Interpress News Service

Mideast: Drought to Turn People into Eternal Migrants, Prey to Extremism?

13 June 2017 - 11:31am

Credit: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 13 2017 (IPS)

Worldwide, land degradation, severe droughts and advancing desertification are set to force populations to flee their homes and migrate. In the specific case of the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA), such an obliged choice implies the additional risk to turn peoples into easy prey to extremist, terrorist groups.

This quick conclusion does not come out of the blue–the MENA region, which is home to around 400 million people, is one of the world’s most impacted areas by drought and fast advancing desertification.

The situation is such that several scientific researches have been handling the scary scenario that the MENA region may become inhabitable in very few decades from now, even as soon as 2040.

On this, study-based reports are bold clear. See for instance: New Evidence Confirms Risk That Mideast May Become Uninhabitable. And Will the Middle East Become ‘Uninhabitable’?

The international community is set to mark this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) on June 17, under the theme: “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future.” The Day will precisely examine the important link between land degradation and migration.

The WDCD is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification.

What Desertification Is All About?

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations, according to the United Nations.

“Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems, which cover over one third of the world‘s land area, are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of the land.”

Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk, the world body reports. “These people include many of the world‘s poorest, most marginalized and politically weak citizens.”

Bandiagara, a town in the semi-arid central plateau of Mali inhabited by mainly agricultural Dogon people. Credit: UN Photo/Alejandra Carvajal

The World Day to Combat Desertification is a unique moment to remind everyone that land degradation neutrality (LDN) is achievable through problem solving, strong community involvement and co-operation at all levels,” according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“Environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty are causes of migration and development challenges.”

In fact, the Bonn-based UNCCD secretariat timely reminds that in just 15 years, the number of international migrants worldwide has risen from 173 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2015.

Drought, the Big Unknown

Drought, a complex and slowly encroaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster, says the UN Convention secretariat.

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions.

Meanwhile, UNCCD reports that the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 per cent by the year 2050. As populations increase, especially in dryland areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded. Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century.

“Drought and water scarcity are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant secondary and tertiary impacts.”

Ten Times Less Available Fresh Water

Per capita availability of fresh water in the region is now 10 times less than the world average, the United Nations has recently warned. Moreover, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields a further 27 per cent to 55 per cent less by the end of this century.

Add to this that the region’s fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50 per cent by 2050, according to the United Nations leading agency in the field of food and agriculture.

Moreover, 90 per cent of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45 per cent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adds.

On this, UNCCD says that to mitigate these impacts, drought preparedness that responds to human needs, while preserving environmental quality and ecosystems, requires involvement of all stakeholders including water users and water providers to achieve solutions for drought.

“Action on mitigating the effects of drought should be implemented considering comprehensive drought early warning and monitoring systems, vulnerability and risk assessment, upstream-downstream water uses, the link between water and land use; livelihood diversification strategies for drought affected people, etc. For example, addressing land degradation upstream improves access to water on site and downstream.”

The health of land is critical in the search for sustainable solutions to water resource provision and management, the UN Convention secretariat informs. “It is essential for countries to be proactive (rather than reactive); be coordinated at regional level (in addition to the country level actions); holistic and multi-sectoral (rather than silos) and to treat drought as a ‘constant risk’ (rather than a ‘crisis’).”

The global observance of #2017WDCD will be on 15 June in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The Day will be hosted by le Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’Economie Verte et du Changement Climatique.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification

Established in 1994, UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management. It addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.

Its 195 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought.

The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation. Its secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.

As the dynamics of land, climate and biodiversity are intimately connected, the UNCCD collaborates closely with the other two Rio Conventions; the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to meet these complex challenges with an integrated approach and the best possible use of natural resources.

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Genetic Engineering Lobbyist’s Trumpian Methods

13 June 2017 - 6:05am

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 13 2017 (IPS)

To her credit, Dr Mahaletchumy has pioneered and promoted science journalism in Malaysia. This is indeed commendable in the face of the recent resurgence of obscurantism of various types, both traditional and modern.

But she has done herself, journalism and science a great disservice by using her position of influence to lobby for her faith in genetic engineering, promoting another obscurantism in the guise of science. In her blatantly polemical GE advocacy, she uses caricature and rhetoric to misrepresent and defame those she disagrees with.

She accuses us of “spreading flawed arguments and inaccurate information”, “demonising private industry”, and making “a number of sweeping statements with inaccuracies about lower yield gains with genetically engineered crops, higher usage of herbicides, decline in crop and (sic) biodiversity, rising pest resistance, carcinogenicity of glyphosate, and increase in corporate power”.

To be sure, our article was never intended for a scientific journal, but rather for IPS readers to appreciate the implications of recent research. It nevertheless provided links to relevant research for those interested, which she chose to ignore while accusing us of lying (‘false news’) in Trumpian fashion.

Most importantly, she does not directly refute any of our arguments or the evidence that the increased output from non-GE crops has exceeded the productivity growth of GE crops due to, among others, the rise of pesticide resistance – our main argument. Nor does she bother to refute the mounting evidence of greater farmer reliance on commercial agrochemicals, especially herbicides.

GE advocates cannot have it both ways. One cannot insist that only GE can increase output and productivity as well as improve farmers’ net incomes and the environment without offering or citing systematic evidence, and simply reject inconvenient evidence to the contrary.

Dr Mahaletchumy fails to actually quote anything we actually wrote or to show how the sources we use are wrong. Her effort to discredit us resorts to innuendo and insinuation. While accusing us of selective citation, she has little hesitation to do what she condemns, citing only one person, Graham Brookes, not once, but twice, to make her case.

Instead of creating false news, as she claims we did, inter alia, we relied on and provided links to the US National Academy of Sciences report on Genetically Engineered Crops. The report provides an authoritative review of the now very considerable and diverse research on related issues. While the encyclopaedic volume admittedly includes a bland summary, the report itself offers a richly textured survey of evidence from many peer-reviewed studies.

She also refuses to recognize that most people go hungry in the world because they cannot afford access to the food they need and not because there is not enough food grown in the world.

Meanwhile, government and philanthropic funding of public research and development has declined while private corporate interests have been promoting GE, not exactly for charitable reasons.

We draw conclusions which other science journalists have also drawn, but instead of critically addressing our arguments, she lumps us together with GE critics, and invokes the same arguments and sources of the heavily corporate funded GE lobby.

Let me be very clear. We are keen supporters of technological progress, including biotechnology. And as we made clear, genetic modification is as old as nature itself. Unlike GE opponents, we remain open-minded about it.

Dr Mahaletchumy is correct that there continues to be some debate over whether glyphosates are carcinogenic. This is partly why we insist on adherence to long established scientific ethics, including the ‘precautionary’ principle.

But one cannot go ‘authority shopping’ — by dismissing the World Health Organization when it is inconvenient, and citing any body saying otherwise, especially when its authority is not relevant — as she does.

We have previously shown how misleading research findings funded by the US Sugar Foundation had damaging consequences for world health for half a century.

We are also concerned about the unintended consequences of scientific progress. For example, the excessive use of cheap antibiotics for both humans and animals has generated antibiotic-resistant bacteria for every class of antibiotics, with annual mortality rates due to antibiotic resistant diseases expected to rise exponentially to ten million by mid-century.

One wonders why a journalist resorts to fraudulent misrepresentation in the cause of any advocacy, or in this case, to deceptively insist that her faith that GE is the only way forward is irrefutable science.

Child Labor in the Arab Region Does Not Belong to the 21st Century

12 June 2017 - 3:08pm

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Today marks the 2017 World Day against Child Labor to reaffirm the goal to eliminate all forms of child labor. This year’s annual theme highlights a subject that is often neglected, namely the importance of addressing child labor in conflict areas and in disaster settings.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The United Nations (UN) estimates that approximately 1.5 billion people live in conflict areas around the world. It is likewise projected that around 200 million people are affected annually by disasters whether related to man-made environmental devastations, to natural hazards or to other types of catastrophes.

Out of these figures, 168 million children worldwide are affected by child labor in conflict and in disaster settings. Asia and the Pacific has the highest incidence with approximately 78 million (9.3%) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 59 million (21%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 13 million (8.8%). 9.2 million children – 8.4% of the total figures – are engaged in child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Child labor is prohibited by several legal conventions. ILO Convention No. 182 often referred to as the “Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention” provides important guidelines on the worst types of child labor that need to be prohibited and eliminated by States. ILO Convention No. 138 entitled “Minimum Age Convention” likewise upholds in Article 7 that children at an early age should not undertake employment considered “to be harmful to their health or development.”

Although the incidence of child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa is lower than in other parts of the world, it remains a major challenge for many countries in the Arab region owing to the proliferation of conflicts.

The war in Syria is a major humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century. Several hundred thousand civilians have died, whereas it is estimated that approximately 7.6 million people are internally displaced and 4.8 million are refugees. A figure that is often left unaddressed is the incidence of child labor involving Syrian refugee and displaced children. According to several think-thanks, these children perform hazardous work and hard labor under harsh and unsustainable working conditions. Organized crime groups exploit children for financial gains. Child labor has now reached a disturbing level among Syrian refugee children.

Yemen has also witnessed the growth of child labor owing to the war that is unfolding in the country. According to a joint UNHCR-IOM press release issued in February 2017, it was concluded that the deteriorating situation in Yemen has pushed children into “danger and adversity” including child labor and hazardous work. Other Arab countries facing turmoil and civil war – such as Libya and Iraq – also experience a resurgence of child labor as a result of the disintegration and the fragmentation of these societies.

Despite this troubling context, there is hope in the horizon. I am pleased that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the importance of addressing and of ending child labor. SDG 8.7 stipulates the need to end child labor “in all its forms” by 2025. I invite all Arab states to work jointly towards the realization of this imperative goal by 2030. Arab States have showed great dedication and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); I remain convinced that similar progress will be realized vis-à-vis the SDGs.

The deteriorating security situation and the growing threat of famine throw societies into a situation of despair and instability. The lack of employment, decent work and poverty provide fertile ground for child labor to prosper as the only hope for economically disadvantaged families is to send their children – in particular girls – to engage in child labor. To reverse this trend, war-torn societies need to be allowed to return to a modicum of peace and stability guaranteeing families safe living conditions and peaceful prospects. The return to peace is the first step towards the full elimination of child labor.

Lastly, despite a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced persons to Europe, the heaviest burden by far is borne by Muslim societies in neighbouring countries bordering war-torn countries of departure of refugees and other migrants. It is therefore important to step up the efforts of the international community to provide adequate support and assistance to such countries welcoming a high percentage of migrants and refugees including children in relation to their own population.

Overfed and Underfed: Global Food Extremes

12 June 2017 - 1:58pm

The international community of nations has made commitments to eliminate hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition by 2030 and also to promote and protect health through nutritious diet, healthy eating and increased physical activity. Credit: IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Global food extremes of chronic undernourishment and obesity have brought about a bipolar world of hundreds of millions of underfed and overfed people. Of the world’s population of 7.5 billion the proportions suffering from chronic undernourishment and those afflicted by obesity are similar, approximately 11 percent or together about 1.6 billion people. However, as with most global averages, the levels of both chronic undernourishment and obesity vary enormously among regions and across and within countries.

Various indicators may be used to determine the levels of chronic undernourishment, including caloric intake, poverty, mortality/morbidity, weight and height measurements, child wasting and child stunting as well as composite indexes. In this analysis, the focus is on undernourishment, defined as a person not able to acquire enough food to meet the daily minimum dietary energy requirements over a period of one year.

Almost all of the chronically undernourished, more than 800 million people, live in developing countries, primarily in Africa and Asia. The reminder of the chronically undernourished, about 15 million people, reside in developed countries.

The populations of some 40 countries are facing serious food shortages. In a dozen of those countries no less than one-third of the population are suffering from undernourishment, including Haiti, Zambia, Central African Republic, Namibia, North Korea and Chad (Figure 1).

Levels of undernourishment can also vary greatly within countries. For example, while the proportion undernourished in Nigeria is reported to be comparatively low among developing countries, about 7 percent, much of the population residing in its northeastern region is at risk of famine.

India and China also have relatively low proportions undernourished, 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively. However, due to their very large populations those two Asian countries account for a large share of the world’s undernourished population, about 40 percent or 330 million people. Other countries having tens of millions of undernourished people include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.

In four countries – Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – the shortages of food have become extreme with more than 20 million people facing starvation and famine. In addition, the populations of countries with insufficient data on undernourishment are believed to be facing serious food shortages, including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

More recently, crisis-stricken Venezuela is also experiencing widespread food shortages.  With skyrocketing food prices, approximately 90 percent of the Venezuelans are reported not able to afford to buy enough food and close to three-fourths of them are estimated to have lost weight during the last year.

Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). * Famine countries.


At the other extreme of food consumption is obesity. In general, obesity is defined as excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to ones health. A common population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), which is a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in meters). An index of 30 or more is in most instances considered obese.

Close to 11 percent of the world’s population, or approximately 780 million people, is considered obese. High rates of obesity, typically more than 25 percent of people aged 15 years and over, are reported for the populations of many developed countries as well as for those of some developing countries (Figure 2).

The highest rates of obesity, typically no less than 40 percent of adults, are observed in the small South Pacific island nations, including Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga (Figure 2). Other countries with high obesity rates among those aged 15 years and over are:  the United States (38 percent), Saudi Arabia (34), Mexico (32), New Zealand (31), Hungary (30), Australia (28), the United Kingdom (27), South Africa (27) and Canada (26). In contrast, some of the lowest rates of obesity are found among Asian populations: Japan (4 percent), India (5), South Korea (5), Indonesia (6) and China (7).


Source: OECD and WHO.


The country with the largest number of obese people aged 15 years and over is the United States, at approximately 100 million. In second and third places are China (80 million) and India (50 million). Together those three countries account for 30 percent of the world’s obese population aged 15 years and over.

As is the case with chronic undernourishment, obesity rates within countries vary considerably by gender, region, income and social group. In most countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States, women have markedly higher rates of obesity than men. Globally, approximately one in ten men and one in seven women are obese.

Also among major social groups, for example in the United States, obesity rates can vary significantly (Figure 3). The highest obesity rate in the US is among black Americans (48 percent), followed by Hispanic Americans (42), white Americans (35) and Asian Americans (12).

Source: US Center for Disease Control.


Since the obesity epidemic began, not a single country has seen a reversal of trends. While fewer than one in ten people in OECD countries were obese 1980, obesity rates have doubled or tripled in subsequent decades and are continuing to rise.

Obesity levels are projected to be higher in the coming years, especially as obesity among children has increased substantially worldwide. Childhood obesity in the United States, for example, has more than tripled since the 1970s and now stands at about one in five school-aged children having obesity. Also, a recent report of European countries found that obesity rates were higher in younger adolescents than in older adolescents.

Childhood obesity is considered one of the most serious public health challenges as it puts those children at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma, musculoskeletal problems and future cardiovascular disease, as well as school absence, psychological difficulties and social isolation. To effectively address childhood obesity, some argue that obesity must be considered a disease.

The two food extremes – chronic undernourishment and obesity – are worldwide challenges, impacting the well being of more than one-fifth of humanity. Widespread chronic undernourishment, especially in Africa and Asia, has resulted in increased levels of misery, child wasting/stunting, morbidity and premature mortality. Many have concluded that the current food shortages encompassing approximately one billion people constitute the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II.

Also, as the obesity epidemic continues to spread globally, growing numbers of men, women and children are facing increased health risks, including cardiovascular disease (mainly heart disease and stroke), type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, breathing problems and some cancers, often resulting in substantial disability and premature death. In addition to the serious health consequences, obesity has substantial economic costs, including medical care, job absenteeism, lower productivity and disability.

Certainly, a great deal has been said, written and actions taken concerning chronic undernourishment and obesity. Numerous local, national and international organizations are focused on these two food challenges, having adopted various policies, recommendations and goals and established relevant programs to address the issues. In particular, the international community of nations has made commitments to eliminate hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition by 2030 and also to promote and protect health through nutritious diet, healthy eating and increased physical activity.

Nevertheless, despite the expressed concerns, laudable goals, increased expenditures and commendable efforts, two critical questions concerning undernourishment and obesity remain largely unanswered. What to do when millions of people not able to grow or buy sufficient food become chronically undernourished?  What to do when millions of people put on so much weight that they become obese?

Until those two fundamental questions are effectively resolved, the global food extremes of chronic undernourishment and obesity are likely to persist well into the foreseeable future.

Heavy Toll of Disrupted Farming, Higher Prices and Displaced Livelihoods

12 June 2017 - 12:09pm

Pastoralists in Somalia. Actions to promote food security can help crisis-prevention, mitigate its impacts and promote post-crisis recovery and healing. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Large agricultural harvests in some regions of the world are buoying global food supply conditions, but protracted fighting and unrest are increasing the ranks of the displaced and hungry elsewhere, according to a United Nations new report.

Some 37 countries, 28 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food, according to the new edition of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

Civil conflict continues to be a main driver of severe food insecurity, having triggered famine conditions in South Sudan and put populations in Yemen and northern Nigeria at high risk of localised famine, it informs, adding that adverse weather conditions are exacerbating the threat of famine in Somalia.

Refugees from civil strife in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Central African Republic are putting additional pressure on local food supplies in host communities, the report notes, while providing detailed information the following situation in a group of countries.

Some 5.5 million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in South Sudan, where maize and sorghum prices are now four times higher than in April 2016.

In Somalia, about 3.2 million people are in need of food and agricultural emergency assistance, while in Yemen the figure is as high as 17 million.

In northern Nigeria, disruption caused by the conflict has left 7.1 million people facing acute food insecurity in the affected areas, with even more deemed to be in less dire but still “stressed” conditions.

The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

A homestead in Al Hudaydah, once an important food-producing part of Yemen and now at risk of famine. Credit: FAO

Southern Africa Rebounds, East Africa Parched

While worldwide cereal output is near record levels, production outcomes are mixed across the globe. South America is expected to post strong increases, led by Brazil and Argentina, according to the new report.

Regional production in Southern Africa is expected to jump by almost 45 per cent compared to 2016 when crops were affected by El Niño, with record maize harvests forecast in South Africa and Zambia, FAO reports.

This should help reducing food insecurity in several countries such as Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

The overall food supply situation in the Sahel region is also satisfactory after two consecutive years of bumper crops, the report notes.

East Africa, however, has suffered from insufficient rainfall at the start of the 2017 season, fall armyworm infestations and local conflicts, adds the report.

“As a result, a record 26.5 million people in the sub-region are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, and the situation could be aggravated further in the coming months as the lean season peaks. An estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia, where drought has dented crop and pasture output in southern regions.”

Moreover, the UN specialised agency informs that cereal domestic prices reached exceptionally high levels in May, with the local cost of maize jumping by as much as 65 per cent this year in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the report noted.

A severe drought in Sri Lanka, followed by heavy rains and local flooding in late May, will likely reduce the country’s paddy production by nearly a third compared to the average; a joint FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission was fielded in March 2017 to assess the drought impact and the results are expected to be released next week.

Cereal output in the 54 Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries is set to rise by 1.3 per cent this year to 480 million tonnes, due to a strong performance in India and the rebound in Southern African countries, according to FAO’s forecasts.

Mohammed bin Rashid Emphasises Role of Media amid Current Challenges

12 June 2017 - 2:43am

DUBAI, Jun 12 2017 (WAM)

Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has highlighted the role of media in helping the region face the current challenges, especially by providing objective coverage of the rapidly changing socio-political and economic landscape in the region.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed called on the media to support Arab society in weathering the challenges of this difficult period in the region’s history, and help Arab nations in achieving progress and development.

He also urged media outlets to promote tolerance in order to spread peace, and help revive Arab civilization that once was a beacon of progress and learning for the world.

Sheikh Mohammed made these remarks during an Iftar banquet organised by the Government of Dubai Media Office for media industry leaders and chief editors of local newspapers and heads of Arab and international media outlets based in the UAE.

The event was also attended by H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Crown Prince of Dubai; H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Media Incorporated; H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation; and H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

“The ability to use the ‘word’ is an honour and responsibility that needs to be protected by maintaining the highest levels of integrity and objectivity. The media is a partner in the development process, and this partnership involves great responsibility especially in terms of using the right ‘words’ that can help build a bright future for upcoming generations,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

He noted, “The media is society’s eye that perceives the reality surrounding it. It is the window through which people can gain an understanding of what is happening in today’s rapidly changing environment. The media should cover reality as objectively as possible, with the utmost honesty and integrity.”

Sheikh Mohammed also said that the UAE had recognised at an early stage of its history that the media plays a critical role in its development and took steps to build a solid platform for media to thrive. The UAE also worked on developing the media sector based on an approach focussed on enhancing personal responsibility and freedom, in order to open the door for a wide range of constructive views and ideas.

He added that the UAE has strived to provide media professionals with all the support that they need to do their job in the best way. This journey of progress has seen the launch of media free zones that consolidated the UAE’s status as a hub for Arab and international media.

Sheikh Mohammed also praised the patriotism of the local media, especially in the current period of the UAE’s history, where it is poised to assert its leadership in various sectors, thereby reinforcing the journey of progress begun by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

This Is the Nation of 170 Million Enslaved Children

11 June 2017 - 11:06pm

Credit: UN News Centre

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Globally over 1.5 billion people live in countries that are affected by conflict, violence and fragility. Meantime, around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year—a third of them are children. And a significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflict and disaster. These are the facts. Up to you to reflect on the immediate future of humankind.

Conflicts and disasters have a devastating impact on people’s lives, the United Nations reminds.

“They kill, maim, injure, force people to flee their homes, destroy livelihoods, push people into poverty and starvation and trap people in situations where their basic human rights are violated.”

Of this total of 168 million children victims of modern slavery, about 100 million boys and 68 million girls.

Forced labour is estimated to generate around 150 billion dollars a year in illegal profits.

Credit:, Canada

Amid such a huge human tragedy, children are often the first to suffer as schools are destroyed and basic services are disrupted, the world body reports.

“Many children are internally displaced or become refugees in other countries, and are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and child labour. Ultimately, millions of children are pushed into child labour by conflicts and disasters.”

This why on the occasion of the 2017 World Day Against Child Labour, marked June 12, the UN focuses on the impact of conflicts and disasters on child labour.

“Urgent action is needed to tackle child labour in areas affected by conflict and disaster. If the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Target 8.7 which aims to “eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour” is to be achieved by 2030.”

The UN stresses the need to intensify and accelerate action to end child labour, including in areas affected by conflict and disasters. “And we need to do it together.”

Child Labour No More by 2015?


As the world strives to achieve the elimination of child labour by 2025, on this World Day Against Child Labour, says the International Labour Organization (ILO), “let’s join forces to end child labour in areas affected by conflict and disaster!”

Child labour and forced labour in conflicts and humanitarian settings will be discussed at the IV Global Conference on Child Labour (Buenos Aires, 14-16 November 2017).

For its part, the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) warns that child labour deprives children of their right to go to school, exposes them to violence, and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty.

“Yet, this serious violation of human rights is not inevitable. Child labour is preventable through integrated approaches that simultaneously address poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education and mobilise public support for respecting children’s rights.”

11 Per Cent of World’s Children

UNICEF also reminds that, worldwide, about 168 million children aged 5 to 17 are engaged in child labour, accounting for almost 11 per cent of all children.

The most recent figures, based on statistical evidence from UNICEF, ILO and the World Bank, show a decline of about one third since 2000.

While that is positive news, progress is far too slow, the UN specialised agency reports, adding that the continued persistence of child labour poses a threat not only to the health and well being of children, but also to national economies and the achievement of global development goals.

Child labour is defined as work for which the child is too young – i.e., work done below the required minimum age.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises every child’s right, “to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education,” or that is likely to harm the child’s health or, “physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”²

Other international instruments further define a child’s right to be protected from the “worst forms of child labour,” including recruitment in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking.

The lives and futures of millions of children are in jeopardy, UNICEF warns. “We have a choice: Invest in the most excluded children now or risk a more divided and unfair world.”

“Every child has the right to a fair chance in life. But around the world, millions of children are trapped in an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage that endangers their futures – and the future of their societies.”

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When Women Have Land Rights, the Tide Begins to Turn

11 June 2017 - 8:01pm

Women's secure tenure rights lead to several positive development outcomes for them and their families, including resilience to climate change shocks, economic productivity, food security, health, and education. Here a young tribal woman works shoulder to shoulder with her husband planting rice saplings in India's Rayagada province. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

In Meghalaya, India’s northeastern biodiversity hotspot, all three major tribes are matrilineal. Children take the mother’s family name, while daughters inherit the family lands.

Because women own land and have always decided what is grown on it and what is conserved, the state not only has a strong climate-resistant food system but also some of the rarest edible and medicinal plants, researchers said.The importance of protecting the full spectrum of women’s property rights becomes even more urgent as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world continues to grow.

While their ancient culture empowers Meghalaya’s indigenous women with land ownership that vastly improves their resilience to the food shocks climate change springs on them, for an overwhelming majority of women in developing countries, culture does not allow them even a voice in family or community land management.  Nor do national laws support their rights to own the very land they sow and harvest to feed their families.

Legal protections for indigenous and rural women to own and manage property are inadequate or missing in 30 low- and middle-income countries, according to a new report from Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

This finding, now quantified, means that much of the recent progress that indigenous and local communities have gained in acquiring legal recognition of their commonly held territory could be built on shaky ground.

“Generally speaking, international legal protections for indigenous and rural women’s tenure rights have yet to be reflected in the national laws that regulate women’s daily interactions with community forests,” Stephanie Keene, Tenure Analyst for the RRI, a global coalition working for forest land and resources rights of indigenous and local communities, told IPS via an email interview.

Together these 30 countries contain three-quarters of the developing world’s forests, which remain critical to mitigate global warming and natural disasters, including droughts and land degradation.

In South Asia, distress migration owing to climate events and particularly droughts is high, as over three-quarters of the population is dependent on agriculture, out of which more than half are subsistence farmers depending on rains for irrigation.

“For many indigenous people, it is the women who are the food producers and who manage their customary lands and forests. Safeguarding their rights will cement the rights of their communities to collectively own the lands and forests they have protected and depended on for generations.” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Indigenous and local communities in the ten analyzed Asian countries provide the most consistent recognition of women’s community-level inheritance rights. However, this regional observation is not seen in India and Nepal, where inadequate laws concerning inheritance and community-level dispute resolution cause women’s forest rights to be particularly vulnerable,” Keene told IPS of the RRI study.

“None of the 5 legal frameworks analyzed in Nepal address community-level inheritance or dispute resolution. Although India’s Forest Rights Act does recognize the inheritability of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers’ land, the specific rights of women to community-level inheritance and dispute resolution are not explicitly acknowledged. Inheritance in India may be regulated by civil, religious or personal laws, some of which fail to explicitly guarantee equal inheritance rights for wives and daughters,” Keene added.

Desertification, the silent, invisible crisis, threatens one-third of global land area. This photo taken in 2013 records efforts to green portions of the Kubuqi Desert, the seventh largest in China. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Pointing out challenges behind the huge gaps in women’s land rights under international laws and rights recognized by South Asian governments, Madhu Sarin, who was involved in drafting of India’s Forest Rights Act and now pushes for its implementation, told IPS, “Where governments have ratified international conventions, they do in principle agree to make national laws compatible with them. However, there remains a huge gap between such commitments and their translation into practice. Firstly, most governments don’t have mechanisms or binding requirements in place for ensuring such compatibility.”

“Further, the intended beneficiaries of gender-just laws remain unorganised and unaware about them,” she added.

Women’s land rights, recurring droughts and creeping desertification

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), one way to address droughts that cause more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster, and to halt desertification – the silent, invisible crisis that threatens one-third of global land area – is to bring about pressing legal reforms to establish gender parity in farm and forest land ownership and  its management.

“Poor rural women in developing countries are critical to the survival of their families. Fertile land is their lifeline. But the number of people negatively affected by land degradation is growing rapidly. Crop failures, water scarcity and the migration of traditional crops are damaging rural livelihoods. Action to halt the loss of more fertile land must focus on households. At this level, land use is based on the roles assigned to men and women. This is where the tide can begin to turn,” says Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, in its 2017 study.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture alone would increase yields on women’s farms by 20 to 30 percent and total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, the study quotes the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as saying.

Why the gender gap must close in farm and forest rights

The reality on the ground is, however, not even close to approaching this gender parity so essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2 and 5 which connect directly with land rights.

Climate change is ushering in new population dynamics. As men’s out-migration from indigenous and local communities continues to rise due to fall in land productivity, population growth and increasing outside opportunities for wage-labor, more women are left behind as de facto land managers, assuming even greater responsibilities in communities and households.

The importance of protecting the full spectrum of women’s property rights becomes even more urgent as the number of women-led households in rural areas around the world continues to grow. The percentage of female-led households is increasing in half of the world’s 15 largest countries by population, including India and Pakistan.

Although there is no updated data on the growth of women-led households, the policy research group International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in its 2014 study found that from 2000 to 2010, slightly less than half of the world’s urban population growth could be ascribed to migration. The contribution of migration is considerably higher in Asia, it found, where urbanisation is almost 60 percent and is expected to continue growing, although at a declining rate.”

“Unless women have equal standing in all laws governing indigenous lands, their communities stand on fragile ground,” cautioned Tauli-Corpuz.

Without legal protections for women, community lands are vulnerable to theft and exploitation that threatens the world’s tropical forests that form a critical bulwark against climate change, as well as efforts to eradicate poverty among rural communities.

With the increasing onslaught of large industries on community lands worldwide, tenure rights of women are fundamental to their continued cultural identity and natural resource governance, according to the RRI study.

“When women’s rights to access, use, and control community forests and resources are insecure, and especially when women’s right to meaningfully participate in community-level governance decisions is not respected, their ability to fulfill substantial economic and cultural responsibilities are compromised, causing entire families and communities to suffer,” said Keene.

Moreover, several studies have established that women are differently and disproportionately affected by community-level shocks such as climate change, natural disasters, conflict and large-scale land acquisitions, further underscoring  the fortification of women’s land rights an urgent priority.

With growing feminization of farming as men out-migrate, and the rise in women’s education, gender-inequitable tenure practices cannot be sustained over time, the RRI study concludes. But achieving gender equity in land rights will call for tremendous political will and societal change, particularly in patriarchal South Asia, researchers said.

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Inside UAE’s Quest to Reducing Food Waste

9 June 2017 - 8:20am

Poland wastes at least 8.9 million tonnes of food every year. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu / IPS

By Rabiya Shabeeh
ABU DHABI, Jun 9 2017 (IPS)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is working on taking strides forward on climate change mitigation that are reflected by the establishment of the federal ministry of climate change, it’s commitment to develop a national climate change plan, and its ratification to the Paris Agreement in 2015, which pledged not to just keep warming ‘well below 2C’, but also to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5C by 2018.

Several researches including one carried out by Daniel Mitchell and others at Oxford University states the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees will be marginal in annual average temperatures but would have a significant impact on reducing the probability of destructive weather events like floods, droughts, and heat waves.

Even without the additional threat posed by climate change, the price spikes of the global food crisis of 2008 exposed interlinked vulnerabilities associated with agricultural productivity and international food trade markets.

Those researches show that with an increase of greater than 1.5 in global temperatures, current challenges of soil destruction, inadequate water supply, and stagnant mono-cultured crop yields will be further exacerbated and are likely to lead to reduced crop productivity in food-exporting countries and increase food insecurity around the world.

The UAE has one of the highest rates of food waste in the world with an estimated 3.27 million tons of food, worth almost $4 billion, going into landfills every year, says a new report by the Emirates Environmental Group.

Food loss and waste accounts for about 4.4 giga-tonnes of GHG emissions per year, making it the world’s third largest emitter – surpassed only by China and the United States- according to figures recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The UAE is a country that is heavily dependent on food imports – 87 per cent of the UAE’s food supply is imported and dependent on international trade flow, according to a report released earlier this year.

The report, “UAE Climate Change: Risks and Resilience”, released in March by the Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wildlife Fund, shows that under the adverse impacts of climate change, recurrent retail food prices in the UAE will spike and/or result in the need for substantial food subsidies in the long term.

“Households throughout the seven emirates that have annual incomes at the lower end of the national range could find themselves in a position where they would be subject to spending a growing share of limited household budgets for food,” states the report.

As part of its climate change plan, the government is now encouraging efforts, both at macro and micro levels, to tackle the issue of food waste – with aims set to recycle food by 75 per cent in the next four years.

Food security occurred as the third most resonant topic at the 2017 World Government Summit held earlier this year in Dubai, where thousands of government leaders and international policy experts gathered to discuss global policies to harness innovation and technology.

Experts at the summit pointed out that governments alone are not up to the task of preventing global food shortages and combating climate change and that policy makers, the private sector, and individuals, each within their scope, must come together to work on combatting food waste.

“We need to work together to find creative ways to address food waste through the implementation of innovative technology, through awareness, and through changes in individual behaviors,” said Dr Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the UAE minister of climate change and the environment, at the summit.

One such initiative, the recently launched UAE Food Bank, has started facilitating the redistribution of excess food from hotels to low income households, via hubs housed in repurposed containers in partnership with local charities.

On average, the global hospitality industry wastes at least a quarter of all of the food they purchase, according to the UK based Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP).

Over 30 hotels in the UAE have now incorporated a program that Winnow Solutions, an analytical tool that helps chefs reduce food waste by measuring how much leftover food is being thrown out daily and then analyzing the data to provide information on wastage patterns that can then help reduce waste.

One of the first hotels to have adapted to the technology, Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel & Residences, reportedly reduced its food waste by almost 70 per cent in a few months, leading to annual savings of $20,000.

Hina Kamal, a food research analyst at Al Ain University, believes that the reduction in the knowledge gap on the issue amongst consumers will create a major stride in combatting the issue and lessening unnecessary strains on, both, their wallets and the environment.

“Did you know, for example, that you don’t have to store eggs in the fridge in the UAE climate? Or that stacking vegetables one on top of another results in fungus faster? People don’t normally know these things and this needs to change,” said Kamal.

Many environmental activists and bloggers are now working on campaign, #zerowasteuae, to share their personal experiences of working on achieving a zero-waste lifestyle, as well as to build awareness and encourage others to follow suit.

144 Countries to Set Guidelines to Protect and Promote the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in the Digital Environment

9 June 2017 - 7:19am

By Editor, UNESCO
PARIS, Jun 9 2017 (UNESCO)

Representatives from the countries* that have ratified UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions will examine ways to apply the guiding principles of the Convention in the digital environment, when they hold their biennial annual meeting at UNESCO Headquarters from 13 to 15 June. During the event, participants will approve Operational Guidelines on the Implementation of the Convention in the Digital Environment.

These Guidelines will help countries ensure that artists and producers benefit fully and fairly from the information technologies’ potential both at the stages of creation, production and distribution.

They also address concerns such as: fair pay for artists and content producers, ensuring a culturally inclusive offer of content to the public that will not discriminate against cultural goods based on provenance, language or social factors, as well as respect for human rights in the digital environment, notably freedom of expression, artistic freedom and gender equality.

As noted in UNESCO’s report “Re | Shaping Cultural Policies, the digital revolution has fundamentally altered the way in which cultural goods and services are produced, distributed and accessed. with the expansion of social networks and user-generated content, the proliferation of multimedia devices and the emergence of powerful web-based companies. These factors mean the digital environment requires new business models for e-commerce and streaming for example, and new policies to protect copyright.

For the first time this year, UNESCO will host a Civil Society Organizations’ Forum prior to the Conference of Parties, on 12 June. On that day, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Jean-Michel Jarre, who is President of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), will give a keynote address on the fair remuneration of artists in the digital environment. Norwegian documentary film director Deeyah Khan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity, will also speak at the Forum.

A noteworthy side event to the Conference of Parties will be the first European screening of the winner of the 2016 UNESCO-sponsored Cultural Diversity Award at the 11th Asia pacific Screen Awards, “Reseba: The Dark Wind,” 13 June (6.30 pm).

On the last day of the meeting, there will be a panel discussion of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity with presentations by beneficiaries from Burkina Faso, Haiti and Morocco to showcase how the fund reinforces the cultural industries in developing countries.

Media contact: Roni Amelan, UNESCO Media Service, +33(0)145681650

More Plastic than Fish or How Politicians Help Ocean Destruction

9 June 2017 - 6:55am

A school of Moorish Idols cruise over the coral reef, Ha’apai, Tonga. Credit: UNEP GRID Arendal/Glenn Edney

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 9 2017 (IPS)

World’s oceans are dangerously exposed to at least three major threats: climate change; the sharp degradation of marine biodiversity, and politicians. These simply encourage the destruction of oceans by subsidising over-fishing and turning a blind eye on illegal captures. See what happens.

While it is feared that at current trends there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 –with over 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing more than 260,000 tonnes currently floating in world’s oceans– harmful fishing subsidies that contribute to overfishing are estimated to be as high as 35 billion dollars, according to United Nations.

“If you consider that the total export of fish and seafood products is 146 billion dollars, we are talking about that of each 5 dollars in fish products, 1 dollar is subsidized,” David Vivas of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned ahead of the United Nations Ocean Conference held on June 5-9.

A Race to the Bottom

So it’s not a small amount. People are paying very expensively for a fish, continued Vivas, adding that people pay it by the dish and with their taxes.“Almost a third of all marine fish stocks being exploited at biologically unsustainable levels, a threefold increase in 40 years.” Graziano da Silva.

This financial motivation creates “a race to the bottom” as fleets compete against each other to harvest increasing amounts of fish –at a time when seafood is already a scarce resource, said the expert, while explaining that subsidies “create incentives to deplete resources faster than if there weren’t the subsidies.”

The facts are just shocking: the international community is harvesting fish at unsustainable biological levels, according to UNCTAD.

“The Mediterranean Sea is about 70 per cent exploited; the Black Sea 90 per cent.”

Roughly 56 per cent of all fish products come from wild harvest, with the remaining amount farmed, according to figures cited by the UN.

“The demand remains quite strong, mainly from the head Asian region. Hence countries are not only going to New York to consider, issuing a political signal,” said UNCTAD’s Lucas Assunçao in reference to The Ocean Conference, “they are very concerned about this considerable market.”

Illegal Fishing

In addition to fishery subsidies, the UN trade agency has been focusing in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and access to markets.

“Not all countries participate equally,” Assunçao said of the nearly 150 billion dollars market for fish and marine products. “[The oceans are] a global common good that is not benefitting all countries that have coasts in equitable ways.”

“Oceans are continuing to warm, acidify and lose oxygen,” said IPCC chair Hoesung Lee. “Warm water coral reefs are already under pressure and 90 per cent would suffer significant risk from global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius.” Credit: UNEP/Jerker Tamelander

Here, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) informs that annually, the worth of fish caught by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing methods is estimated at 10 – 23 billion dollars.

This, as well as the governments subsidies that encourage over-fishing while not making enough efforts to prevent illegal fishing, explain the fact that currently fishing vessels around the world have reached 4.6 million.

Oceans offer both challenges and solutions to the world’s Sustainable Development Agenda, and managing them more carefully is essential for global food security today and tomorrow as well as the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said at the Oceans Conference.

Three Billion People Rely on Fish

More than three billion people rely on fish for critical animal protein, while 300 million people depend on marine fisheries, the vast majority being linked to small-scale fisheries that are the backbone of marine and coastal social and ecosystems in many developing countries, he on June 8 added.

“Unsustainability poses many risks and a heavy price,” said Graziano da Silva. “Today many fisheries around the world are characterised by excessive fishing effort, low productivity and inadequate profitability.”

That exacerbates pressures that have led to almost a third of all marine fish stocks being exploited at biologically unsustainable levels, a threefold increase in 40 years, he said. Annual fishery production would increase by around 20 per cent –worth an extra 32 billion dollars each year– if partners collaborate to rebuild overfished stocks, he added.

FAO is playing a leading role in pursuing a core target of Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls for ending the scourge of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing by 2020.

The IUU fishing accounts for up to 26 million tonnes of fish a year, one-sixth of all the fish caught at sea and worth 23 billion dollars. It also directly undermines efforts to make sure marine resources are sustainably used.

How to Crack Down on Illegal Fishing

International efforts to crack down on IUU fishing made a major step forward in 2016, when the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) entered into legal force. The international treaty brokered by FAO now has nearly 50 parties, including the European Union, Indonesia, the United States of America and – soon – Japan as well as many Small Island Developing States.

Fisherman in Timor Leste casts net in the water to catch small fish. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

The PSMA gives new powers to port officials to verify that any visiting ship is abiding by all relevant fishing rules – including having the proper permits, respecting quotas and avoiding at-risk species.

The treaty also requires parties to support effective implementation by making sure all parties have the technical capacity to fulfil their obligations. FAO has already devoted more than 1.5 million dollars to this effort, which Graziano da Silva described as “seed money” while awaiting voluntary contributions from donors.

“IUU fishing activities are a threat to marine life and impede the development and prosperity of vulnerable countries and must be completely stopped,” for his part said Sven Erik Bucht, the Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs, who announced officially Sweden’s contribution of 5.4 million dollars to FAO to combat IUU fishing. Alongside with Fiji, Sweden has promoted and co-chaired the Oceans Conference.

The funding will also help support this UN specialised body’s on-going work on what to do about discarded fishing gear –which constitutes both ocean rubbish as well as killing fish– and on the Global Record on Fishing Vessels, a platform aimed at providing essential and transparent information to those in charge of fisheries management.

The UN specialised agency is also leading work on Catch Documentation Schemes that enables fish to be tracked from source to shop – something consumers increasingly want. And, through its Blue Growth Initiative, the agency is also strongly focused on promoting sustainable development among coastal fishing communities in general.

What Is Overfishing Is All About?

Overfishing occurs when more fish are caught than the population can replace through natural reproduction, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) , one of the world’s leading conservation organisation.

“Gathering as many fish as possible may seem like a profitable practice, but overfishing has serious consequences. The results not only affect the balance of life in the oceans, but also the social and economic well-being of the coastal communities who depend on fish for their way of life.”

Billions of people rely on fish for protein, and fishing is the principal livelihood for millions of people around the world, WWF adds. “For centuries, our seas and oceans have been considered a limitless bounty of food. However, increasing fishing efforts over the last 50 years as well as unsustainable fishing practices are pushing many fish stocks to the point of collapse.

According to WWF, more than 85 per cent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits and are in need of strict management plans to restore them.”

Meanwhile, UN concerned agencies –FAO; UNCTAD and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)– have announced their commitment to cutting harmful fishing subsidies. The issue is “complicated and thorny,” they said. The commitment likely involves requesting countries to provide information on what subsidies they provide and prohibiting those that contribute to overfishing, as well as potentially giving differential treatment to developing countries.

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The “Shocking” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S.

8 June 2017 - 12:44pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States.

Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained legal.

“These are old laws that were just never changed because people didn’t realize this was happening,” said Fraidy Reiss, the Executive Director of Unchained at Last, an organization fighting to end child marriage in the U.S.

Based on available data, Unchained at Last estimates that over quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Data shows girls as young as 12 years old married in states like Alaska, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which helps protect women and girls from gender-based violence, found that Texas has the second highest rates of child marriages in the nation, as nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000 and 2014.

The majority of those wedded at a young age are girls, and approximately 77 percent of U.S. children who were wed were married to adult men, often with significant age differences.

Such cases often cut across various religions, ethnic backgrounds, and circumstances, from one 15-year-old whose Muslim family forced her to marry a 23-year-old man because she was found dating someone of a different background in Nevada to a girl’s Christian community in Colorado pressuring her to get married because she was pregnant.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking,” Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division Heather Barr told IPS, noting that child marriage is an issue on every continent with similar consequences.

“The harm that happens to a child that gets married in New York state is not that different from the harm that happens to a child getting married in the Central African Republic,” she said.

Child marriage is strongly linked to high rates of school dropouts and poverty, and those married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than those married at 21 or older.

Women and girls married at a young age also often experience physical and mental health problems, including higher rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

Reiss told IPS how forced marriage takes a toll on the mental health of girls as many turn to suicide. Others just give up and continue with the marriage because of the lack of options.

“They know that going along with a marriage means that they are going to be raped on their wedding night and raped thereafter, they are going to pulled out of school—all their dreams for their future are gone,” she said.

Though the minimum age is 18, most states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental or judicial consent. However, both Reiss and Barr told IPS that such ideas of consent are problematic and “ridiculous.”

“Child marriages are very often arranged or forced by parents, so in a situation where it is actually the parents who are forcing a child to get married, parental consent is completely meaningless,” said Barr.

As for judicial consent, the law does not specify any criteria that a judge is required to consider before approving a marriage.

In 27 states, laws do not specify any age below which a child cannot marry.

“The minimum age for marriage is effectively lowered to zero,” said Reiss.

There has been a push in recent years to end child marriage domestically.

In May, Texas’ legislature passed a bill that identifies 18 as the legal age to marriage. Though it allows those younger than 18 to marry, they can only do so if a judge has found that they live on their own and are no longer dependent on guardians to support themselves. It is currently awaiting signature from the state’s governor Greg Abbott in order to go into full effect.

In New York, the Senate passed a bill on child marriage which must now be approved by the state’s Assembly. The bill, which is expected to pass, raises the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.

While Barr was hopeful that it will pass, Reiss criticised the bill noting that 17-year-olds are still children.

“This notion of allowing 17-year-olds to marry because legislators assuming that it is somehow less reprehensible than a 7-year-old getting married—it’s not,” she told IPS.

Such issues with legislatures are also happening elsewhere as states continue to push back on ending child marriage.

In March, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members, leaving the minimum age at 13.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that banned marriage under the age of 18 on the ground that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Both Reiss and Barr condemned the move, noting that child marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“This isn’t an issue about tradition, it’s an issue about human rights,” Barr told IPS.

She added that it is hypocritical that the U.S. as a donor nation criticises other countries when they themselves have weak protections against child marriage.

“It really undermines their credibility…we think that reform on this issue in the U.S. and other countries in the West that are donor countries can help support the global effort as well,” Barr said.

In 2016, The U.S Department of State called child marriage a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Reiss added, highlighting the urgency for states to end child marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, 1.5 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. If such trends continue, the number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Among the targets of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to eliminate all harmful practices including child, early, and forced marriage.

Crisis in the Gulf: Escalation or negotiation?

8 June 2017 - 11:37am

By James M. Dorsey
SINGAPORE, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

Turkey’s parliament is this week fast tracking the dispatch of up to 3,000 troops to Qatar, home to the country’s military base in the Middle East. Certain to stiffen Qatar’s resolve to resist Saudi and UAE-led pressure to force it to change policies, the Turkish move comes amid hints that the kingdom and its allies may seek to undermine the rule of Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The stakes for both sides of the Gulf divide could not be higher. Saudi Arabia and the UAE cannot afford to fail in their effort to force Qatar’s hand after leading several Arab and non-Arab states in a rupture of diplomatic relations and declaring an economic boycott that also targets Qatar’s food supplies. By the same token, Qatar cannot afford a cave-in to Saudi and UAE demands that would humiliate the country and effectively turn it in to a Saudi vassal.

The dispatch of Turkish troops as well as Turkish and Iranian offers to help Qatar offset the impact of the boycott by ensuring that its food and water needs are met positions the Gulf crisis and Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with the Islamic republic as a political rather than a sectarian battle. Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran countering of the Saudi-UAE campaign undermines the kingdom’s effort to project its rivalry with Iran as both a sectarian conflict and a power struggle.

The dispatch of troops and the emergence of a pro-Qatari alliance opposed to that of Saudi Arabia also eases pressure on non-Arab Muslim states to take sides. By raising the stakes, Turkey and Iran could potentially contribute to efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.

The move to quickly dispatch troops to Qatar came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the Saudi-UAE effort to isolate sanctions and cripple it with sanctions. Mr. Erdogan warned that the moves would fail to solve problems and said he would do what he could to end the crisis.

Kuwait is already attempting to bridge the gap between the Gulf states and Qatar while the United States and Germany have called for a political solution. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was scheduled to visit Ankara to discuss ways of resolving the Gulf crisis.

That may prove to be easier said than done. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are bent on avoiding a repeat of 2014 when Qatar failed to respond to the withdrawal of the Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors from Doha by caving in to their demands that it halts its support for Islamists and militants. The three countries were forced to return their ambassadors after an absence of nine months with little to show for their action.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE have moreover put their credibility on the line by not only breaking off diplomatic relations but also imposing a harsh boycott. The UAE, apparently concerned that the boycott, and particularly the targeting of food supplies, could spark domestic criticism, made expressions of sympathy with Qatar a criminal offense punishable with up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of at least US$ 136,000. Up to 40 percent of Qatar’s approximately $1 billion in food exports a year were trucked to Qatar from Saudi Arabia until this week’s eruption of the crisis.

Also raising the stakes is the fact that a Qatar capable of resisting Saudi and UAE pressure would effectively contribute to a Muslim bloc in the Middle East that stands for everything Saudi Arabia and the UAE are seeking to defeat.

Inevitably, closer Qatari ties with Turkey as well as Iran, with which the Gulf state shares the world’s largest gas field, would become a fixture of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Iran is already helping Qatar not only with food but also by allowing Qatar Airways flights to Asia to cross Iranian airspace in their bid to circumvent Saudi, UAE and Bahrain airspace that has been closed to them.

Beyond demonstrating that Qatar is not alone in its fight, the dispatch of Turkish troops would also seek to dissuade Saudi Arabia and the UAE from intervening directly in the Gulf state.

Turkey and Qatar have long pursued similar policies. Both countries supported the 2011 popular Arab revolts.

By contrast, Saudi Arabia and the UAE went to great length to thwart their success., including helping engineer the military coup that in 2013 toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim brother and Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president. Saudi and UAE troops also helped Bahrain brutally squash its 2011 popular uprising.

Turkey and Qatar moreover both support the Muslim Brotherhood, rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Islamist groups in divided Libya. The UAE and Saudi Arabia alongside Egypt back the internationally recognized Tobruk-based Libyan government that joined them in breaking off relations with Qatar.

Turkey set up a military base in Qatar with some 150 troops, its first in the Middle East, as part of an agreement signed in 2014. Turkish officials have since said Turkey’s presence would be increased to some 3,000 troops.

Turkey’s move to expedite the dispatch of additional troops to Qatar came as UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said that one “cannot rule out further measures. We hope that cooler heads will prevail, that wiser heads will prevail and we will not get to that.”

Accusing Qatar of being “the main champion of extremism and terrorism in the region,” Mr. Gargash insisted that “this is not about regime change — this is about change of policy, change of approach.”

Egyptian, Emirati and Saudi newspapers, none of which are known to be truly independent, reported in recent days that domestic opposition to Qatari emir sheikh Tamim was mounting.

“We have long been silent about the irrational practices of the regime in Qatar,” Sheikh Saud bin Nasser Al-Thani, a little known member of the ruling family which is believed to account for up to 20 percent of Qatar’s citizens, told Egypt’s Youm7 newspaper.

The newspaper reported that opponents of Sheikh Tamim would form a London-based opposition paper headed by Sheikh Abdelaziz Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, an uncle of the emir and former oil and finance minister, who was accused of involvement in a failed effort in 2011 by Qatari military officers to overthrow Sheikh Tamim’s father and predecessor, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper reported that the party would advocate a Qatari policy in line with Saudi and UAE demands, including curbing the activities of Sheikh Hamad’s wife, Sheikha Mozah Al-Misnad, who heads Qatar Foundation; freezing Qatar’s relations with Iran, ending Qatari support for Islamists in Libya and Egypt, and expelling Islamist leaders from the Gulf state.

“On behalf of the Qatari people, we offer the highest apology to the people of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and other countries that have been abused and harmed by the Qatari regime. We inform you that the Qatari people do not approve of the national policies that seek to shatter the Arab unity,” Sheikh Saud said in a statement carried by Egypt Today.

“Qataris are questioning whether this is going to end up in seeing a change in leadership itself in Qatar,” added Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a prominent liberal intellectual, art collector and businessman who is a member of the ruling family of the UAE emirate of Sharjah.

Earlier, Salman al-Ansari, the head of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), a Washington-based lobby, warned Sheikh Tamim that he could meet the same fate as Mr. Morsi, the toppled Egyptian president.

The Arab press reports notwithstanding, there is little by which to gauge possible support for opposition to Sheikh Tamim among the military or the public in Qatar, which like others in the region controls its media but has not imposed the kind of draconic penalties on freedom of expression introduced this week in the UAE.

Whatever the case, Qatar and Turkey hope that a substantial presence of Turkish troops rather than the fact that Qatar also hosts 10,000 US troops on the largest US military facility in the Middle East, would complicate, if not dampen, any plans to force Sheikh Tamim’s exit.

Said Mr. Al Qassemi: “The Qataris should not count on that base as being a guarantee or sort of American protection when it comes to conflict with Saudi Arabia. I think the Americans would choose to side with Saudi Arabia over any other country in the region.”

What Future for 700 Million Arab and Asian Youth?

8 June 2017 - 11:11am

Women and girls in the garment industry are often subject to forced overtime and low wages, and on domestic workers because of the unprotected nature of their work. Credit: ILO / A. Khemka

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

With a combined population of around 400 million inhabitants, 22 Arab countries are home to nearly 300 million youth–that’s 1 in 3 people. Meantime, there are other 400 million youth living in Asia and the Pacific. In both regions, these 700 million young people aged 15–24 years account for up to 60 per cent of world’s youth population. What future for them?.

Not an easy question, especially if you consider that the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) region faces a bulk of huge challenges: from fast growing population to increasing food insecurity; from armed conflicts (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq) to climate driven instability and massive displacement and migration.

Let alone the widening gender gap—in fact only 13.5 per cent of female youth are economically active, compared to around 50 per cent per cent of male youth.

All the above occurs amidst record high unemployment rates, reaching and average of 30 per cent in the whole region, with peaks of up to 55 per cent in the case of war-torn Yemen.

This challenge is aggravated by the fact that young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts, and as much as over four times in the Arab states.

Asian Youth
In Asia and the Pacific, youth appear not to be much better off. There, in 2015, nearly 40 million youth –12 per cent of the youth labour force– were unemployed. Although this was less than the global youth unemployment rate of 13 per cent, it varied by sub-region.

In 2015, for example, the youth unemployment rate was estimated at around 12.9 per cent in South-East Asia and the Pacific, 11.7 per cent in East Asia and 10.7 per cent in South Asia.

Here, despite relatively low youth unemployment rates, young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts, and as much as 5.4 times in South-Eastern Asia (over four times in Southern Asia).

Schoolchildren in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. Credit: UNICEF / Tapash Paul

This region faces as well a huge gender gap. In South Asia, low female participation (19.9 per cent) is estimated to be nearly 40 percentage points lower than among youth males (53 per cent). And the gender gap in labour force participation rates has been widening over the last decade in South Asia.

Experts from national regional and international organisations have worked hard on finding solutions. One of them, the International Labour Organization, UNESCO, UN Population Fund, World Bank, among others, emphasise the need for education, which will determine the livelihoods of 700 million people in the these two regions and drive growth and development for generations to come.

They also coincide in warning that while significant policy developments have focused on these challenges, including school-to-work transitions and skill mismatches, further coordinated efforts are needed to address obstacles to productive employment and decent work for all youth and thereby help to properly unleash their potential.

Asian and Arab Parliamentarians to Meet
In addition to international experts, analysts and organisations, parliamentarians as direct, elected representatives of people, are set to meet next month in Amman under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs.”

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), this Asian and Arab Parliamentarians Meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development, will on 18-20 July discuss in the Jordanian capital, the above challenges and ways how to face them.

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif / IPS

The Amman meeting will be hosted by the Jordanian Senate, the Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD), with the support of the Japan Trust Fund (JTF); the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

The Jordanian capital’s meeting will be followed by a two specific ones: Africa-Asia in New Delhi at mid of September, and an event on ageing, scheduled to take place in Korea end of October.

Annual Parliamentarian Meetings
Since its establishment, APDA has been holding the annual Asian Parliamentarians’ Meeting on Population and Development to promote understanding and increase awareness of population and development issues among Japanese, Asian, and Pacific parliamentarians.

APDA sends Japanese and Asian parliamentarians overseas to observe projects conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japanese Government.

Similarly, parliamentarians from selected countries are invited to Japan to visit facilities in areas such as population and development, health and medical care. Through exchange between parliamentarians from Japan and other countries, the programme aims to strengthen cooperation and promote parliamentarians’ engagement in the field of population and development.

In Volatile Times, the U.A.E. calls for Tolerance

8 June 2017 - 2:23am

By Rose Delaney
MIAMI, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

With terror attacks on the increase worldwide, there are more people today who believe that it has something to do with the religion of Islam.

Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi

Seeds of misinformation are taking root and the divide between peoples and cultures is ever increasing. The promotion of tolerance is critically important now more than ever.

Undoubtedly, bigotry has increased worldwide and violent hate crimes have risen exponentially. The recent epidemic of “fake news” utilized by major media outlets and the outbreak of anti-Islamic sensationalism have only worsened the situation and fueled further conflict and division.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E..) is widely considered to be a multicultural “marvel” of the Middle East. The country proudly hosts an ethnically diverse population with over 200 nationalities living in harmony.

The U.A.E.’s leadership promotes a positive image of Islam but also sets an example of peace and tolerance of all world religions in the country.

The U.A.E. and its multi-ethnic population aim to be an international role model for “acceptance, coexistence, and understanding.”

The U.A.E. today is considered a globalized symbol of acceptance and progression. Recently, an anti-discriminatory law was passed which forbids citizens and residents alike from discriminating against anyone on the grounds of caste, creed, culture or religion.

In 2016, U.A.E.’s first Ministry of Tolerance was officially established with Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi as its minister. Al-Qasimi believes that the Arab world has a great responsibility when it comes to ensuring the universal spread of tolerance and acceptance. She emphasizes the pivotal role youth and the global media play in the understanding and celebration of religious and ethnic diversity.

To instill values of cultural and religious acceptance everywhere, the government of the U.A.E. believes institutions of tolerance should be established on a global scale, especially in volatile times of terror and extremism.

The proliferation of these institutions would act as symbols of peace and co-existence, ensuring global societies that universal tolerance is achievable and can become a tangible reality.

Al-Qasimi recognizes that transparency in the media is vital during periods of fear and instability and emphasizes that the global dissemination of positive and tolerant news content is a critical form of “protection against extremism”.

At the 16th Arab Media Forum (AMF) held in Dubai last month, Al Qasimi highlighted that the media played a key role in the universal perception of Islam. The rise of “fake news” has proven detrimental to the promotion of universal tolerance. The media has a duty to “correct misconceptions about the image of the Arab world,” Al Qasimi said.

This ties in with the fact that global media content has lately been used as a weapon of divisive manipulation, rather than a method of progressing and sustaining universal harmony and acceptance.

The U.A.E.’s President, Sheikha Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also considers the media to be a key player in the advancement of universal tolerance.

For this reason, Al Nahyan has committed to providing full support for the development of transparent media in his home nation. The U.A.E. encourages its media to disseminate, along with other institutions, the values of acceptance and open dialogue across all walks of society.

“Responsible media that fully understands its role and mission is a fundamental tool in countering extremist and terrorist ideology amid the widespread digital media that has a powerful influence on people’s thoughts and orientations,” Al Nahyan says.

Al Nahyan recognizes that the future development of tolerance rests largely on the perceptions and messages spread by the global media. “The media is not just a profession“, Al Nahyan stated. It is rather, in his belief, a vital means to spread the message of global justice and truth. In other words, it is high time the media stop being used a sensationalized tool to stir divisive controversy and “boost ratings” based on the plight of the stigmatized.

Al Nahyan highlighted the fact that the proliferation of positive media could only lead to effective nation-building and progress. Furthermore, it can help break down the negative perceptions surrounding Islam and the Middle East itself by drawing back to the multicultural and accepting values, ethics and traditions of Emirati society.

In an increasingly globalized world dominated by the trends of social media, the voice of youth undoubtedly holds a tremendous degree of power. The multicultural array of young professionals and students that make up U.A.E.’s fast growing population are actively encouraged to act as tomorrow’s leading voices in the pursuit of universal tolerance.

In the U.A.E., “the sky really appears to be the limit” for its young adult population. Its ministry of youth is led by the youngest minister in the world, 23-year-old Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui. For many Emirati youths, spreading the principles of harmonious unity and actively condemning all forms of divisive extremism are a core objective, especially for the protection and benefit of upcoming generations.

As the rise of extremism threatens global security, the U.A.E. aims to encourage all forms of tolerance with the belief that through open dialogue and a strong sense of unity, the global community could overcome adversity.

However, the question remains, are other countries willing to follow the U.A.E.’s model of peaceful co-existence, or will ongoing extremism and divisive Islamophobic media campaigns hinder the U.A.E.’s idealistic vision of universal tolerance? Only time will tell.

How Peter Thiel Got His New Zealand Citizenship

7 June 2017 - 8:05pm

Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor,

By Christopher Pala
WELLINGTON, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand to get his papers: the government allowed him to pick up his passport at its consulate in Santa Monica. The outrage was compounded by the government’s release in February of his 145-page naturalization file, which revealed a cascade of broken promises.Purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one.

In his application dated June 2011, he described New Zealand as a utopia that “aligns more with my view of the future” than any other country. Thiel has said the maximum tax rates in the U.S. (now 39.6 percent) should be lowered to 20 percent or less and the shortfall in national income should be recovered by “disentangling some of those middle-class entitlements that people have gotten used to.”

In New Zealand, the top tax rate is 33 percent. It is the only OECD country without a capital gains or inheritance tax; it is run by the world’s most business-friendly bureaucracy and has a vibrant and under-capitalized tech sector.

Though it was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893, and has offered free dental care to schoolchildren since 1921, it swung from one of the most managed economies to one of the least regulated in the 1980s. As a result, 60 percent of its rivers are too polluted to swim in and its fisheries have been found to rest on a foundation of waste and official lies.

In 2015, Thiel bought a 193-hectare estate on Lake Wanaka, in the South Island. He also owns a mansion on Lake Wakatipu, an hour away. These and other purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one. The cost of housing is the hottest issue in elections due this year.

In his citizenship application, Thiel wrote, “It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country and its emerging high-tech industry.” He said he intended “to devote a significant amount of my time and resources to the people and businesses of NZ” and become “an active player in NZ’s venture capital industry.”

He explained that the year before, he had created an investment fund called Valar Ventures “dedicated exclusively to funding and aiding New Zealand technology companies.” Through it, he could “act in an advisory role in a way that (others) cannot because I have encountered and solved many of the problems that will confront entrepreneurs as they build their companies.”

At the government’s suggestion, according to the file, Thiel even donated NZ$1 million (830,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to an earthquake relief fund.

On July 8, 2011, three days after his application was accepted, he was the headline speaker at a conference at the Icehouse, a business development center in Auckland, the economic capital. But Thiel made no mention of his new citizenship, nor did he speak of becoming an active player on the local tech scene. Likewise, he made no mention of New Zealand to a New Yorker writer who interviewed him for a long profile headlined “No Death, no Taxes,” published that November.

“The last thing we want to do is give people the impression that our citizenship is up for sale, and this affair has certainly created that,” said Iain Lees-Galloway, the spokesman on immigration issues of the opposition Labour Party, in an interview. As for Thiel’s promises in his application, Lees-Galloway added, “He couldn’t have been all that proud (of becoming a Kiwi) because he didn’t tell anybody for six years.”

The government of the right-wing National Party glossed over the broken promises. Prime Minister Bill English, who was deputy PM in 2011, told local reporters, “If people come here and invest and get into philanthropy and are supportive of New Zealand, for us as a small country at the end of the world, that’s not a bad thing.” Thiel had been to New Zealand four times, his file showed, starting in 1993.

On February 4 came another disclosure: The Herald reported that nine months after Thiel was granted the citizenship, his Valar Ventures fund had accepted what the paper called a “sweetheart deal” from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, created in 2002 to encourage investments in local tech start-ups.

Valar and the fund would jointly invest in four local companies: Xero, with the largest share, as well as Vend, Booktrack and Pacific Fibre. Two years earlier, Thiel had separately invested three million dollars in Xero, a cloud-based accounting software that was already listed.

At the time, NZVIF’s standard contract had a clause that allowed the outside investor to buy, after five years, the government’s share at its initial cost, plus the yield of a five-year government bond. If the company shares went up, the investor pocketed the profits from the government’s share, too. If the shares fell, both lost equally.

In October 2016, after the shares of Xero soared, Valar Ventures exercised the clause. The exact size of its investment is not known, but the profits have been estimated at 23.5 million dollars for an investment of 6.8 million. Valar still owns 4.8 percent of Xero, down from a peak of 7 percent. Today, of the 13 companies in its portfolio, only two are from New Zealand: Xero and Vend.

Opposition politicians suggested that naïve government officials had made yet another transaction with Thiel that failed to benefit New Zealanders. “Thiel had already invested in Xero, it was hardly a risky venture,” pointed out Lees-Galloway, the Labour MP.

But while politicians denounced the deal as having essentially privatized the profits from a taxpayer-funded investment, the tech world saw things very differently.

Andrew Hamilton, the CEO of the Icehouse business center where Thiel gave his speech, declined to specify what else Thiel had done for startups, saying only: “Peter was and is awesome, and we are always grateful to people who contribute and help!”

Lance Wiggs, the founding director of the Punakaiki Fund, which invests in companies in the development and fast-growth phases, said Valar was “exactly the kind of fund New Zealand wanted to attract.” He said Thiel’s investment in Xero “was absolutely crucial at the time, he really helped them lift their game from being a local player to an international one.” Xero is now worth two billion dollars and has 1,400 employees around the world.

As for the government, Wiggs added, “I can see why they blinked and gave him a passport, though I can’t see why he needed it,” given that Thiel has a residency permit since 2006.

But unlike the permit, citizenship is “irrevocable,” as his lawyer pointed out in the application.

Adam Hunt, a tax administration specialist, offered one possible explanation: “It’s an attractive place for a rich person,” he said. Thiel could renounce his American citizenship and move to New Zealand. “If you’re rich and you move here, you can live off your capital gains,” which are not taxed. “You may have virtually no income here, and pay almost no taxes.”

Forbes estimates Thiel’s net worth at 2.7 billion dollars. He is 49 years old.

As for Thiel himself, who was born German and naturalized American, he declined to publicly defend the officials who did him the favor, or to make any new investments in New Zealand start-ups. His spokesman, Jeremiah Hall of Torch Communications in San Francisco, did not respond to three e-mails seeking comment.

Civilian Casualties Mount in Battle to Re-take Mosul

7 June 2017 - 12:51pm

Yezidi girl from Khanke camp near Dohuk. Credit: Fernando Burgés

By Mark Lattimer
LONDON, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

East of Mosul, many of the lands liberated from ISIS stand empty. Driving through the Nineveh plains, traditional homelands of Iraq’s minority communities of Yezidis, Christians, Shabak and Turkmen, you pass one ghost town after another, peopled only by members of the armed militias known in Iraq as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or ‘popular mobilization’.

Houses destroyed by ISIS vehicle bombs are juxtaposed with buildings flattened by international coalition air strikes. Inside the houses in many residential streets, there are holes smashed into the party walls to create the rat-runs used by insurgents to evade surveillance.

The battle to retake Mosul is already nearly eight months old and, as resistance on the city’s right bank has proved intense, civilian casualties have mounted rapidly. Yet many of the empty territories in Nineveh east of the city and in Sinjar to the west were first retaken months ago.

They join lands in Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar where ISIS has been defeated but displaced people numbering in the millions have yet to return. To understand why is to appreciate the threats that now hang over the future of Iraq – threats that will not disappear when ISIS is defeated.

The Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil are broadly in agreement that IDPs can only return once security and services are restored. They have a point. There is extensive destruction to essential infrastructure. When thousands of civilians first returned to Ramadi after it was retaken, there were dozens of reported serious casualties from booby-traps and other IEDs and explosive remnants of war.

But many displaced minority communities now believe that their return is being delayed for other reasons. Christians, Yezidis, Shabak and Turkmen all cite cases where IDPs and supplies have been stopped at checkpoints, as detailed in a new report published by four international NGOs, Minority Rights Group International, the International Institute for Law and Human Rights, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, and No Peace Without Justice. The fear is that land-grabbing is already underway.

Destroyed church building, Tal Kaif district, Ninewa Governorate. Credit: Mays Al-Juboori

A conservative estimate puts the number of armed militias controlling territory in liberated Nineveh at over 15, including ethnic militias drawn from members of local communities. On the ground, militia checkpoints have proliferated and you frequently have to pass through two or even three in a row. They play the game of who can fly their flag the highest. At the moment the relationship is one of mutual acceptance, but it is unclear how long that will last. Some are affiliated with the Iraqi Security Forces, others with the Kurdish authorities. Some take their orders from further afield.

Just as Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani called on Iraqi volunteers to mobilize in the fight against ISIS in June 2014, so many hope he will issue the fatwa to demobilize once ISIS is defeated. The practical challenges of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration have hardly begun to be discussed in Iraq. Ensuring that members of local communities, including minorities, are properly integrated into the security forces is essential for their communities to feel safe.

But many of the most powerful militias supported by Iran, which for example control much of Diyala and key locations in Tel Afar, have already made clear that they have no intention of demobilizing. And as long as Turkey fears an Iranian corridor from Baghdad to Syria, its own attempts at securing a base in Nineveh will intensify. With those forces at play, the resurgence, post-ISIS, of Sunni Arab opposition under another name is perhaps inevitable.

In the face of this sectarian fragmentation members of minorities remain passionate about the future of their lands and many fiercely patriotic to the state of Iraq. Interviewing minority Shi’a IDPs in Kerbala last year, their gratitude at the religious authorities for giving them a temporary shelter was quickly followed by expressions of hope for their return to their homes in Tel Afar and the Nineveh plains. Assyrian and Chaldean Christians emphasize their millennia-long attachment to the land. Even Yezidi IDPs, who were subject to egregious crimes at the hands of ISIS and, in many cases, betrayal by their former neighbours, have begun to talk about the prospects of return.

But their hopes of return depend on security, and that must ultimately depend on a political agreement between the different forces now vying for control of their land. For years, the UN has tried to promote agreement between Baghdad and Erbil over ‘disputed territories’ in Nineveh and Kirkuk. With de facto boundaries being redrawn and new parties added to the conflict, the task just got a lot harder.

The battle against ISIS has created in Iraq a rare moment of unity. Sunni tribal forces and Shi’a militias, Iran and Turkey, the US and the other members of the international coalition, the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government are all cooperating in the face of a common enemy. As Gyorgy Busztin, deputy head of the UN mission, emphasized to me in Baghdad in March, that presents a window of opportunity, for Iraq’s people and for the international community.

But as control over retaken territory continues to fragment, and the militias become entrenched, the window is closing fast. By the time Mosul is finally declared liberated, it may already be too late.

Murder of UN Investigator Puts Congo Under Mounting Pressure

7 June 2017 - 4:33am

By Linda Flood
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations is stepping up pressure on Congo to ascertain the reasons for the brutal murder of Swedish Zaida Catalán who was investigating human rights abuses in the country. “The latest news is that the inquiry will continue” says Carl Skau, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN.

In mid-March, Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp, a U.S. citizen, were in the Kasi-province of Congo on mission for the UN. Together with interpreter Betu Tshintela, they were investigating crimes against international humanitarian law and human rights as part of the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Congo-Kinshasa, when they were abducted and murdered.

Human rights groups have expressed their suspicion that the perpetrators could be found among Congolese army soldiers.

A week ago, information came from Congo that the murder investigation had been closed as they had two suspects. But now, according to UN ambassador Carl Skau, word is that the investigation will continue.

So those arrested were not the guilty ones?

“That I can not answer. But we have been very careful in our demand that the full inquiry is completed, and we don’t feel we are there yet”.

Carl Skau explains that there are three different inquiries. The first is the ongoing murder investigation that the US, Sweden and Congo are working on, in which the US and Sweden are working closely together.

The second is a UN appointed board of inquiry that is made up partially of former UN staff that are experts on security issues. They are to collect information in order to map the precise run of events, but also to draw conclusions on what lessons can be learned.

The third started last week as Sweden, through its position on the Security Council, requested additional backing for the ongoing investigations.

“We have requested that the General Secretary takes a closer look, but the legal aspects are not straightforward. Our position is that we need to find out what happened, make sure the guilty are tried for their crime, and of course we do all we can to avoid similar situations in the future.”

According to an article in the New York Times, Zaida Catalán and her colleague had received inadequate training for a mission in a dangerous situation. The newspaper reported that Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp travelled to no-go zones and moved around without UN escorts.

This description has been refuted by both the UN and the families of both Catalán and Sharp.

Is there a revision of the situation of other UN investigators on mission in dangerous areas?

”I take for granted that that is the case. The UN has been rigorously involved from day one”. Carl Skau adds, “and there are most certainly lessons to be learned to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Translation: Ravi Dar

 This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

A Bold Step toward the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

7 June 2017 - 4:22am

Image by The Official Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Photostream –

By Ambassador Sergio Duarte
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

As previously announced, the President of the United Nations Conference for the negotiation of a Convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte-Gómez, unveiled last 22 May the draft elaborated after the first part of those negotiations in March.

The text will now be debated at the Conference between June 17 and July 7 and the general expectation is that the final result will be adopted by consensus. The new Convention will then be opened to the signature of States.

Resolution no. 1 of the General Assembly of the United Nations, adopted in January 1946, had decided the establishment of a Commission charged with making specific proposals for the “elimination atomic weapons from national arsenals”.

The lack of concrete results over the 72 years of existence of the United Nations increased the frustration of the majority of the international community and finally led a group of countries to propose last October, for the first time in the history of the Organization, the negotiation of such a Convention.

Ambassador Sergio Duarte

The importance of the humanitarian considerations that are at the root of the international movement favoring the elimination of nuclear armament is highlighted in the Preamble of the draft. The first few paragraphs recognize the “catastrophic consequences” and implications of any use of nuclear weapons.

This concern had already been expressed unanimously by the States party of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the 2010 Review Conference of that instrument.

Next, the draft Preamble mentions the suffering of the victims of nuclear detonations, including those affected by tests carried out by the States that acquired such arms. Another important paragraph declares that the use of atomic weapons is contrary to the norms of International law, especially the principles and rules of humanitarian law which stem from custom, the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

The draft Convention states the decision of the States Party to the Convention to contribute to the realization of the purposes and principles of the United Nations and to act with a view to achieving further effective measures of nuclear disarmament and to facilitate the elimination of such weapons and the means of their delivery.

Special emphasis is given to the 8 July 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion, negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament”. This obligation is also expressed in Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons but up to now the possessors of nuclear weapons have not shown much interest in promoting such negotiations.

The draft Preamble goes on to reaffirm the “crucial importance” of the NPT, of the Comprehensive Test-ban Treaty (CTBT) and of the instruments that establish zones free of nuclear weapons.

Such expressions make abundantly clear that the Convention does not aim at disrupting the existing non-proliferation regime or at undermining its foundations but rather to reinforce it in order to promote the realization of longstanding objectives shared by the international community as a whole.

Articles 1 and 2 of the draft formulate clearly and objectively the basic obligations to be assumed by signatory States. The development, production, manufacture, possession and stockpiling of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices are among the banned activities.

The use of nuclear weapons is also prohibited, as well as the transfer of such weapons or devices to any recipient, besides their stationing, installation and deployment. The draft expressly reaffirms the provisions of the CTBT by prohibiting tests of nuclear weapons and any other nuclear explosions.

States Party to the Convention would commit themselves to formally declare whether they have manufactured or possessed nuclear weapons, or acquired them by any means after the date of 5 December 2001. The reasons for the choice of that date do not seem very clear.

The obligation to present such declarations is based on the precedent of the Chemical Weapons Convention but unlike the latter, however, the draft does not contain the obligation to destroy the weapons or devices that may appear in the declarations. In this sense, the Convention is not strictu sensu a “disarmament” treaty, but rather a means to reach that objective.

Article 3 deals with the safeguards to prevent diversion of nuclear energy used in peaceful applications to nuclear weapons or explosive devices as detailed in the Annex to the Convention. It is important to ensure that such safeguards are applied in conformity with the Statutes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The elimination, mentioned in Article 4, before the entry into force of the Convention, of nuclear weapons manufactured, possessed or otherwise acquired would entail the obligation to cooperate with the IAEA in the verification of the completeness of the stocks of materials and nuclear installations.

This provision presupposes that the process of elimination of nuclear weapons must precede the entry into force of the Convention for each State Party. Article 5 introduces the possibility of presentation and consideration of proposals of complementary measures of nuclear disarmament, including the elimination, under verification, of remaining nuclear weapons.

States that possessed or hosted before 5 December 2001 that come to adhere to the Convention may avail themselves of this provision in order to propose such measures, to be examined by the biennial Meetings of the Parties established by Article 9.

In this way, the Convention would be permanently open to the inclusion of new Parties that wish to eliminate their nuclear armament and next accede to the instrument as they see fit. That would be a way to ensure that all Parties to the Convention have the same rights and obligations, thus avoiding an undesirable discriminatory character among them.

The remaining provisions of the draft are quite clear and should not raise much controversy. Article 6 follows the humanitarian inspiration of the Convention. According to Article 9, States not parties to the Convention may participate in Meetings and Review Conferences.

Their prerogatives and limitations in exercising that right should be clearly spelled out. An innovative provision in Article 13 promotes the universality of the Convention by calling upon its parties to “encourage” other States to ratify, accept, approve of accede to it.

Some of the possessors of nuclear armament and their allies have expressed in different ways their opposition to the negotiation of the Convention and contend that it will weaken the international non-proliferation regime. Article 19 attempts at responding to these concerns by affirming explicitly that the Convention does not affect the rights and obligations of the Parties under the NPT.

Mainstream media in the central countries in general has paid little or no attention to the process of negotiation of the Convention, although specialized publications have been examining the implications of the adoption of an instrument of this kind. World public opinion and civil society organizations, particularly in the former States and their allies, have an important role to play in ensuring the success of the Convention and its ability to become a universal, legally binding instrument of codification of the repudiation of nuclear weapons.

There is considerable expectation for the continuation of the negotiations among the many States and international organizations that participated in the first phase of the work of the Conference, last May. It is important that the final text is simple and objective and at the same time be inclusive and able to obtain widespread acceptance.

After 72 years since the start of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and 47 years since the entry into force of the NPT, the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the frightening prospect of the use still haunt mankind. We must not miss the historic opportunity to establish a legal norm on the prohibition of such weapons.

*Ambassador Sergio Duarte’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 June 2017: TMS: A Bold Step toward the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

The Relentless March of Drought – That ‘Horseman of the Apocalypse

7 June 2017 - 1:49am

Credit: UNCCD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jun 7 2017 (IPS)

By 2025 –that’s in less than 8 years from today– 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. Now it is feared that advancing drought and deserts, growing water scarcity and decreasing food security may provoke a huge ‘tsunami” of climate refugees and migrants.

No wonder then that a major United Nations Convention calls drought ‘one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.’ See what the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says in this regard.

By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 per cent. As populations increase, especially in dry-land areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded, the Bonn-based Convention secretariat warns.“The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.” Monique Barbut.

Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century, it underlines, adding that drought and water scarcity are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant secondary and tertiary impacts.

To mitigate these impacts, drought preparedness that responds to human needs, while preserving environmental quality and ecosystems, requires involvement of all stakeholders including water users and water providers to achieve solutions for drought, explains UNCCD.

“Drought, a complex and slowly encroaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster.”

Drought, Water Scarcity and Refugees

On this, Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, reminds that the world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

Neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration, but they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify on-going conflicts, she explains.

“Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.”

Credit: UNCCD

Displacing 135 Million People by 2045?

According to Convention, the geo-political and security challenges the world faces are complex, but a better implementing good land management practices can simultaneously help populations adapt to climate change and build resilience to drought; reduce the risk of forced migration and conflict over dwindling natural resources and secure sustainable agricultural and energy production.

“Land truly is the glue that holds our societies together. Reversing the effects of land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management (SLM) is not only achievable; it is the logical, cost-effective next step for national and international development agendas…”

UNCCD informs that 12 million hectares of productive land become barren every year due to desertification and drought alone, which is a lost opportunity to produce 20 million tons of grain. “We cannot afford to keep degrading land when we are expected to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050 to feed the entire world population.”

“Sustainable intensification of food production, with fewer inputs, that avoids further deforestation and cropland expansion into vulnerable areas should be a priority for action for policy makers, investors and smallholder farmers.”

Meantime, the Convention’s secretariat reports that the increase in droughts and flash floods that are stronger, more frequent and widespread is destroying the land – the Earth’s main fresh water store.

“Droughts kill more people than any other single weather-related catastrophe and conflicts among communities over water scarcity are gathering pace. Over 1 billion people today have no access to water, and demand will increase by 30 per cent by 2030.”

Credit: UNCCD

National Security, Migration

With up to 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years are linked to the control and allocation of natural resources, the exposure of more and more poor people to water scarcity and hunger opens the door to the failure of fragile states and regional conflicts, according to UNCCD.

“Non-state actor groups are increasingly taking advantage of large cross-border migration flows and abandoned lands. Where natural assets including land are poorly managed, violence might become the dominant means of resource control, forcing natural resource assets out of the hands of legitimate government.”

The number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.

Here, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification reminds that behind these numbers is the links between migration and development challenges, in particular, the consequences of environmental degradation, political instability, food insecurity and poverty and the importance of addressing the push and pull factors, and the root causes of irregular migration.

Losing productive land is driving people to make risky life choices, it adds and explains that in rural areas where people depend on scarce productive land resources, land degradation is a driver of forced migration.

“Africa is particularly susceptible since more than 90 per vent of our economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base like rain-fed, subsistence agriculture. Unless we change the way we manage our land, in the next 30 years we may leave a billion or more vulnerable poor people with little choice but to fight or flee.”

Improving yields and land productivity will allow the time to increase food security and income of the users of the land and the poorest farmers, the UNCCD recommends. “This in turn stabilises the income of the rural population and avoids unnecessary movement of people.”

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification works with partners such as the International Organization for Migration to address the challenges arising from land degradation, large-scale population movements and their consequences, while aiming to demonstrate how the international community could leverage the skills and capacities of migrants along with the remittances, sent home by migrants, to build resilience.

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