Interpress News Service

Diving for a Living

7 August 2017 - 9:35am

By Ananta Yusuf
Aug 7 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Would you believe that some people still make a living out of diving in ponds and water bodies to recover jewellery or precious possessions lost by bathers?

You don’t even have to go far to find such people. In fact, the bede community in Narayanganj have a few people who make a living doing exactly that. Diving into ponds to recover precious ornaments in exchange for a small amount of money, the Duburi (Diver) or PukurJharani, as they are known, have been doing so for years.

“The bede people were never used to usual jobs, so we would do works such as hunting birds and catching snakes,” said Sohel Sardar Duburi while talking to The Daily Star at his home in Narayanganj’s Rupganj. “But the forests have long disappeared and we no longer earn our bread and butter from such works. Then our forefathers taught us the art of finding precious jewellery by diving.”

Divers like him can currently be seen in two bede communities at Signboard and Rupganj areas of Narayanganj.

Once, when most people used ponds to take baths, the divers were in high demand. Today, most ponds have disappeared and thus the number of divers has also dropped drastically.

But that is not the only problem for the divers.

“People do not wear as much gold as they used to do,” noted Sohel Sardar, explaining why they are not in high demand like yesteryears.

There was a time, when most of the bedes would visit Dhaka and its surrounding areas for work but now those days are long gone and they have to travel to distant areas in search of work.

While sharing his experience, Molla Nasir Uddin Duburi said “We stay out of home around a month when we visit far-off places in search of work. Generally, we travel to districts like Barisal, Khulna and Satkhira where there are still a good number of jobs.”

He also informed that they get one to two thousand takas for finding gold objects such as necklaces. If it is a diamond necklace, they demand six to seven times more as their service charge. He further added that they still get around eight to nine jobs every month.

Another duburi, Mehedi Hasan, said that they go from home to home in villages to look for work. “We get response from those who have lost their ornaments. In distant villages, we spend our nights at mosques or the balconies of schools. We don’t have any problems with that,” he added.

Photo: Khalid Hussain Ayon

The duburis use a scoop shaped like a partially enclosed triangular shovel and a garden rack to find lost ornaments. They dive around 10 to 15 feet deep into the water, fill up the basket with the sediment by means of the rack, bring the sediment to the surface and look for the ornament in it.

Interestingly, they sometimes find something else while looking for the lost ornaments and generally share the object with the owner.

The duburis observe a number of myth-based rituals before they get into the pond. Before diving in, they offer sweets and bananas to the monsters likely to be living deep in the pond. The duburis still believe that such offerings are necessary for the job to be done safely.

“Offerings must be given otherwise a mishap might occur at any moment. Once, we dived into a pond in Sonargaon and a water monster snatched away our scoop, which we never found. We will die if we don’t provide offerings to the monsters,” Molla Nasir Uddin said.

The number of professional duburis is declining; there were 30 duburis in the Signboard area even 10 years ago but now the number stands at only 5.

Even the duburis themselves do not want to continue with the profession and they want their next generation to be educated and established members of society.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Migrants Crossing US-Mexico Border Dying at Faster Rate. More Deaths in Mediterranean

7 August 2017 - 5:12am

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

While the number of migrants deaths in the Mediterranean Sea has so far in 2017 exceeded 2,350 victims for the fourth consecutive year, migrants crossing the United States-Mexico border are dying at a faster rate in 2017 than in past years, the UN migration agency reports.

Visit to Detention Centers in Libya. During Ambassador Swing’s visit to Tripoli in May, IOM Libya launched a plan to enhance its presence in the country and improve living conditions inside detention centres. This video is a result of a VR training commissioned by the UN and conducted by LightShed. Source: IOM – UN Migration Agency

According to a new briefing from the Berlin-based Missing Migrants Project (MMP) at the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, migrants crossing the United States-Mexico border are dying at a faster rate in 2017 than in past years.

On this, MMP’s Julia Black on 4 August reported: “Some 232 migrant fatalities have been recorded in the first seven months of 2017, an increase of 17 per cent compared with the 204 deaths recorded between January and July 2016.”

Black added: “Fifty bodies were recorded as discovered in July, the most recorded in any month so far this year,” explaining that these remains were located across the border region. “Nine were recorded in various locations along the Río Grande; ten in a truck in San Antonio, Texas; and 16 in other locations in Texas.”

Migrants Crossing US-Mexico Border Dying at Faster Rate in 2017: UN Migration Agency

Fifteen more were recovered in Arizona’s Pima County, a notoriously dangerous crossing, where seasonal temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) between the months of May and September. So far in 2017, 96 bodies have been recovered in Pima County.

Black said, “These numbers are especially concerning considering that, according to US Border Patrol figures, fewer migrants seem to be crossing into the US in 2017. The US Border Patrol has apprehended 140,024 migrants between January and June 2017, about half the number recorded in the first six months of 2016.”

The briefing reports that IOM’s Missing Migrants Project has recorded more than 1,250 migrant fatalities on the US-Mexico border since 2014.

The “American Dream”

MMP staffers note each one of these deaths are individual tragedies that serve as reminders of the many migrants who continue to risk their lives pursuing their “Sueño Americano” – or American Dream, according to Black.

“Though the story of the ten migrants who lost their lives trapped in the back of a tractor-trailer in Texas on Sunday was widely covered by English- and Spanish-language media, most of the deaths recorded in the border region occur in ones and twos. Those deaths, recorded almost daily during summer months, rarely make headlines.”

The most recent incident recorded on the border region was the death of a five-year-old child migrant drowned in the Río Grande near Tamaulipas, Mexico, on Wednesday. Reports indicate that the child’s father also went missing during the river crossing, she added.

“Many of those pursuing ‘el Sueño Americano’ travel from Mexico to Texas, meaning that they must cross the swift-flowing Río Grande to reach the US. The briefing reports that in 2017, 57 people have drowned in Though migrant fatalities on the US-Mexico border represent 65 per cent of the total number recorded in the Americas, it is likely that many migrant deaths occur in Central and Southern America that go unrecorded.”

Notably, several bodies, presumed to be migrants, were seen floating off the coast of Nicaragua on Tuesday; another migrant was killed near Oaxaca, Mexico on Sunday after being struck by a train; another, from El Salvador, was the victim of a stabbing, she added.

The briefing reports that the true number of migrant fatalities in 2017 is likely to be higher than the data from Missing Migrants Project indicate. “It’s something that is true for all regions of the world, unfortunately,” concluded Black.

2,397 Migrant Deaths in the Mediterranean

Meantime, the UN Migration agency on the same day, 4 August, reported that 115,109 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 2 August, with almost 83 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. This compares with 261,228 arrivals across the region through 2 August 2016.

Credit: IOM

For its part, IOM Rome reported that according to official figures of the Italian MOI, 95,215 migrants arrived in Italy by sea this year, which is slightly (2.73 per cent) fewer than last year during the same period, when 97,892 arrived, highlighting a trend that IOM has observed of slower traffic to Italy during mid-summer, and fewer deaths (approximately half of those recorded in July 2015 and 2016).

Top Ten Nationalities

Italian authorities on August first week released the latest roster of top-ten nationalities to arrive as migrants traveling by sea from Africa through the end of July, added IOM.

Nigeria continues to be the year’s top sender nation with 15,317 arrivals, followed by Bangladesh (8,687), Guinea (8,631), Cote d’Ivoire (7,905) and Mali (5,526).

Bangladesh, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco continue to show sharp increases over levels of arrivals at this time last year. Those countries that now are sending fewer migrants include Eritrea – down more than 50 per cent from 2016 – with slighter decreases as well for Nigeria, Sudan and the Gambia.

IOM’s Flavio Di Giacomo further noted total arrivals by sea to Italy during the month of July came to 11,461, a decrease of more than 50 per cent compared with the total registered in July 2016: 23,552.

Asphyxiation on Board

Meanwhile, IOM Athens reported that 73 migrants and refugees arrived at various Greek locations (Lesvos, Rhodes, Megisti) between 31 July and 2 August. The total number of arrivals by sea to Greece as of 2 August is 11,353. This compares with 160,515 at this time last year.

“The latest fatalities in the region were reported on Tuesday (1 August) when eight corpses were recovered on a dinghy off the Libyan coast – it is likely the migrants died from asphyxiation on board. They were expected to be brought to land in Italy on Friday 4 August.”

These deaths bring the total of fatalities in the Mediterranean in 2017 to 2,397, IOM reports, adding that although this figure trails the number of deaths (3,193) recorded at this time last year, it nonetheless marks the fourth consecutive year migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea have exceeded 2,350.

Worldwide, the IOM Missing Migrants Project reports that there have been 3,408 fatalities in 2017 through 2 August, with the Mediterranean region accounting for the largest proportion of deaths – over two-thirds of the global total.

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The Uae Will Gladly Share Its Pro-tolerance Strategy with the World: Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi

7 August 2017 - 3:31am

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE. CPC Photo

ABU DHABI, Aug 7 2017 (WAM)

As global cooperation on combating extremism picks up pace, more governments are turning to each other for ideas on how to keep disillusionment and its discontents at bay.

Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance, the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE, says that promoting the concept of tolerance is a task of global relevance. However deeply rooted in society, the notion of tolerance faces threat from within and abroad. Thanks to the pervading influence of the media, ideas, both good and evil, spread more rapidly than ever on television and newer mediums of social media.

In an article published in The National, a UAE-based English language daily, Sheikha Lubna says that this is particularly true of issues related to religious tolerance, a fundamental part of the UAE’s philosophy since its establishment.

“Preserving tolerance is relevant to ourselves and beyond, as we work to embed this pillar in our society and to counter those seeking to undermine it. Only through raising awareness within schools, families, workplaces and society at large can we effectively counter those who disseminate the ideas and practices of violent extremism,” she said.

“Countering violent extremism is a global task, but each society has its own challenges and its own way of doing this. As we all seek to tackle the menace, we can learn from working together and sharing the lessons gained from experience, as I was reminded during discussions I held in London last month.

During my visit, I met with Baroness Williams, the minister responsible for countering violent extremism and hate crime, and a group of parliamentarians who have taken an interest in the UAE and the principles of religious freedom.

All, of course, displayed interest in the Pillars of Tolerance that form the framework of the UAE’s National Tolerance Programme, which lies within the context of our 2015 law making discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, race, colour or national origin illegal.

Another focus of attention was the close link between the Ministry of State for Tolerance and the Ministry of Youth, as well as the recently created UAE Youth Circle, which has initiatives that take into account the fact that youth are the most impressionable group in society and thus potentially the most vulnerable to radicalisation.

Our tolerance agenda is, of course, part of an overall Government policy providing youth with access to the best possible education, listening to their aspirations and empowering them through initiatives, such as coming up with a strategy to promote innovation in all fields. Such steps help quell feelings of alienation, which can be exploited by those promoting extremism.

In London, I found great interest in the UAE’s action plan for dealing with the issue of radicalisation, which includes training imams to ensure that they accurately understand the nature of Islam and introducing guidelines for Friday sermons. On such issues, the UAE is willing to share its experiences with the UK and with any other country that may find them of value.

While the task of countering violent extremism in the UAE does not fall directly within the mandate of the Ministry of State for Tolerance, there is, of course, an intrinsic link.

I was, therefore, interested to hear of the British government’s plans to establish a new commission for countering violent extremism. The new body will commence work early next year and its role will include raising awareness on the importance of tolerance and promoting the fundamental values that underpin peaceful exchange in society.

The UK has suffered extremist attacks in Manchester and London in recent months. How the perpetrators became radicalised is yet to be fully understood, but it is clear that the British government has enhanced its commitment to counter violent extremism at home and abroad and to address the factors that allow it to flourish.”

Sheikha Lubna concluded by saying, “In the UAE, we recognise the shared nature of these issues. We look forward to working closely with our friends, both in the UK and elsewhere, in the existential struggle between tolerance and intolerance and between moderation and extremism, which is a defining characteristic of modern global society.”

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Mauritanians Go to Polls for Controversial Referendum Vote

7 August 2017 - 3:12am

By Roshni Majumdar

While voters in Venezuela overwhelmingly rejected President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to amend the constitution recently, similar tensions and a clash between protesters and state authorities appears to be brewing across the Atlantic in the West African nation of Mauritania.

04 March 2016 – Nouakchott, Mauritania
Secretary-General (right) meets with representatives of civil society in Nouakchott, Mauritania, during his visit to the country.

The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has sounded alarm about the apparent suppression of dissent, and the excessive use of force by authorities to quash protests ahead of the controversial vote.

“We have witnessed protest leaders with broken arms and bruised faces after they were beaten up by police during demonstrations. We are concerned that as tensions and protests escalate, the authorities may resort to further use of such excessive force. We call on all sides to refrain from the use of violence and to take measures to de-escalate the situation,” Ravina Shamdasani, a human rights officer at OHCHR, told IPS.

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the president of Mauritania, responded to a failed proposal to amend the constitution by raising the stakes to a referendum vote, scheduled for August 5th.

The proposal, which seeks to abolish Majilis al-Shuyukh, or the upper house of the parliament, was approved by the Jamiya Al Wataniya, the lower house. The bill collapsed in the upper house earlier in March this year as 33 senators out of a total of 56 rejected it.

The bill, now up for a referendum vote, also proposes changes to the country’s flag by adding a red stripe to the top and bottom to pay homage to the martyrs who fought for the country’s successful independence from France in 1960.

Since July 21, as protests escalated, the government has refused air time on TV to dissenters, and has made arrests.

The UN urged the government to conduct elections peacefully, and in compliance with an international order to hold transparent elections.

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Climate Scientists Use Forecasting Tools to Protect Caribbean Ways of Life

6 August 2017 - 8:01pm

The remains of abandoned shade houses that one farmer attempted to build to protect his crops from the effects of climate change in Trinidad. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Zadie Neufville
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

Since 2013, Jamaica’s Met Office has been using its Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) to forecast ‘below average’ rainfall or drought across the island. The tool has allowed this northern Caribbean island to accurately predict several dry periods and droughts, including its most destructive episode in 2014 when an estimated one billion dollars in agricultural losses were incurred due to crop failures and wild fires caused by the exceptionally dry conditions.

In neighbouring Cuba, the reputation of the Centre for Atmospheric Physics at the Institute for Meteorology (INSMET) is built on the development of tools that “provide reliable and timely climate and weather information” that enables the nation to prepare for extreme rainfall and drought conditions as well as for hurricanes.“We saw the need to develop a drought tool that was not only easy to use, but free to the countries of the Caribbean so they would not have to spend large amounts of money for software." --INSMET’s Dr. Arnoldo Bezamilla Morlot

Regional scientists believe the extended dry periods are one of several signs of climate change, now being experienced across the region. Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Adviser at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) – known regionally as the Five Cs – believes climate change is threatening the “Caribbean’s ways of life”.

Dr Trotz noted, “Some countries in the Caribbean like Barbados and Antigua are inherently water scarce. It is expected that climate change will exacerbate this already critical situation. We have seen in recent times the occurrence of extended droughts across the Caribbean, a phenomenon that is expected to occur more frequently in the future.

“Droughts have serious implications across all sectors – the water, health, agriculture, tourism -and already we are seeing the disastrous effects of extended droughts throughout the Caribbean especially in the agriculture sector, on economies, livelihoods and the wellbeing of the Caribbean population,” he said.

With major industries like fisheries, tourism and agriculture already impacted, the region continues to look for options. Both the Cuban and Jamaican experiences with forecasting tools means their use should be replicated across the Caribbean, Central and South America as scientists look for ways to battle increasingly high temperatures and low rainfall which have ravaged the agricultural sector and killed corals across the region.

Charged with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s mandate to coordinate the region’s response to climate change, the ‘Five Cs’ has been seeking financial support investigating and pooling regional resources to help countries cope with the expected impacts since its birth in 2004. These days, they are introducing and training regional planners in the application and use of a suite of tools that will help leaders make their countries climate-ready.

St Lucian government officers becoming familiar with tools at a recent workshop in St Lucia. As part of the training, they will use the tools to assess planned developments and weather conditions over six months to provide data and information which could be used for a variety of projects. Credit: Zadie Neufville/IPS

The experts believe that preparing the region to deal with climate change must include data collection and the widespread use of variability, predictability and planning tools that will guide development that mitigate the impacts of extreme climatic conditions.

The recent Caribbean Marine Climate Report card reflects the findings of the latest Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, pointing to the need for countries to ramp up their adaptation strategies. Both highlight the many significant risks climate change is expected to bring to regional economies that depend heavily on eco-systems based industries; where major infrastructure are located along the coasts and where populations are mainly poor.

The report points to the threats to biodiversity from coral bleaching; rising sea temperature and more intense storms which could destroy the region’s economy, and in some cases inundate entire communities.

The tools not only allow the users to generate country specific forecast information, they allow Met Officers, Disaster Managers and other critical personnel to assess likely impacts of climatic and extreme weather events on sectors such as health, agriculture and tourism; on critical infrastructure and installations as well as on vulnerable populations.

Training is being rolled out under the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) in countries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CCAP was designed to build on both USAID’s Regional Development Cooperative Strategy which addresses development challenges in the countries in that part of the region, as well as the CCCCC’s Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to a Changing Climate and its associated Implementation Plan, which have been endorsed by the Heads of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

Regional experts and government officers working in agriculture, water resources, coastal zone management, health, physical planning and disaster risk reduction from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago are being taught to use a variety of tools.

The program aims to build resilience in the development initiatives of the countries as they tackle climate change-induced challenges, which are already being experienced by countries of the region.

At a recent workshop in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, trainees were confident that the tools could become critical to their developmental goals. St Lucian metrological forecaster Glen Antoinne, believes the tools could be “useful for St Lucia because they are directly related to our ability to forecast any changes in the climate”.

He looks forward to his government’s adoption of, in particular, the weather tools to  “support the climatology department in looking at trends, forecasting droughts and to help them to determine when to take action in policy planning and disaster management”.

The tools work by allowing researchers and other development specialists to use a range of climatic data to generate scientific information and carry out analysis on the likely impacts in the individual countries of the region. They are open source, to remove the need for similar expensive products being used in developed world, but effective, said INSMET’s Dr. Arnoldo Bezamilla Morlot.

“We saw the need to develop a drought tool that was not only easy to use, but free to the countries of the Caribbean so they would not have to spend large amounts of money for software,” he said.

“The more countries use the data, the more information that is available for countries and region to use,” Morlot continued, pointing out that the data is used to generate the information that then feeds into the decision making process.

CCAP also includes activities aimed at the expansion of the Coral Reef Early Warning System for the installation of data gathering buoys in five countries in the Eastern Caribbean providing data which, among other things will be used for ecological forecasts on coral bleaching and other marine events.

The project also provides for the strengthening of the hydro meteorological measurement systems in participating countries. This will allow for better monitoring of present day weather parameters and for generating data to feed into the climate models and other tools.

Among the tools being rolled out under the project are the Caribbean Assessment Regional DROught (CARiDRO) tool; the Caribbean Weather Generator, and the Tropical Storm Model which were designed to help experts to develop scenarios of future climate at any given location and to use these to more accurately forecast the impacts, and inform mitigating actions.

There are accompanying web portals and data sets that were developed and are being introduced to help countries to enhance their ability to reduce the risks of climate change to natural assets and populations in their development activities.

These online resources are designed to provide locally relevant and unbiased climate change information that is specific to the Caribbean and relevant to the region’s development. Their integration into national planning agendas across the region is being facilitated through regional and country workshops to ensure effective decision-making while improving climate knowledge and action.

“The resulting information will help leaders make informed decisions based on the projections and forecasting of likely levels of impact on their infrastructure and economies,” Lavina Alexander from St Lucia’s Department of Sustainable Development noted, pointing to that country’s recent experiences with hurricanes and extreme rainfall events.

As one of the tool designers, Morlot believes that by providing free access to the tools, the project is ensuring that “more countries will begin to collect and use the data, providing regional scientists with the ability to make more accurate forecasts of the region’s climate.”

Putting all the information and tools in one place where it is accessible by all will be good for the region, he said.

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Govt Should Declare AIDS Emergency

6 August 2017 - 12:08pm

By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Aug 6 2017 (Manila Times)

The number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the country may not be the highest in the world at this point, but the alarming spread of infections has prompted a recent study by the UNAIDS to conclude that the Philippines has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia Pacific.

The 2017 UNAIDS report showed that the number of new infections in the Philippines rose by 140 percent to 10,500 in 2016 from 4,300 in 2010.

The report released on Aug. 1, 2017 prompted Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros to ask the government to declare a national emergency to mobilize resources and tap the latest available modes of intervention.

The epidemic has shifted from female sexual workers as HIV carriers, through which the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is transmitted, to men having sex with men and transgender women having sex with men.

Two out of three new HIV infections are 15 to 24 years old, particularly men who have sex with men.

The HIV epidemic is a national emergency, according to the head of the AIDS Research Group of the Health department’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

“Dr. Rossana Ditangco warned that the government’s current approach to the epidemic means that ‘we can’t control the rapid rise of HIV infection’,” according to a separate report by the Human Rights Watch.

“The sharp rise in new HIV infections in the Philippines since 2010 stands in sharp contrast to decreasing or stagnant rates of new infections in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region,” the HRW report noted.

Before the situation gets any worse, the government must heed the call to declare a national emergency on HIV-AIDS to institute intervention and turn the tide on the epidemic.

Amid official expressions of concern, the government continues to delay the rollout of proven low-tech and low-cost interventions that can address the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men, the HRW has warned.

“Instead, it should immediately implement the recommendations from a recent Human Rights Watch report and remove current official obstacles to condom access and usage as well as ensure that schools include safer sex and HIV prevention education in the curriculum,” according to HRW.

The government should also reactivate harm reduction programs targeting injecting drug use, particularly in Cebu City, it said. Likewise, the government needs to step up its efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, which are key factors in discouraging or preventing key affected populations from being tested or treated.

The worsening severity of the Philippines’ HIV epidemic is unquestionable. The government needs to demonstrate that it is finally willing to adequately address it.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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The New Cold War

6 August 2017 - 12:01pm

By Munir Akram
Aug 6 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, US President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised Moscow that Nato would not be moved closer to Russia’s new borders. That promise was broken some years later by the Bill Clinton administration when the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were incorporated into Nato, followed soon after by Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, previously part of the Soviet Union itself.

Munir Akram

George Kennan, the famous ‘X’ who anonymously penned the 1947 Foreign Affairs article that provided the blueprint for America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union, was quoted by Tom Friedman (New York Times, May 2, 1998), as saying: “I think it (Nato expansion) is the beginning of a new cold war. …the Russians will gradually react … it is a tragic mistake”.

The Russians did react, as Kennan predicted, after Vladimir Putin had consolidated power. When the attempt was made to bring Georgia into Nato, Moscow sliced off two statelets from Georgia. When the pro-Russian president of Ukraine was ousted in a ‘political coup’, Putin took over Crimea and supported the ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Although the US is no longer the global hegemon, it continues to behave as if it is.

Today, Russia is again a first-rate military power. Its actions in Georgia and Ukraine will not be reversed. Moscow’s forces robustly patrol its western land, air and sea frontiers. The forthcoming large military manoeuvres across Belarus will illustrate Nato’s vulnerability. Russia has also reasserted its political, military and diplomatic role in the world’s ‘hot spots’.

The cerebral president Barack Obama displayed surprising strategic naiveté by simultaneously provoking Russia and announcing his vaunted ‘pivot to Asia’ to contain a rising China.

Despite America’s formidable naval power in the Pacific and its alliances with Japan, India and Australia, the US will be unable to oblige China to relinquish any of the territories or islands it claims unless it resorts to a full-blown war. China’s growing military and economic power also implies that the US will be unable to build reliable alliances to encircle China or block its sea routes.

In the new Cold War, America is pitted against two great powers which, between them, are likely to control the Eurasian ‘heartland’ and thus, if Halford McKinder’s thesis is right, also ‘control the world’. The US, meanwhile, is mired in the self-created quagmires of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Although Donald Trump is a geopolitical novice, realisation of his desire to normalise relations with Russia (whatever his personal motives) would have reduced America’s great power adversaries from two to one. The US Congress has scuttled this option by imposing the new sanctions against Russia.

Trump’s effort to secure China’s cooperation on North Korea was also sensible. The attempt proved infructuous because the US demand that China apply extreme pressure on Pyongyang to unilaterally give up its nuclear and missile capabilities was exorbitant and unrealistic. Trump’s tweeted rants against China after the latest North Korean missile tests, US weapons sales to Taiwan, and renewed ‘freedom of navigation’ forays in the South China Sea have soured the prospects of Sino-US cooperation.

The early years of the first Cold War, when the US and the Soviet Union sought to consolidate their respective spheres of influence and resorted to brinkmanship, were the most dangerous. It was only after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that both awoke to the danger of a nuclear Armageddon and instituted measures to regulate their competition, including nuclear arms control. Thereafter, the Cold War was fought either in the shadowy world of espionage and sabotage or through proxies.

The second cold war is in an early and dangerous phase and will be difficult to ‘manage’.

First, unlike the first Cold War, it is a trilateral, not bilateral, power struggle. Crisis management will become even more complicated once other militarily significant states align themselves with or against the major powers. Indeed, as at the outbreak of the First World War, international peace and security could be disrupted by the actions of any one of several state and non-state actors.

Second, the US appears to be seriously overestimating its power. Although the US is no longer the global hegemon, it continues to behave as if it is. Coercion and force seem to be Washington’s preferred option to address almost every challenge it confronts. Unless such belligerence is moderated, a great power conflict could erupt in Eastern Europe or the South China Sea; and the US could end up in shooting wars with North Korea and Iran. Some have even advocated US counterterrorist intervention in Pakistan without calculating the consequences.

Third, the potential for catastrophe has been magnified because, unlike the 1950s, now there are not two but nine nuclear weapon states. A conventional conflict in Korea or South Asia could rapidly escalate to the nuclear level.

Fourth, today’s conflicts are mostly ‘hybrid’ wars, encompassing special operations, sabotage and cyber warfare. As Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Yemen have illustrated, it is easy to start such ‘complex’ wars but extremely difficult to prevent their escalation and expansion.

The most tragic consequence of the new cold war will be the erosion of the collective efforts required to address the emerging existential and global threats: poverty and hunger, climate change, nuclear war, mass migration, communicable diseases. Nor will it be possible to collectively exploit the vast opportunities for human progress and wellbeing that technology and innovation now promise.

In the article mentioned, George Kennan added that what bothered him was “how superficial and ill informed the whole US Senate debate was’ (on Nato expansion). The same can be said about recent debates in the US Congress on Russia, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a host of other issues.

The world’s destiny cannot be left to be determined by militarists, political pygmies, or partisan interests. It is imperative that political leaders who possess a global vision of a shared human future forge a new ‘Westphalian’ consensus to circumvent a second cold war, effectively prohibit the resort to force, control armaments and promote active international cooperation to address the common challenges that confront mankind.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Koloppan in White House, kulappu in penthouse

6 August 2017 - 11:43am

By Neville de Silva
Aug 6 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

It is indeed a giant step for mankind. Both the print and electronic media in many countries carried the startling and happy news last week about a major breakthrough in scientific research that would have huge ramifications. A joint team of scientists from the US and South Korea has discovered how to eliminate deadly heart disease running in families by editing a piece of faulty DNA.

Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake at the centre of a financial scandal.

The average person would know little of the actual extent of its usefulness. But most, if not all, would wish science is able to alter the embryos of politicians and turn them into decent, clean and honest human beings instead of the abject crapness of today’s ruling class, so experienced in artifice and deceit, that has been foisted on the people in the name of democracy.

This discovery would doubtless provoke endless discussions with talking heads debating the morality of tampering with genes and whether man’s genetic engineering interferes with the natural order.

All this scientific mumbo-jumbo is way above the heads of ordinary folk like us. Whether this would lead to an imbalance in the nature’s scheme of things, important as it would be, is not our main concern right now.

What is regrettable is that these scientific discoveries did not come much earlier. It is claimed this breakthrough has the potential to prevent some 10,000 diseases that are passed down from one generation to the next.

Normal folk would earnestly hope that one of the diseases that could be cured is the politics of denigration, division, disruption and corruption that is the bane of many countries and has brought a lunatic fringe on to centre-stage.

If so a high priority in the application of such research must surely be to drastically alter the value system of politicians worldwide so that their faulty DNA could be replaced by one that instills justice and a sense of morality that appears sadly lacking these days.

We would then be governed by those with an ethical code which has no place for cheats, liars, abusers of power, back stabbers, front stabbers, the corrupt, the narcisstic and crafty whose desire for self-aggrandizement supersedes all else.

The new DNA or whatever the scientific terminology for it, should be such as to compel law makers and other politicians to eschew these vulgar and deleterious habits.

Let them awaken each morning with thoughts of adherence to Buddhism’s five precepts including musawadha and the Christian ten commandments which says “Thou shall not lie”. No doubt other religions practiced in Sri Lanka have their own precepts to remind politicians of clean, upright living.

Such scientific advancements that could eliminate the noxious DNA and inject a new morality would have been immensely valuable not only to the Trump presidency but Sri Lanka’s own leaders who preach political cleanliness but sadly need more than a single dry clean.

Naturally the Trump presidency has in its first six months attracted worldwide attention because of the pivotal role of the United States in world affairs and the power and influence wielded by the US president.

If the Trump presidency and the chaos and caterwauling in the White House seemed like a part of Shakespeare’s comic universe, Sri Lanka’s politics has appeared like the tragic happenings in Julius Caesar with our current foreign minister saying “et tu Brute” as the pin-pricks as he calls them, of his colleagues and friends begin to hurt.

Take the Trump administration. Major figures, some of them inducted into the White House by the new incumbent himself or appointed by him to key positions outside the West Wing have hardly had time to unpack their bags and test their comfortable seats before being shown the door. The last one to exit – at the time of this writing that is – was Anthony Scaramucci, the new Director of Communications who survived for 10 days.

As the Bard said “they have their exits and their entrances”.

That unfortunately has been the trouble with Trump politics. In his own crazy, bigoted, brash and incompetent way Trump has not hesitated to get rid of officials who were friends for what he perceived as gross incompetence or unacceptable disloyalty. Our politicians try desperately to provide cover and succour to the corrupt and crooked.

Late last week events took a turn for the worse for Trump as Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel investigating possible Russian interference in the US presidential election empanelled a grand jury that would subpoena witnesses and documents.

This could bring the investigators to look towards Trump and his associates’ possible financial connections and relationships with Russia. Trump had earlier warned that any such probe by Mueller into his finances would be to cross a “red line” in the investigations.

While all this koloppan over Russian collusion and Trump’s finances embroiled the White House, in Sri Lanka all the kulappu in political circles was over a Colombo Penthouse occupied by then finance minister and now foreign minister Ravi Karunanayake and who paid the substantial monthly rent of some Rs 1.4 million for it before the apartment was purchased by the Karunanayake family for some Rs 165 million.

Well not exactly the family because the master of the house- well not exactly house either but never mind – did not know anything about the lease and perhaps the purchase too and who has paid for such luxury and how.

Well that is what Ravi Karunanayake said. Now if you believe what he said and why not after all he was doing so under oath, one might well wonder how the country trusted him with the nation’s finances when he showed such nonchalance about the financial dealings that led to the lease and later purchase of the very apartment he is living in.

Apparently it was only when the name of Arjun Aloysius came up in parliament in mid-2016 that the finance minister sought to inquire from his dear spouse what all this was about or words to that effect, as he told the Commission of Inquiry.

This is only a sub plot – but a very important sub plot – in the wider drama of the treasury bond scandal that is increasingly choking the Yahapalanaya “Unity Government” since mid-2015.
Despite the strenuous efforts of a major constituent of the Yahapalanaya government to throttle the scandal at birth all attempts to put the genii back in the bottle has only proved more disastrous to those who have long wished to bury it.

One would have thought that having lived in his new abode for nearly one and a half years he would at least asked his wife in casual conversation whose apartment he was living in, how she came to negotiate it, how she was paying for it and how much.

Oh no. Mr. Karunanayake is not the inquisitive type. He does not go digging into domestic affairs and ask awkward questions from his wife. He minds his own business, as it were which was looking after the country’s finance at the time. It is probably because of his lack of interest in domestic affairs including that of his own household that prompted President Sirisena to entrust him with the portfolio of foreign affairs.

Unlike Mr. Karunanayake’s disinterestedness in domestic matters – he probably does not know where his wife keeps the family silver – the Attorney General’s Department counsel have been probing into his travel habits especially his visits to Singapore. Such probity is not deserving of the man who was chosen as Asia’s best finance minister. Some might be inclined to say this does not speak much for London’s “The Banker” magazine that paid him this honour.

It was perhaps natural for the “Best Finance Minister of Asia 2017” to travel about in Asia – as elsewhere – at least for those in this vast continent who do not know him to come to recognise Asia’s best.

So if he went to Singapore 13 times between certain dates what does it matter. After all such a man of stature should be seen even if he is not heard or heard of elsewhere. It was revealed that Karunanayake and Aloysius were once on the same flight. If it was on Sri Lankan Airlines it was probably to keep the national carrier afloat seeing that some of his schoolmates running it needed a helping hand just as Karunanayake needs now from his FRCS types.

So what if he had known Aloysius long before this fiasco which is beginning to look like the morass Trump has stepped into, though it might not be of the same proportions.

Surely Aloysius did not have to go up to RK/Ravi K/ or simply K and say to him “The name is Bond, Aloysius Bond”. After all they knew each other and probably spent Christmas in Singapore if not together at least at the same time.

And what is all this about a not-so-crispy letter that had no date, reference number or the name of the recipient? What does the learned counsel expect, a letter resembling a limp papadam?
What worries me is Karunanayake’s forgetfulness. He forgot to date that letter and to give it a reference which state communications normally carry. Why he did not address it to the Governor of the Central Bank who apparently requested it. He simply wrote “To whom it may concern”.

Now that is sheer forgetfulness. He seems prone to amnesia which is not a good sign now that he is dealing with international matter. Seriously he should consult a doctor before he forgets. But then our chaps are so often on strike that he might have to consult a stethoscope-wearer in Singapore on one of his numerous visits to the city state or during a transit. Why, he might even run into Trump. It would do their tormented souls a lot of good to compare notes on their respective woes. Trump calls his a “witch hunt”. Wonder whether Karunanayake thinks the same of his troubles. Maybe he knows who the witches are. Or has he forgotten that too?

In Sri Lanka our leadership that appoints cronies and old school chums into positions of importance and power will defend them to the last despite their public display of arrogance, of dubious practices, abuse of power and waste of public resources.

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

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The End of UN Habitat?

4 August 2017 - 7:56pm

A photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Felix Dodds

At the beginning of August, the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat came out with its report. Before commenting on the Panel Report I want to put up front that I know that a lot of the staff in UN Habitat do excellent work and its same they weren’t given a proper role in Habitat III.

It should be remembered that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed the high-level panel in April this year. The Panel had a very short time to produce its report. I would argue far far too short a time.  To enable a Panel to get on top of options and proposals and hear viewpoints on initial drafts Panels should not be expected to report in less than two years. So, I find myself reading a report that I already have concerns about in the context of the ability of those on the Panel to really get beyond a literature search and a few outside papers and very little outside reflection or input.

Universal body: Let’s turn to the recommendations. The first one I would highlight is making UN Habitat a universal body. No! No! No!

So why not? UNEP was made a universal body out of Rio+20. It has had only 2 meetings as a universal body and there are big questions whether the new body is better than the old UNEP Governing Council. What I mean is it is too early to say if going to the additional bureaucracy and finance needed for a universal body makes the body more effective or less. It’s not as if countries are fighting over trying to become a member of the governing body of UN Habitat. Ensuring that any governing body of UN Habitat schedule overlaps with the UN Environment Assembly is a good idea and one that has been advocated in the 1990s for the functioning commissions of EcoSoc. I have advocated that before every High Level Political Forum (HLPF) there should be a two-day local SDG conference. This should be organized by the stakeholders with UN Habitat and other UN bodies in support NOT leading. The idea of having an Assembly or for that matter a Forum around the UNGA is a none starter. Member states in New York are preparing prior to the Heads of State session for their Heads of State, Ministers and events the idea that another set of activities would come into a space that is already highly stressed shows a lack of understanding of intergovernmental processes.

Stakeholders and Habitat:  Habitat II in 1996 in the original text had given places on the Commission on Human Settlement to industry, women, NGOs and local government. Member States took that out either in New York or Nairobi I can’t remember. That was a good suggestion.

Committee of Stakeholders: This made me laugh. The people on the Panel clearly don’t understand the term stakeholder. They interchange stakeholders with civil society which are completely different terms and refer to different groups so for example academics, Indigenous Peoples, the local government and the private sector are not members of civil society. They then go on to suggest that the Committee of Stakeholders will include ten civil society representatives, five academics and five from the private sector. It’s embarrassing. I could go into this at length but just in terms of the SDG process through the HLPF private sector are 1 of 10 or more stakeholder groups in this process they become 1 in 4. I didn’t see much evidence that the private sector was at the door clamoring to get involved with the Habitat III process. As far as the 5 places for academics REALLY!!!!! Are they more important to pick out than a few other stakeholders that are central to delivering the SDGs such as women, youth, the NGOs who are actually active on human settlement issues?

Committee on Local Government:  I understand why this is a good idea for local and sub national government. I do believe they need a different relationship with UN Habitat than other stakeholders and this should be looked at. I’m not sure this doesn’t ghettoize them.

Private Sector: Is the most central ask of the Panel for ‘UN Habitat explore ways to encourage private sector actors to look at the unintended negative impacts of their investments and to find ways to mitigate them?’ . The Panel goes on to say ‘that UN-Habitat develop a strategy for cooperation with multilateral banks, financial institutions, and private sources of finance in order to increase the available resources for inclusive and sustainable urbanization.’ What it should focus on is supporting the development of principles for PPPs or whether PPPs are the right approach for infrastructure. As it is in many cases sub national governments who are doing PPPs – UN Habitat could play a role in the UN family to collect best practice to support the UN developing core PPP principles and offer capacity building with the sub-national and local government bodies to help sub national governments to address where PPPs or Public-Public-Public Partnerships are the better way forward.

UN Urban: This is a good idea PROVIDED UN Habitat does not chair it. I say that because both for Habitat II and Habitat III the Executive Directors kept out the rest of the UN Family as much as they could. Either intentionally – because they were worried about competition or incompetence where they didn’t engage the family members early enough to enable them to bring their expertise to the table. UN Water has elections for the head of it – it did at one time rotate the chair. Both of these ideas would be work considering. UN Habitat should act as the Vice Chair. The secretariat for UN Urban should be seconded people from different agencies and programmes.  As with UN Water stakeholders should be enabled to join as non-voting members.

Funding: It has been estimated that we need $5-7 trillion a year to implement the SDGs. If NUA had actually been about the local implementation of the SDGS as opposed to a forgotten agreement languishing on people’s hard drives then you could work out the funding needed at the local level for the over 60% of the targets that need a local implementation. A Panel that had two years to do its work could have commissioned such a paper. This would have been the basis for then a conversation with Member States and other funders about what role UN Habitat might play.

The reason that UN Habitat is not funded adequately is that Member States DO NOT have confidence in the leadership of the body. Setting up new funds without new leadership and the beginning of a proven record is I think a waste of time.

Finally – the bits of the NUA which will survive will be those that support the implementation of the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement and the AAAA.

What this report doesn’t do is look at other options (a) merging with UNEP (b) going back into UNDP. It also doesn’t ask Member States and stakeholders what services they need from UN Habitat at the country level. This could have been undertaken over a two-year period but not in a less than five month period. How it fits into the Secretary Generals Re-positioning the UN Development System to Deliver on the 2030 Agenda is unclear. It probably means it will be seen as a feeding into the second report due out in December.

For UN Habitat to be a success it needs to focus on the SDG agenda it needs to make friends again with the UN family as a whole and not try and barriers around the localization of the SDGs and say MINE. So much of the UN family is working at the country level on similar parts of the agenda and should be doing this in cooperation with UN Habitat. It will be up to the next Executive Director of UN Habitat to do much of this. If they don’t, then they may be the last Executive Director of UN Habitat.

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Which Country Is the Most Sustainable?

4 August 2017 - 10:00am

By Food Tank
Aug 4 2017 (Food Tank)

The Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) with the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation, ranks countries on food system sustainability based off of three pillars: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges.

“A food system does not sit in isolation, and a large number of stakeholders act together according to dynamics created by specific drivers,” say researchers Francesca Allievi, Marta Antonelli, and Katarzyna Dembska, who worked on the Food Sustainability Index with the BCFN Foundation. This causes increasing complexity at the regional, national, continental, and global level, they explain. Trying to assess the interaction among its parts creates a high level of these creating a high level of uncertainty when trying to assess the interaction among its parts.”

Released in 2016, the FSI aims to encourage policymakers to place food and its production issues as high-priority items in their policy agendas. BCFN has since released two Food Sustainability Reports: “Climate Change and Famine: Issues at the Heart of International Awareness,” which focused on climate change, food security, and food safety; and “Environmental, Food and Migration Sustainability: Three Challenges To Overcome Together,” raising awareness about crucial issues surrounding food and sustainability. Both reports were a joint effort between BCFN and the Milan Center for Food Law and Policy.

According to the FSI, The world population is projected to reach 8.1 billion by 2025. Ninety-five percent of this growth will come from developing countries, many of which are dealing with the double burden of hunger and rising obesity. Meanwhile, climate change is presenting new challenges to the agriculture sector. By highlighting performance of different countries and identifying best practices, the index establishes a comparable benchmark for leaders around the world to reference and measure their progress in establishing a sustainable food system.

The FSI is publicly available. Data can be accessed in the form of a map or a country ranking, and the full dataset can be downloaded. Through this approach, the FSI can serve as a tool for policymakers and experts to take action, students to be educated, and the public to adjust their behavior for the well-being of our health and our planet.

“The objectives
 of the FSI are not only to highlight the performance of countries, but to establish a comparable benchmark, to offer examples of best practices at the national and city levels, and to measure progress over time,” say the researchers.

The index analyzed the 20 countries in the G20, which maintain the largest economies and contain two-thirds of the global population, as well as five nations from regions otherwise unrepresented, using 58 different indicators to measure sustainability. FSI identified France, Japan, and Canada as the top-scoring countries. The top score earner, France, maintains a holistic policy response to food waste and nutrition issues. For example, French supermarkets are required to donate excess food and tax incentives are in place to discourage unhealthy food consumption.

Fixing Food, a white paper released with the FSI, advises developing countries to use institutional and infrastructure reform to improve sustainable agriculture practices. “Including more transparent land rights, greater access to finance…and stronger infrastructure for storage, transport, and logistic, can promote greater efficiency,” write authors of the report. Policy options to address nutritional challenges include public education campaigns, tax measures on unhealthy foods, and restrictions on junk food advertising to children.

The EIU and BCFN Foundation also developed City Monitor, a city-level database and evaluation tool for urban food systems. City Monitor applies sets of quantitative and qualitative indicators, such as child obesity rates and quality of urban farming initiatives, to assess urban food systems.

Together, City Monitor and the FSI provide city and national-level benchmarking tools to help leaders take action on food production, nutrition, and food waste issues. “Progress will be measured over time by updating of the FSI in the next years through new inputs, feedbacks, and new focus of research,” say the BCFN Foundation researchers.

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“I’ll Tell You a Story” – Violence Against Women in Peru

4 August 2017 - 6:57am

Poor women from the Andes highlands queuing up for aid in a village in Peru's Puno region. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Andrea Vale
LIMA, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

Domestic violence is alarmingly prevalent in Peru. Not only is it statistically more common than in other, more progressive cultures, but Peruvian women tend to accept it as simply a ‘part of marriage.’

It was therefore both surprising and understandable that the domestic violence classes at a women’s center in the Cajamarca region, observed throughout the summer of 2016, were always crowded and bustling, teeming with adult women and teenage girls."Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her." --Cecilia

“A lot of women don’t speak out against domestic violence because they aren’t as educated, they don’t know about it as much,” one woman called out during class one afternoon. Her fellow classmates all nodded. “Their husbands will insult them and hit them, and the women believe that it’s their fault, that they deserve that kind of treatment.”

One of the class attendees, Cecilia, was reluctant to speak after initially offering to do so, instead staring down at her skirt while her friend sitting next to her, Yolanda, asked, “Are you ready to talk about it?” To which Cecilia quietly replied, “No.”

(Surnames have been omitted to ensure confidentiality.)

When asked if she or anyone she knew has had experience with domestic violence, Yolanda’s eyes immediately darted to Cecilia.

“Many of my friends have experience with it,” she said in Spanish.

When asked if she thinks that some women don’t object to being subjected to domestic violence because they think it’s simply a part of marriage, or a part of the larger culture, Yolanda whispered to Cecilia, “Come on, tell them, tell them.” Cecilia, however, did not answer.

In many Peruvian families, men’s education takes priority over that of women. According to a report by the United Nations, only 56.3% of women in Peru have received at least some secondary education, as compared to 66.1% of men. According to UNESCO, only 6.3% of adult males in Peru are illiterate – as compared to 17.5% of females.

As with almost any aspect of society, education makes a huge difference, but especially so when it comes to domestic violence. According to a study carried out by Princeton University, the less education you have, the higher your chances of being domestically abused are: 42.04% of women with no education at all, and 42.80% of those with primary school education had been abused – compared to 28.93% of those with tertiary, college or more.

“Mothers teach their boys to not do women’s work, that they don’t cook and clean and that’s the woman’s job,” another woman chimed in during class one afternoon, “If the women doesn’t cook and do women’s chores, then they’ll be abused. They won’t be able to get out of it because they don’t have any education, they don’t have any resources.”

All of the women in the class fell into one of two camps. Some wore jeans and tank tops. Others wore traditional long skirts, button down shirts and cardigans. Some were timid – some were not. The ones who spoke openly, condemning Machismo Culture and lecturing the others on the importance of marrying your best friend, were wearing leggings. The ones with waist-length braids and farming boots stayed quiet.

Contributing to that Machismo Culture is the reality that Peru is a sometimes vision-bending fusion of the Old existing alongside the New. While many in Peru drive cars, have cell phones and wear modern clothing, the simultaneous perseverance of a rural lifestyle that feels like going back in time offers fertile soil for that outdated, patriarchal society to take root in.

Consequently, domestic violence is more prevalent among rural women, as is their willingness to put up with it.

“It’s even worse in the rural areas. There, women are just expected to stay in their homes and that’s it,” Yolanda said. “The women from out in the country are quiet. They don’t talk, they don’t say anything. They were raised in that home. Their father hits their mother, and when they get married they get hit. They see it as normal.”

According to the Pan American Health Organization, physical violence within domestic abuse – as opposed to emotional, sexual or verbal violence – is “used much more frequently on women with fewer economic resources” in Peru.

According to the World Health Organization, the lifetime prevalence of physical violence by an intimate partner is 50% in urban areas of the country, as opposed to 62% in rural areas. And there, more than other countries, domestic violence often becomes fatal.

According to the Peruvian publication La Republica, there have been 356 feminicidios, or ‘women-icides’ in the country within the last 4 years, with an additional 174 attempted feminicidios. What’s more, judges have been markedly lenient in their punishments for perpetrators, with almost half receiving less than 15 years in prison, and two receiving less than seven – that is, if they end up being convicted, which only 84 were.

After staring over periodically at Yolanda while she spoke, and visibly reacting to one of Yolanda’s answers, Cecilia became willing to speak. When asked if she knew any stories of domestic violence, she stared down into her lap for a long silence, then nodded.

“Yes. I could tell you a story,” she said.

She proceeded to describe in detail the situation of a ‘relative’ who happened to be the same age as herself – twenty-nine.

“She got engaged to this man … He is always telling her that he loves her, and that he wants her, all the time right?” Cecilia said. “And always saying how much he loves her, and how he’s willing to give her everything, right? But in reality, I can see that it is not good.

“When he tells her that he needs her, she’ll go and be with him. But she is alone. He says that he loves her so much, and that’s why he doesn’t want her to work. He says she should only dedicate herself to her child. She has a daughter, and because of that she can’t work.

“Every instant the phone rings to call her, he asks, ‘Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?’ And he’ll find her.”

She finished, “He forces her to stay with him. She tries to leave, but he’s there always, always behind her, listening and waiting for her. Whenever he sees her with someone, that’s when he starts to get angry. And that’s when he hits her. She has tried to get out, but he’s forcing her. Because right now she lives more in fear, out of fear that he’s going to kill her if she were to have another partner.”

Cecilia’s hesitancy to speak – whether or not she actually was talking about a “relative” – says leagues about her situation, and that of all the women facing the Machismo Culture in Peru. It’s difficult to grapple with an issue that is in many ways tied into the larger economic, political and historical storylines that have resulted in the perseverance of a rural, anachronistic culture.

The education they are receiving at classes like the one taught at the women’s center is a necessary start – but only if paired with empowerment, so that women like Cecilia can know that they don’t have to be afraid to tell their stories.

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Latin America Discusses How to Make Environmental Rights a Reality

3 August 2017 - 9:35pm

Delegates from 24 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean pose next to Argentine authorities, after the opening of the seventh meeting of the negotiating committee on a regional agreement that will enable access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, held in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

The final declaration of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.” However, this rarely happens in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That was acknowledged by most countries in the region, which 25 years later are drafting a supranational legal instrument with the aim of making public access to information and to environmental justice a reality for people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Delegates from 24 countries are taking part Jul. 31 to Aug. 4 in the Seventh Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land.” -- Danielle Andrade

This week’s meeting in Buenos Aires, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the government of Argentina, is to be the second-to-last debate on Principle 10, and is being held behind closed doors.

The final document is to be approved in November or December in an as-yet undetermined city.

But there is still a long way to go.

At the current meeting it has become clear that the debate on how far public participation should go has not come to a conclusion, although the ECLAC-sponsored negotiations began in November 2014.

The main sticking point is whether or not the document will be binding on signatory states.

If an agreement is reached for a binding document, it would set minimum standards for the participating countries to guarantee public participation in environmental matters.

If the decision is that it should be non-binding, it could merely become yet another declaration of principles that changes nothing.

The UN special rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox of the United States, said “the instrument should be binding, even though that would make it harder to reach a consensus.”

“If it isn’t binding, the impression will be that instead of taking a step forward, we took a step back,” he said.

Knox was a special guest speaker during the opening of the meeting, which was held at Argentina’s Foreign Ministry, with the presence of three Argentine cabinet ministers and Costa Rica’s deputy minister of environment, Patricia Madrigal.

The Costa Rican official took part on behalf of the Negotiating Committee board, which is presided by her country and Chile, and is also composed of Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the same vein as Knox, the Argentine expert on environmental law, Daniel Sabsay, a speaker at a special session on the implementation of the future agreement, said he was “worried by the prospect that the text will just end up as another grand declaration, without any actual results.”Rights of indigenous peoples and communities

The draft of the Regional Agreement makes several references to indigenous peoples and establishes that it will acknowledge the right to consultation, and prior, free and informed consent, which has been recognised in most national legislations, and in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which regulates the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

It also stipulates that information must be delivered in indigenous languages, and that native people must receive special assistance to access information, since they are identified as a vulnerable group.

In addition, it establishes that, in every project with an environmental impact, the State has the obligation to identify the directly affected communities and promote their informed participation in the decision-making processes.

“The drafts that have been released until now set out no concrete instruments which countries are required to enforce and which would empower civil society. If it is not binding, it will not be useful,” he told IPS.

The debate is taking place against a backdrop of escalating disputes over land and natural resources, around the world and in this region in particular.

“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land,” said Danielle Andrade of Jamaica, chosen as a civil society representative in the negotiations.

This situation shows the failure of governments to address the concerns of local communities in the face of extractive or land use projects that affect them.

Principle 10 of the Río Declaration establishes that States must facilitate and promote social participation in debates on environmental issues, making information widely available and guaranteeing access to legal and administrative proceedings.

The consensus is that Latin America in general has sufficient regulations in this respect. In fact, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said that “since 1992, 20 countries in the region have incorporated in their constitutions the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”

The issue, it seems, is how to put into practice those rights which are only on paper.

“Nearly every country has environmental laws, but they have problems enforcing them. That is why we believe the creation of a committee for implementation of the treaty is crucial, to which people in the region could turn with their environmental conflicts, and which should include public participation, and should have powers to intervene,” Andrés Nápoli of Argentina, another civil society representative in the negotiations, told IPS.

The agreement that is being negotiated is inspired by the so-called Aarhus Convention, approved in 1998 in that city in Denmark, within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Convention was especially useful for Eastern Europe countries, which had abandoned Communism a few years before, and had few environmental regulations.

“The countries of Latin America have been developing environmental laws since the 1990s, and recently some English-speaking Caribbean nations have being doing so,” said Carlos de Miguel, head of ECLAC’s Policies for Sustainable Development Unit.

“For that reason, the aim is enhancing the capacities of countries to ensure the rights established in the existing laws. Some countries have not been able to implement their environmental legislation, not because they don’t want to, but due to a lack of training and of financial resources,” he told IPS.

De Miguel said “we expect an ambitious agreement, that includes the creation of the institutions that will enforce it. We hope it will be signed not only by the 24 countries that are negotiating, but by all 33 countries in the region.”

The countries taking part in the discussions include all of the nations of South America except for Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam, and all of the countries of Central America with the exception of Nicaragua, while Caribbean island nations like Barbados and Cuba are absent.

Among the articles that are under discussion in Buenos Aires are article 6, which defines the scope of the right to information; 7 and 8, on the participation of citizens in decision-making processes; and 9, which regulates access to justice.

The last meeting will discuss the articles that define the institutions created by the treaty and whether or not to create an enforcement committee that, according to the majority, will define its effectiveness.

“It is essential to establish mechanisms to ensure that participation is real and ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to information, because official bodies and NGOs on their own cannot mobilise participation,” said Leila Devia, head of the Basel Convention Regional Centre for South America, at the special session on implementation.

That convention, which has 186 member States, deals with the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

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Gender Equality? It’s Still a Man’s World

3 August 2017 - 1:57pm

Anna Shen is an international consultant for the United Nations, an entrepreneur, and advisor to startups around the world.

By Anna Shen
SAN FRANCISCO, California, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

Gender inequality is the greatest moral and social issue of our time — and the world’s most critical economic challenge. If half of the global population cannot fulfill their human potential, the world’s economic growth will falter.

Anna Shen

We are being robbed as we speak: if women fully participated fully in formal economic activity, it would add $12 trillion to the world’s coffers, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Drill down to specific industries – the tech sector – and globally, women face the most profound imbalances. At risk are the immense contributions to innovation that women around the world could make — if simply given the chance.

We are now in what The World Economic Forum calls the “4th Industrial Revolution,” an era built on technology that fuses digital, physical and biological worlds. It is imperative that women contribute to the planet’s sweeping transformation.

Imagine if women participated fully and their intellects, talents, and skills were fully used. Think of the products developed, technologies created, companies funded, and discoveries found. What answers would women find for the world’s most pressing problems?

Keep in mind women’s inventions to date: Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes, who discovered radioactivity, radium and polonium; Grace Hopper, who designed Harvard’s Mark I computer; and
Ann Tsukamoto, who isolated stem cells, a promising discovery that could lead to a cure for cancer.

Sadly, the numbers speak for themselves.

Globally, women are grossly underrepresented in scientific research and development (R&D). Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate women’s workplace inclusion, reports that worldwide, females account for less than 29 percent of those employed in R&D. In America, which prides itself as possessing the worlds’ most advanced tech companies, women hold less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

When women actually do work in the tech sector, retention is an issue; negative work experiences and a lack of support spur women to depart at alarming rates. Almost one-third of women in science, technology and engineering in the U.S. intend to leave their jobs within a year; it is worse in other parts of the world, as women in Brazil (22 percent) and India (20 percent) plan to quit during the same time period.

If one narrowly looks at the business case for gender, the argument is undeniable. Put simply, women boost the bottom line and add invaluable perspectives. According to a Morgan Stanley report that polled 108 tech firms, companies with a highly gender-diverse workforce grew 5.4 percent more revenue-wise per year.

Board representation matters too. Companies in every sector, not just tech, perform 5 percent better when they have just one woman on the board, according to Credit Suisse, which examined 3,000 companies. The Peterson Institute for International Economics noted that out of 22,000 firms surveyed globally in tech and other, 60 percent had no female board members. Norway, Latvia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria had only 20 percent female representation in board members and senior executives.

In developing countries, gender parity could enable greater self-sufficiency. Consider the recent visit of Google CEO Sindar Pichai to Nigeria and the promise that the company will train 10 million Nigerians in the next five years, ushering them into the digital economy, a lofty goal that would open more Africans to the global marketplace. What if half – five million — of the newly trained tech workers were women?

Dr. Unoma Okorafor, founder of the Nigerian-based foundation Working to Advance African Women (WAAW), is working across eight countries to increase the pipeline of females in tech. She believes that fostering gender parity is critical to poverty alleviation and Africa’s rapid development. “Technology can empower women who are currently working in agriculture or at home. Many entrepreneurs are women, however, they are excluded from the formal system,” she said.

Could a burgeoning tech sector wean these countries off foreign aid? If countries could train workers to think for themselves, Africa could change the narrative from aid to trade. “We could empower Africans to innovate for themselves,” said Okorafor, adding that this is part of the goal of attracting women to careers in STEM.

The problem is in training and retaining women leaders globally, but discrimination exists in the funding mechanism – venture capital (VC) — used to birth companies. In California’s Silicon Valley, where many of the world’s largest tech companies launched – Uber, Airbnb, Google, Facebook – women face obstacles in VC; in fact, women-led companies comprised less than 5 percent of all VC deals in 2016. Only 7 percent of partners at the leading 100 VC firms are women.

This summer’s avalanche of sexual harassment scandals at Uber and several prominent American venture capital firms have made global front-page news.

Unfortunately, for women in other countries, the story is also the same. In late July, the board of Kenyan software company Ushahidi fired Daudi Were, executive director, after an investigation of sexual harassment by a former employee. She published details online, recounting the disturbing impact of his actions. Eleven other women experienced similar incidents.

Access to capital is unmistakably powerful. Trish Costello, founder of Portfolia, a crowdfunding website that aims to create a new class of women investors, said that, “The goal is to design spaces that work for women in terms of investment vehicles. Men say that there are no female VCs and that is why there is a leaky pipeline, but that is not true.”

Ruchira Shukla, regional lead for South Asia for the venture capital arm of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), gave hopeful news: “The number of women entrepreneurs in the tech space is rising. These women will serve as role models,” adding that she is heartened by the women entrepreneurs she is seeing, especially as the IFC invested in a fund for female founders.

Recent discussions to raise women up are encouraging. Is it lip service? Across the tech industry, it is still a man’s world. It’s up to all of us – men and women – to change the rules. Innovation and the world’s future are at stake.

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Guyana’s Model Green Town Reflects Ambitious National Plan

3 August 2017 - 6:57am

The light-emitting diode (LED) is one of today's most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies. Under the Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP) project, the community of Bartica is set to benefit from the installation of energy efficient as well as LED street lighting. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BARTICA, Guyana, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

At the head of Guyana’s Essequibo River, 50 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, you will find the town of Bartica. Considered the gateway to Guyana’s interior, the town has a population of about 15,000 and is the launching point for people who work in the forests mining gold and diamonds.

Under a new project, Bartica is to benefit from the installation of a 20Kwp grid connected Solar Photovoltaic (PV) system at the 3-Mile Secondary School along with the installation of energy efficient lighting, as well as light-emitting diode (LED) street lighting.The implementation of the J-CCCP supports the government’s commitment to transitioning to the use of 100 percent renewable energy in public institutions by 2025.

The Ministry of the Presidency (MotP), through the Office of Climate Change, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched the Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP) in Bartica earlier this month.

The Partnership, which is being funded by the Government of Japan to the tune of 15 million dollars, supports countries in advancing the process of improving energy security planning for adaptation to climate change.

Head of the Office of Climate Change within the Ministry of the Presidency Janelle Christian said the partnership comes at an opportune time as it helps to advance the vision of President David Granger for Bartica to be developed as a model ‘green’ town.

“The J-CCCP project and the support that Guyana has been benefiting from and continues to benefit from is set within the framework of the ‘Green’ State Development Strategy (GSDS)… The pilot initiative that will be implemented in Bartica is a direct response to the President’s pronouncement on Bartica becoming the first model ‘green’ town,” she said.

The GSDS provides a framework for national development plans and policies for climate action.

Christian said that the implementation of the J-CCCP supports the government’s commitment to transitioning to the use of 100 percent renewable energy in public institutions by 2025.

“These initiatives have to date, through budgetary support and also resources that we have been able to leverage through our development partners, already started taking effect,” she said.

“The project here in Bartica is not unique to Bartica but it is part of that national programme where we would’ve already seen through the leadership of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) some schools being installed with photovoltaic system (PVs).

“Further, under the Ministry of Communities, I believe as part of the initiative for all of the townships, there is and has been budgeted resources for installation of LED street lighting and we felt that those projects must align with those national plans with respect to our achievement and implementation of those commitments that we have made,” Christian added.

United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mikiko Tanaka said that the launching of the Partnership is in line with Guyana’s ‘green’ development trajectory. “The resources will undoubtedly contribute to enhancing Guyana’s and the other seven beneficiary countries’ ability to respond to climate risk and opportunities,” she said.

The partnership is part of a regional initiative that was officially launched in January 2016 and has been implemented in Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and now Guyana.

Tanaka explained that the partnership is part of the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it relates to the climate action.

“The achievements from this project would ultimately support Guyana’s pursuit of evolving into a ‘green’ state, as it fosters a platform for collaborative efforts . . . the project allows for the adaptation and implementation of mitigation and adaptation technologies, which gives Guyana the flexibility to identify, develop and implement demonstration pilot projects that seek to address significant climate related ramifications,” she said.

Meanwhile, Programme Specialist at the UNDP, Dr. Patrick Chesney said that the partnership is an important response that emphasizes partnership between a developed country and developing countries.

“This is an ambitious response, and we must match that ambition with our energy with our passion and with knowledge.  Guyana is the second greenest country on this earth, so the move towards establishing a green state is simply putting in place the architecture, the mechanisms and ensuring that all we do is contributing to making and keeping Guyana green,” Chesney said.

Additionally, Mayor of Bartica, Gifford Marshall praised the organisations for implementing the Partnership in the community, which he said demonstrates the Government’s interest in developing the township of Bartica.

“It is most importantly a visionary council that was elected by the people for the development of Bartica, we are committed to serve, we were elected to serve and that’s what we will do, and these projects of course will bring about major transformation to the township of Bartica,” Marshall said.

Project Manager Yoko Ebisawa said the J-CCCP is designed to strengthen the capacity of countries in the Caribbean to invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies, as prioritised in their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

These technologies will help reduce the dependence on fossil fuel imports, setting the region on a low-emission development path; as well as improve the region’s ability to respond to climate risks and opportunities in the long-run, through resilient development approaches that go beyond disaster response to extreme events, she said.

The J-CCCP brings together policy makers, experts and representatives of communities to encourage policy innovation for climate technology incubation and diffusion. By doing so, the partnership aims to ensure that barriers to the implementation of climate-resilient technologies are addressed and overcome in a participatory and efficient manner.

As a result, concrete mitigation and adaption will be implemented on the ground, in line with the countries’ long-term strategies. Building upon and supported by the NAMAs and NAPs, the partnership also supports the incubation of climate technology into targeted public sectors, private industries, and community groups and enterprises so that green, low-emission climate-resilient technologies can be tested, refined, adopted, and sustained as practical measures to enhance national, sub-national and community level resilience.

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Un Analytical Leadership in Addressing Global Economic Challenges

3 August 2017 - 3:42am

International solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata/IPS

By José Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations recently released the 70th anniversary issue of its flagship publication, the World Economic and Social Survey (WESS). First published in January 1948 as the World Economic Report, it is the oldest continuous publication analyzing international economic and social challenges. The 2017 issue reviews 70 years of WESS policy recommendations, many of which remain relevant today to address global challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals.

Created in 1945 to ensure world peace, the United Nations charter recognized that economic and social progress for all is fundamental for ensuring sustainable peace. The UN has thus been monitoring socio-economic developments globally since the 1940s. Its analyses have long highlighted the interdependence of the global economy, and advocated international policy coherence and coordination for sustainable, inclusive and balanced socio-economic progress.

The picture which emerges is that the UN has been ahead of the curve on many issues, especially on closing gaps in human well-being between and within countries. From early on, it has urged developed countries to support socio-economic progress in developing countries, not only in their own interest as trading partners, but also to maintain conditions for greater economic stability and more equitable global development. It has also long called for predictable transfers of finance and technology to developing countries, and for opening up developed country markets to developing countries’ exports.

The UN has also pioneered innovative multilateral institution building to fill lacunae. In the 1960s, WESS provided the analytical rationale for establishing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to support developing countries seeking to equitably benefit from international trade and investment, and to industrialize.

The 2017 review of issues WESS has underscored the importance of its analyses. The 1951-52 issue identified three major challenges: “maintenance of economic stability, those concerned with persistent disequilibrium in international payments, and those arising from the relatively slow advance of the under-developed countries”. Needless to say, these challenges remain relevant today.

The 1956 issue warned against monetarism and monetary policy solutions, arguing that “a single economic policy seems no more likely to overcome all sources of imbalance … than is a single medicine likely to cure all diseases”. Along these lines, the 1959 issue acknowledged the “evils of large-scale inflation”, but argued that “economic stagnation or large-scale unemployment is not an acceptable cost to pay for price stability or equilibrium in the balance of payments”.

The 1965 issue warned that tying aid would reduce aid effectiveness, external debt burdens were rising rapidly, and capital would flow from developing to developed countries.

The 1971 issue warned of the “unsettling effects of massive movements of short-term capital” and argued for an “international code of conduct and mechanism for surveillance” to curb their disruptive effects. It also warned that IMF governance arrangements dangerously limited developing country voice, and called for Special Drawing Rights to be used to provide development finance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, WESS repeatedly warned that putting the burden of adjustment on deficit countries alone would not only stifle their growth, but also exert deflationary pressure on the world economy. The UN urged provision of additional finance by surplus countries and international financial institutions on less stringent terms and conditions to support robust recoveries and prevent widespread welfare losses.

The 1982 issue warned against the reluctance to undertake expansionary policies at a time of a global crisis for fear of undermining investor confidence: “without more vigorous expansionary policies, recovery will lack strength, levels of demand will not be sufficient to bring present productive capacity into full use, and the incentive to undertake new investment will remain weak”.

WESS’s rich legacy reminds us of the continuing relevance of multilateral institutions, especially in facing major challenges. The global economy needs strong institutions and coordinated international actions, with adequate voice and participation by developing countries. This is particularly true for ensuring international monetary stability and trade dynamism, which remain crucial for global development.

It also underscores that international solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Sustainable development is necessarily multidimensional and often context-specific; requiring strengthened state capacities and capabilities, strategic development planning and appropriate adaptation to local conditions.

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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

2 August 2017 - 9:59am

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 2 2017 (IPS)

Over the centuries, Indigenous peoples who have in-depth and locally rooted knowledge of the natural world , have been increasingly dispossessed of their lands, territories and resources and have lost control over their own way of life.

Traditional indigenous lands and territories contain some 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity and indigenous peoples have a crucial role in managing natural resources.

One of the root causes of poverty and marginalization of indigenous peoples is loss of control over their traditional lands, territories and natural resources.

Worldwide, indigenous peoples account for 5 per cent of the population, but represent 15 per cent of those living in poverty. Too often, they pay a price for being different and face discrimination.

Enabling indigenous peoples to overcome poverty requires supporting their efforts to shape and direct their own destinies and managing development initiatives crafted with that goal in mind. Their concept of poverty and development must reflect their own values, needs and priorities; they do not see poverty solely as the lack of income

Indigenous peoples have rich and ancient cultures and view their social, economic, environmental and spiritual systems as interdependent. Their traditional knowledge and understanding of ecosystem management are valuable contributions to the world’s heritage.

Indigenous languages are key to ensuring the continuation and transmission of the culture, customs and history that constitute the core parts of the heritage and identity of indigenous peoples. It is estimated that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 oral languages in the world today. A great majority of these languages are spoken by indigenous peoples, and many (if not most) of them are in danger of becoming extinct. One indigenous language dies every two weeks.

There are more than 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples in over 70 countries around the world. There are more than 400 groups in Latin America alone, each with a distinct language and culture. The biggest concentration of indigenous peoples, an estimated 70 per cent, live in Asia and the Pacific region.

On the Tenth Anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the IPS Inter Press Service and its partners call for the voices of the Indigenous Peoples to be heard and their rights respected.

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Economic Measures Against Qatar Do Not Violate WTO Agreements: Ministry of Economy

1 August 2017 - 2:57pm

ABU DHABI, Aug 1 2017 (WAM)

Juma Mohamed Al Kait, Assistant Under-Secretary for Foreign Trade Affairs in the Ministry of Economy, has stated that member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were within their rights to impose economic measures, if they felt their national security was being threatened.

In a statement issued today in response to Qatar presenting an official complaint to the WTO against the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Al Kait noted that in its agreements related to trading in goods and services, and trade related to intellectual property, the WTO permitted the suspension of privileges of a member country in specific cases, and those cases had been proven against Qatar.

He pointed out that the sanctions imposed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain did not contradict the agreements of the WTO, and were in line with article 21 and article 14 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), known as ‘Security Exceptions’.

He clarified that these articles did not prevent any member from resorting to economic sanctions to protect their basic security interests, or from executing the commitments of the United Nations Charter to maintain international peace and security.

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Collectively Managing South Asia’s Stressed Water Resources

1 August 2017 - 11:58am

Ethnic women collect drinking water from a water plant in Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Aug 1 2017 (IPS)

Experts and policymakers here say regional cooperation is a must to resolve long-standing water problems in South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and to harness the full value of water.

There are many transboundary rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, in the region. Bangladesh in particular faces severe water problems, like flooding and riverbank erosion, due in part to a lack of cooperation with its neighbors, officials said at a consultation in the capital Dhaka."Valuing water - socially, culturally, economically and environmentally - is crucial here." --Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka, Leonie Cuelenaere

On July 31, state ministers, senior and government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners gathered at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water at the BRAC Center Inn.

Bangladesh has 57 transboundary rivers, and 93 percent of its catchment is located outside the country’s borders.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, said some countries have adequate water sources from upstream lakes and glaciers and think of water as their own resource, but water should be universal and all should have equitable access to it.

Highlighting various water-related problems Bangladesh has long been facing, he said, “When we get too much water during monsoon [season], then we hardly can manage or conserve water. But during the dry season, we face severe water scarcity.”

“Basin-based water management is urgent in South Asia to manage water of common rivers and to cope with water-related problems in the region,” said Abu Saleh Khan, a deputy executive director of the Dhaka-based think tank, Institute of Water Modelling (IWM).

Such management could include knowledge and data sharing, capacity development, increased dialogue, participatory decision-making and joint investment strategies.

With just 3 percent of the world’s land, South Asia has about a quarter of the world’s population. Rice and wheat, the staple foods in the subregion, require huge amounts of water and energy, even as water resources are coming under increasing strain from climate change, pollution and other sources.

In January 2016, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), involving 11 heads of state and government to accelerate change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

The regional consultation was held in Dhaka as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, State Minister of Bangladesh for Water Resources, speaks at the Fourth Consultation of the UN High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) on Valuing Water on July 31, 2017. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

The goal of the Valuing Water Initiative is to achieve the water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by inspiring better decision-making, and making better trade-offs between competing claims on water.

Valuing Water 

Today, freshwater is facing a crisis around the world, compounded by extreme weather events, droughts and floods. Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. But water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities, biodiversity and the environment.

“’We never know the worth of water until the well is dry’ is a saying in several different languages from around the world. And indeed, water is often taken for granted. That is why the High Level Panel on Water launched the Valuing Water Initiative last year,” said Netherlands Ambassador in Dhaka Leonie Cuelenaere.

She said water is a key element of Bangladesh’s culture and economy, but its 700 rivers frequently flood and create problems for local communities.

“Yet simultaneously, a shortage of fresh water occurs in the dry season. So valuing water – socially, culturally, economically and environmentally – is crucial here,” said Cuelenaere.

Regarding excessive use of water, Nazrul Islam noted that about 3,000 litres of water is required to irrigate one kilogram of paddy in Bangladesh.

“We have to change our lifestyle to cut water use, and need to innovate new varieties of crops which could be cultivated with a small volume of water,” he added.

Suraiya Begum, Senior Secretary and HLPW Sherpa to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said about 90 percent of Bangladesh’s people think that they have enough water, but some pockets in the country still face scarcity every year.

Focusing on Bangladesh’s strong commitment to conserve water and environment, she said Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina considers water a precious resource and advocates for its wiser use.

Valuing water can make the cost of pollution and waste apparent and promote greater efficiency and better practices.

Willem Mak, a project manager (valuing water) of the Netherlands government, said pricing of water is not synonymous with its true value, but is one way of covering costs, reflecting part of the value of these uses, ensuring adequate resources and finance for related infrastructure services.

He said valuing water can play a role in peace processes via transboundary water management or mitigation.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, the president of Bangladesh Water Partnership, said water has many values – economic, social, cultural and even religious – while the values of water depend on its quality and quantity, and time and dimension.

“Rather than [only] economic value,” he said, “water has some values that you cannot count in dollars, particularly water for environmental conservation.”

The main objective of the July 31 water consultation was to obtain views from a wide array of country-level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the valuing water preamble and principles.

The water meet also encouraged governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

The members of the UN high level panel are heads of state from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Tajikistan.

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Zaatari Camp Marks Fifth Year With 80,000 Refugees

1 August 2017 - 11:00am

A view of the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees are living. Credit: UN Photo/Sahem Rababah

By Roshni Majumdar

Jordan’s Zaatari camp, which opened in 2012 as a makeshift camp to house Syrian refugees fleeing the war, marked its fifth year on June 28.

The camp was opened by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the United Nations (UN) to cope with the humanitarian crisis in Syria—which has recorded the world’s largest refugee movement since WWII—with a clear goal to house refugees temporarily.

Between then and today, more than 80,000 Syrian refugees have settled in the camp, making it the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp.

Far from being a makeshift settlement today, the camp has a bustling economy, with many teaching young children—who make up more than half of all refugees—to read and write. The NRC has set up educational centers and centers for vocational activities.

“Now the camp is completely different. There are many more facilities and services. There are no more tents, everyone is living in prefabs. We feel more at home now,” Anwar, one of the first refugees to enter the camp from Daraa, says in a report by the NRC.

“We struggled at the beginning. We used to have shared washrooms. Water lacked sometimes. We had no electricity. The shops weren’t there,” he continued.

All that, of course, has changed. Today, Anwar teaches carpentry and painting to others. Similarly, because many haven’t been able to leave the camp, new businesses have thronged the area.

Still, the very permanence of the camp illustrates the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict, now in its seventh year. Many children have been born in the camp, and the UN has urged other governments to share in this humanitarian responsibility to ensure a better life for all.

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“We’ve Seen the Suffering of the People”: Iom Dg Swing Visits Northeast Nigeria, Devastated by Boko Haram

1 August 2017 - 10:40am

BORNO, Nigeria, Aug 1 2017 (IOM)

Nearly two million people fled their homes to escape Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria; more than half of the displaced are children and 133,000 are infants. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing spent three days meeting with some of the internally displaced at camps and in communities in the hardest hit areas of Borno state, the epicentre of the conflict, now in its eighth year.

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing listens to a focus group discussion at a displacement camp in Gwoza town in Borno state in Nigeria. Photo: Julia Burpee / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Ambassador Swing travelled to Nigeria’s northeast on 28 July, following meetings with the Nigerian government in the capital city, Abuja. He joined some of IOM Nigeria’s staff in the conflict zone, where IOM, the UN Migration Agency has a team of about 530 people working across the six states most affected by the conflict.

IOM’s emergency response is based in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno and the birthplace of Boko Haram.

“We’ve seen the suffering of the people. We’ve seen their resilience. We’ve seen their courage. We’ve seen their patience,” said DG Swing, who was able to visit, outside of Maiduguri, some of the main cities that have been devastated by the whole Boko Haram conflict, and the first camp for the internally displaced in the region.

“I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity to see first-hand one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies of our time,” he added.

Although Nigeria hosts most of the conflict’s internally displaced people, and has been the centre of Boko Haram’s violence with countless abductions, rapes and forced recruitment, the conflict has also spilled into the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon, pushing more than 440,000 others out of their homes, IOM reported in December 2016.

“This crisis is competing with about eight others, including that of Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, for the world’s attention,” DG Swing lamented.

And it’s far from solved.

It’s been three years since Yagana Hamed, her husband and their five children, including three-year-old twin boys, left late one night from their home in Monguno, 140km north of Maiduguri, to escape Boko Haram.

“Boko Haram was nearby so we had to run,” she explained from the small plot of land where she and other displaced people are squatting in straw shelters in Maiduguri. “Our twins were newborns. We couldn’t carry anything, not even clothing, when we left.”

It’s the rainy season in northeast Nigeria. Torrential rain, strong wind and sandstorms descend on the region regularly. Hand-woven shelters made of sticks or straw are no match. Yagana and her family lost their shelter – about six square feet – two days ago. They’ve been sleeping outside under an awning built by humanitarian workers.

“My daughter’s eyes have turned pink. I’m not sure what is wrong with her,” the mother said of the sick nine-year-old. Her children attend Koranic school in the afternoon, but have not studied anywhere else since they fled their home in 2014.

Many makeshift shelters that aren’t flattened by storms are flooded. Bamala Mustafa, whose family of five lives in a stick shelter nearby, holds a bowl of water to show what fell during the last rain, forcing his neighbours out of their spaces.

IOM has built tarpaulin shelters for nearly 11,000 families, about 102,000 people in Borno state. A few hundred other households were given shelter kits to expand or repair their spaces in Adamawa, the other state devastated by the conflict.

Still, 8.5 million people need life-saving assistance in northeast Nigeria this year, according to the United Nations.

In Bama, eastern Borno, Ambassador Swing met some of the people in desperate need of shelter. The militarized displacement camp in Borno’s second largest city, reduced to a ghost town because of continuous insecurity, hosts about 13,000 people; roughly one-third of them received shelters from IOM, the others from various humanitarian partners.

About 1,500 Nigerian refugees who had sought safety in Cameroon returned to Bama recently. Most of them are children and nearly all are still waiting for shelter from humanitarian actors in an under-funded crisis; USD 672 million (more than two-thirds of the required support) is not secured for the humanitarian response this year, according to UN OCHA.

For now, they sleep outside, unprotected from heavy rain, floods and malaria.

Nigerians remain resilient and entrepreneurial, DG Swing observed. “There’s a long way to go, but I’m mostly impressed by the courage and the resilience, and the patience of these hardworking people. They want to go back to work.”

Ambassador Swing saw many displaced adults sewing and making pasta as part of IOM’s mental health and psychosocial support programme, which brings people together to work, talk and heal. The programme gathers displaced people who have had similar experiences, such as young women who escaped Boko Haram’s captivity, widows or men who witnessed killings. Many women lost their husbands to the armed group and do not have time for counselling so IOM staff bring support to them while they work.

Falamata, 24, is one of many displaced people who have joined IOM as a way of supporting their communities. She has been trained to provide counselling and group support as part of the programme that has helped more than 300,000 people since starting in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. She uses her salary to buy beads for other displaced women so they can start small businesses, selling jewelry in the camp.

Teaching basic English and life skills is another way IOM helps promote positive self-esteem among the displaced.

“I didn’t even know any English before,” said Musa Mohammed at one of IOM’s camp community centres in Maiduguri, where the Director General visited on 30 July. “Now I can read all these sentences. I’ve really learned a lot,” he shared, smiling towards the whiteboard riddled with grammar lessons. His family of seven has lived in an IOM tarpaulin shelter for the last three years. Musa hopes his new skills will help him get better work, maybe even in teaching, if he is able to return home to Kukawa, near Lake Chad in northern Nigeria, once security improves.

“They want to go back home and I think with our support, we will realize that objective,” Ambassador Swing said. The director general met with the deputy governor of Borno state to discuss IOM’s plans to continue the emergency response by providing more critical shelter and household items, like mattresses, blankets, kitchen utensils and water purification tablets to displaced families. IOM also helps manage camps and tracks displacement with the organization’s flagship Displacement Tracking Matrix, to guide the wider humanitarian community.

They also discussed IOM’s increasing focus on livelihood interventions for displaced Nigerians, such as sewing, knitting and barbershop work.

The lack of work opportunities has been devastating to Nigerians in the south, too, as the West African country suffers an economic recession.

Nigerians are the most common nationality arriving in Italy by the Mediterranean Sea. Although trafficking and smuggling is rampant in the region, most travel to find work in Europe. About 37,000 Nigerians arrived in Italy by sea last year and more than 9,000 so far this year, IOM reports. More than 2,000 migrants have died on the precarious Central Mediterranean route they follow from Libya to Italy, in 2017.

DG Swing met with Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja on 28 July to discuss ways to prevent such risky irregular migration.

“Irregular migration is a global challenge, but it’s also a national challenge,” the minister noted. “I want to thank IOM for helping repatriate so many of our migrants from Libya.”

“The idea is not to stop migrants. It’s about trying to save lives by counselling them about the risks of putting their lives in the hands of a smuggler,” DG Swing said, explaining that IOM opened a migrant information office in Agadez, Niger, last year to try to engage migrants heading north from Nigeria, and around the region, to Libya and the Mediterranean Sea on the dangers many face.

IOM has helped more than 1,800 Nigerians return home safely from Libya this year through the organization’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programme. DG Swing will be in Libya in early August to continue advocacy around the issues migrants, particularly Nigerians, face in the North African country.

For more information please contact Julia Burpee, IOM Nigeria, Tel. +234 (0) 907 373 1170, Email:

The post “We’ve Seen the Suffering of the People”: Iom Dg Swing Visits Northeast Nigeria, Devastated by Boko Haram appeared first on Inter Press Service.