about a greater presence of the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Argentina. We have also been exploring opportunities to reach cooperation accords involving third parties, and we are optimistic,” said the Emirati foreign minister.

For her part, Malcorra referred to the sectors in which Argentina could receive investment from the UAE.

She especially mentioned “tourism, not only to draw a significant number of visitors from the Emirates, but also as an opportunity for investment in the hotel industry,” and “health, since the Emirates has become a model health centre, which draws people from the entire region; we are looking at the possibility of exchange and complementarity in this area.”

The Argentine minister also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed regarding visas, “to facilitate the exchange between the two countries.”

During the visit, Malcorra gave Minister Al Nahyan a letter from Macri in which the president promised that Argentina would take part in the Expo 2020, the world fair to be held in Dubai between October 2020 and April 2021, which is expected to be visited by 25 million people, 70 percent of them from abroad.

The Emirati minister came to Argentina from Brazil, the other leg of his current South America tour, where he signed three agreements on Thursday Mar. 16 with his Brazilian host and counterpart, Aloysio Nunes. Al Nahyan will return from Buenos Aires to Brazil, where he will inaugurate the UAE consulate-general in São Paulo on Tuesday Mar. 21.

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From Barriers to Bridges: Transformation of the Kenya-Ethiopia Border Region

17 March 2017 - 10:02am

President Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn lay the foundation for the Kenya-Ethiopia cross border program in the border town of Moyale on 07 Dec 2015. Photo Courtesy of PPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Consider this. The communities around the Kenya-Ethiopia border in Moyale-Borona area, have long been associated with internecine violence, extreme poverty, and environmental stress. These have led to disastrous societal consequences, including displacement, criminality and violent extremism.

Siddharth Chatterjee

The 2012-2013 intercommunal clashes in Moyale town, claimed the lives of over 200 people, destroyed thousands of properties, including schools and other social amenities. The region has been viewed as largely peripheral, both economically and politically, and therefore attracted limited public and private resources.

However, an innovative, comprehensive and integrated cross-border programme initiated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, in partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations (UN) is changing this narrative.

During the recent visit to Kenya by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, President Uhuru Kenyatta specifically mentioned, the Kenya-Ethiopia cross-border programme and noted the importance of this innovative area-based development programme, which he said has the potential of being replicated elsewhere.

President Kenyatta hoped that the initiative would help transform the region. “The programme will see Moyale being turned into the Dubai of Africa,” he said.

The strong commitment of the two governments is reflected in an article the Foreign Ministers of Kenya and Ethiopia, co-authored. Kenya and Ethiopia: A cross-border initiative to advance peace and development.

President Kenyatta and UN Secretary-General meet at the State House on 08 March 2017. Photo @StateHouse


The initiative is driven by the need to foster peace and sustainable development in the cross-border area of Marsabit County, Kenya, and the Borana/Dawa Zones, Ethiopia. It was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.

The European Union Ambassador to Kenya, Dr Stefano Dejak remarked, “I am seeing positive signs of change and therefore the European Union has decided to partner with the UN and IGAD, to expand the cross-border programme to include Mandera Triangle (Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia), the Omo (Kenya-South Sudan) and Karamoja (Kenya-Uganda) clusters”.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn witness as former Foreign Minister Ethiopia, Tedros Adhanom and Foreign Minister Kenya, Amb Amina Mohamed sign an MOU to create jobs, reduce poverty and foster trade in their restive borderlands, where conflict had intensified in recent years. Photo: UN Kenya


Among the positive signs is a determination to establish peace as the basis for integration. Local peace committees, comprising of different ethnic groups, have been working relentlessly to maintain the peace and promoting harmonious coexistence. The elders also testified to the fact that the number of young people getting radicalised and tempted to join extremist/terror groups had declined significantly.

Devolution has also empowered local authorities and communities, and has contributed to poverty reduction and effective service delivery in Marsabit County. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, is now complete; and it will be a transformational as it will link the region to Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, and promote cross-border trade. In addition, this completes the Trans-Africa highway linking South Africa to Egypt.

The Isiolo-Moyale-Borona highway has had a massive positive impact on the region’s security, having opened up an area that was previously viewed as “marginalized”. Photo media commons


The region’s socio-economic development potential is great. The large numbers of livestock can be harnessed for leather, meat and dairy industries. The cross-border trade between the border communities could generate tremendous revenue for both countries. The region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage, evidenced by its historical and geographical sites, present huge tourism potential. There is also a latent resource for clean and renewable energy exploitation, as proven by the recent launch of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project that is expected to generate 310MW into the national grid and power one million households.

The UN is collaborating with development partners to tap this enormous potential to reduce poverty and spur development in various ways. This will especially benefit women who are significantly involved in cross-border trade. The UN will soon launch a “HeforShe” initiative/campaign to empower women and address the problem of gender inequality, and enhance women’s participation in the development process in both regions.

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. Photo Media commons


A UN supported “Biashara Centre” – a business incubation centre – was opened in Marsabit Town to empower the youth and address the problem of youth unemployment, and promote small and medium enterprises.

Studies carried out, in collaboration with the communities, are helping to understand the causes, drivers, dynamics and impacts of conflict in the cross-border areas, and possible factors or stakeholders that could contribute to sustainable peace in the region. This is an important parameter of the African Union vision on peace and security in the first plan of action under the progressive Agenda 2063.

A UN supported Biashara center.Photo Credit: @undpkenya


The UN has worked with Marsabit County to review and mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). The revised CIDP aims at improving the living standards of the people of Marsabit County through employment creation, reduction of poverty and creation of wealth and expanding public service delivery in general.

Though integration and trade along the border is still in nascent stages, there is reason for optimism that it will have long-term positive macroeconomic and social ramifications such as food security and income generation, particularly for populations who would otherwise suffer from social exclusion.

Ms Ruth Kagia, in the Office of the President of Kenya who coordinates the programme says, “This initiative if properly executed may well be a game changer by turning cross border barriers into bridges of opportunity. Especially among the marginalized and poor communities to expedite the achievement of a core goal of the SDGs and ending poverty by 2030”.

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