Interpress News Service

G77 in Key Role Drafting Treaty on Marine Resources

17 May 2017 - 1:41pm

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, May 17 2017 (IPS/G77)

The Group of 77 is taking an active role in the drafting of an international legally-binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

The new treaty, when finalized, will come under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), according a General Assembly resolution adopted back in June 2015.

The third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting, which was held March 28 through 8 April, will be followed by a fourth session scheduled to take place from 29 August to 12 September.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, joined by China, Ambassador Horacio Sevilla Borja of Ecuador and G77 chair, expressed confidence that by the end of the 4th session of the PrepCom, “we will be able to fulfill this mandate and to make substantive recommendations to the General Assembly on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and before the end of the 72nd session.”

The General Assembly will then decide on the convening — and on the starting date—for an intergovernmental conference on the proposed treaty.

Ambassador Borja also requested the Chair of the PrepCom, Ambassador Carlos Duarte, to prepare a paper consolidating and streamlining what has been expressed on the floor and in the written submissions, to be circulated before the beginning of the 4th PrepCom in August.

“Given the progress made, we consider that a set of draft recommendations reflecting the substantive elements could be useful and valuable. It would help us to prepare for and lead us to engage into productive and constructive discussions for the next session and we would request that you prepare such a draft to be shared at the earliest possible date,” he added.

He also pointed out that the PrepCom has been mandated to report to the General Assembly on its progress before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the G77, joined by China, a delegate from Ecuador, addressed some of the cross-cutting issues such as the scope, objectives, and guiding approaches and principles of the proposed new legally binding instrument on BBNJ– as well as the definitions of different terms that are of technical nature or need more clarification.

Addressing the third PrepCom meeting, he said the Group of 77 would like to reiterate that the new instrument should not undermine existing relevant legal instruments and frameworks and relevant global, regional and sectoral bodies as it is stated in the resolution 69/292.

This instrument should reflect sustainable use of resources in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) and consider mechanisms for its rehabilitation in order to achieve sustainability.

To this end, the Group of 77 believes there is merit in looking at structure of existing organizations and convention bodies such as the International Seabed Authority, the International Maritime Organization, the UNFCCC, etc., to consider lessons learned and best practices, while accomplishing universality, in an effort to determine the most effective mechanisms going forward.

At this juncture and without prejudice to the further consideration of the nomenclature of institutional bodies of the new instrument, institutional bodies could include 1) a secretariat; 2) a decision-making body such as Conference of Parties (COP); 3) a scientific and technical body with an advisory competence which can play a role in the establishment of ABMTs, including MPAs; 4) a clearinghouse mechanism to promote and facilitate technical and scientific cooperation, knowledge and data sharing as well as 5) a mechanism in charge of access and benefit sharing of MGRs, he noted.

Regarding the question of definitions, the Group is of the view that it can inspire from the existing instruments where some notions are defined in order to scope and give effect to the instrument.

“We believe that all the notions contained in the objective or main topics of the new instrument such as marine biological diversity, areas beyond national jurisdiction deserve to be defined. Furthermore, ‘marine genetic resources’ (MGRs), ‘utilization of marine genetic resources’ as well as their related technical notions should also be defined,” he declared.

Sexual Violence as a “Threat to Security and Durable Peace”

17 May 2017 - 9:16am

Mina Jaf, Founder and Executive Director of Women's Refugee Route.
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Sexual violence is increasingly used as a tactic of terrorism and thus must be addressed as a peace and security issue, officials said at a United Nations Security Council meeting.

UN officials, member states, and civil society representatives came together during a Security Council debate to discuss the pervasive issues, challenges, and solutions surrounding conflict-related sexual violence.

“Too many women live with a spectre of violence in their daily lives, in their households, and families. Armed conflict only serves to exacerbate these prevailing conditions,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, adding that such sexual violence is a “heart-wrenching crime.”

Executive Director of Women’s Refugee Route Mina Jaf echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “[Women] are much more vulnerable in conflict countries…and when you are more vulnerable, you face more violence.”

The secretary-general shed light on the issue in an annual report detailing numerous cases of sexual violence used for “strategic” purposes in 19 countries.

In Iraq, nearly 2,000 Yazidi women and girls remain enslaved in Islamic State (IS) territories and reports have emerged of the sale and trade of women as well as the use of women as human shields by IS during operations in Mosul, according to the report.

In Myanmar, over half of the women interviewed by the UN’s Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said they experienced some form of sexual violence which may have been employed systematically “to humiliate and terrorise their community.”

Displaced women and girls are at heightened risk, Mohammed and Jaf said, as approximately one in five refugees or displaced women experience some form of sexual violence.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented almost 600 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence in the country in 2016 alone, largely affecting displaced women and girls. The survivors included 57 girls, several of whom were below 10 years of age. Most of the cases occurred at Sudan People’s Liberation Army checkpoints near designated protection sites and reports indicate that sexual violence is being used to punish communities for their ethnic background or perceived support for opposition groups.

Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Adama Dieng reminded attendees that there is a face and name behind every number in the report.

He told the stories of Nasima who, in fear of being killed by her relatives after returning from IS captivity, attempted suicide, and Marie who contracted HIV because she was too ashamed to report her rape and receive preventive care.

Such shame and stigma are integral components of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, the report notes.

“Aggressors understand that this type of crime can turn victims into outcasts, thus unravelling the family and kinship ties that hold communities together,” the report states. For instance, children who are born of rape may face a life of marginalization and be susceptible to exploitation and recruitment, preventing long-term recovery.

“Stigma kills,” Dieng added.

Mohammed highlighted that holistic reintegration is “imperative.”

“It is not enough to bring back our girls—we must bring them back with dignity and respect to an environment of support, equality, and opportunity and ensure that they are provided…critical assistance that helps them reintegrate back into their homes and societies,” she stated, referencing the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls which began after 270 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram.

Dieng noted the importance of redirecting the stigma of sexual violence from the victim to the perpetrator which is only possible by involving community leaders to shift harmful perceptions of gender and shame. He also pointed to the need to recognize survivors as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism who are entitled to relief, reparation, and justice.

“When victims have a chance to tell their stories, to observe the sentencing of offenders, and to benefit from solidarity and support including material and symbolic reparations, it can counteract isolation and self-blame. It tells the community that what happened was not the victims’ fault,” Dieng stated.

Some countries have begun to address sexual violence through legislation including Colombia which established a framework providing sexual violence survivors with access to justice. However, just 2 per cent of the 634 documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence have resulted in convictions, a trend seen around the world.

Mohammed noted the positive developments in perceptions of sexual violence, stating, “Sexual violence in conflict is no longer seen as merely a women’s issue or a lesser evil in a false hierarchy of human rights violations. Instead, it is rightly viewed as a legitimate threat to security and durable peace that requires an operational security and justice response.”

She also acknowledged the UN’s own mishaps in responding to sexual abuse allegations by peacekeeping forces but vowed to tackle the challenge and make zero tolerance “a reality.”

In 2015, cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic sparked global outrage, while a Swedish investigative team found that the UN continues to neglect survivors.

Jaf told IPS that without accountability and justice, including in the case of peacekeepers, the issue of conflict-related sexual violence will not be resolved.

She added that humanitarian responders must be trained to cope with such sensitive issues, recounting the case of a woman who did not report a sexual assault due to her discomfort in speaking to a male translator, and gender equality must continue to be promoted.

“Sexual violence in conflict does not happen in a vacuum. This is the result of systematic failure by the international community to address the root causes of conflict, gender inequality and impunity,” Jaf stated.

Genetically Engineered Disappointments

16 May 2017 - 10:15am

While US agribusiness has long claimed that GMOs will “save the world”, there has been little compelling evidence to this effect after two decades. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR , May 16 2017 (IPS)

Advocates of genetically engineered (GE) crops have long claimed that genetic engineering is necessary to raise crop yields and reduce human exposure to agrochemicals. Genetic engineering promised two major improvements: improving yields affordably to feed the world, and making crops resistant to pests to reduce the use of commercial chemical herbicides and insecticides.

Genetic modification of crops through natural evolution or artificial crossbreeding has been happening for millennia, giving rise to more productive or resilient crop species. Thus, the term ‘genetic engineering’ more accurately refers to the artificial introduction of genetic material to produce new GE varieties.

Trans-Atlantic divide

A report by the United States National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine – picked up by the New York Times – found that US GE crop yield gains have slowed over the years, leaving no significant advantage in yield gains compared to non-GE plant varieties. Over two decades ago, Western Europe largely rejected GE crops while North America – the United States and then Canada – embraced them. More than twenty years later, US crop yield gains are not significantly higher than in Western Europe.

Since the adoption of GE crops, US use of herbicides has increased. In the US, decreasing use of some herbicides has involved large increases in the use of glyphosate, a key ingredient in herbicides used for GE crop cultivation. This is in contrast to France, which bans GE crop cultivation, where overall use of herbicides has been reduced due to EU efforts.

Glyphosate-resistant GE crops survive herbicide spraying while killing non-resistant weeds. However, rising weed resistance to glyphosate has led to the application of larger doses. For example, although land planted with GE soybeans has grown by less than a third over the last two decades, herbicide use has doubled. Herbicide use for maize production was declining before the introduction of GE crops, but has increased since 2002.

Glyphosate was assessed as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) under the World Health Organization. Some glyphosate-based herbicides also contain other more toxic herbicides – such as 2,4-D, a key ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War defoliant – to increase their efficacy against resistant weeds.

Diversity declining
GE crops, typically with traits which tend to result in monoculture, have been promoted as more productive than non-GE crops. As farmers adopt GE crop varieties, others varieties are abandoned, and access to such seeds are increasingly in the hands of giant transnational seed companies rather than government facilities.

But when farmers lose confidence in GE crops or wish to turn to non-GE varieties for other reasons, they are no longer able to simply revert to their old non-GE varieties or to crossbreed them. Instead, they now need to buy seeds from these very same monopolistic transnational seed companies.

Similarly, the impact on ecological diversity, important for maintaining fragile ecosystems, cannot be underestimated. Biodiversity reduction fundamentally transforms ecosystems. Rich, diverse traditional farmer knowledge – of the use of plants and other natural resources to maintain soil and plant health, and to conserve water and other natural resources – is also being ignored in favour of ‘hi-tech’, genetically-engineered, agro-chemical and other ‘industrial’ solutions, which invariably engender new problems. For example, pesticides are intended to be toxic only to pests, but not to others, but most are carcinogenic or otherwise dangerous to human health.

While GE crops offer some benefits, unclear productivity advantages and rising pest resistance are reducing the edge it once claimed over conventionally developed crops. GE crops seem to be harmless, but there is still much uncertainty over their longer-term effects, including increased pesticide resistance and reduced diversity. The scientific ethic advising precaution in the face of uncertainty seems to have been abandoned in favour of profitable expediency, ostensibly to increase productivity and reduce agro-chemical reliance, neither of which have been achieved.

Corporate power growing
As many of the same corporations or conglomerates sell both GE seeds as well as the agro-chemicals needed to increase yields, the potential for other types of innovation is inevitably diminished. Recent mergers and acquisitions have further consolidated oligopolies selling both seeds and agrochemicals, exemplified by the acquisition bid for Monsanto by Bayer. Not surprisingly then, companies have less incentive to develop new traits, or to invest heavily in tackling other problems when greater pest resistance increases sales of their pesticides and overall profits.

All this is often justified in terms of the urgent need to feed the hundreds of millions of hungry people in the world. However, although there already is enough food being produced to feed everyone in the world, the real problem is one of access, as most of the hungry do not have the means to buy or produce the food they need.

Therefore, while US agribusiness has long claimed that GMOs will “save the world”, there has been little compelling evidence to this effect after two decades. Proponents select evidence to support their exaggerated claims that GE varieties meet many needs in different parts of the world, although their actual track records are much more modest and chequered.

Much of the resistance against GE crops is due to the interests and methods of the agribusiness transnationals dominating food production, both directly and indirectly through their control and promotion of seeds, agrochemicals, etc.

Young People: You Didn’t Vote, And Now You Protest?

16 May 2017 - 7:33am

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 16 2017 (IPS)

Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37 percent voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite.

Roberto Savio

In the political system, it is now taken for granted that youth will largely abstain, and the agenda tends to ignore them more and more. This has created a vicious circle, setting up priorities which do not represent them. Yet, the analysis of the elections after the shattering economic and social crisis of 2008-9 is clear and statistically evident.

The European Parliament conducted research on the European elections of 2014 in the 28 member countries. While the youngest Europeans (18-24) are more positive about the European Union than the oldest (55+), far fewer of them turned out to vote. Turnout was higher among the oldest respondents.

Some 51 percent of the 55+ voted, while only 28 percent did in the 18-24 age group. This is relatively unchanged since the 2009 elections. And young people were more inclined to decide on the day of the elections, or a few days before (28 percent compared with the +55 group).

Already in 2014, 31 percent of the younger group said they never voted, against 19 percent of the 55+ age group. Yet, the younger the age, the more people had the feeling of being Europeans: 70 percent for the 18-24 year-olds, and 59 percent for the 55+ group.

It could be said, of course, that European elections are a special case. But a look at the past national elections in Europe confirms this trend. In the Austrian presidential elections of 2016, youth participation was at 43 percent. In 2010, it was 48 percent.

In the Dutch parliamentarian elections of 2017, the age group 18-24 vote was at 66 percent: it was 70 percent in 2012. In the Italian referendum of December 2016, the youth abstention was 38 percent, against 32 percent of the general population. And in the recent French presidential elections, the data are consistent: 78 percent abstention for the 25-34 age group; 65 percent for the 24-35; a solid 51 percent for the 35-49; and then 44 percent for the 50-64, with only 30 percent for those 65 and over.

In Israel, just 58 percent of under 35s, and just 41 percent of those under 25, voted in 2013, compared with 88 percent of over 55s. In Britain and Poland less than half of under 25s voted in the last general elections, compared with 88 percent of over 55s.

The growing youth abstention has significant implications. Let us take the last American elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House. The so-called Millennials, those of the age group 18-35, now make up 31 percent of the electorate. The Silent Generation (those 71+) are now 12 percent of the voting pool, and Generation X (36-51) makes up about 25 percent of the electorate.

Bernie Sanders’ run was based on 2 million votes from the 19-24 age group – voters who basically abandoned the elections after his loss in the primaries. Young people’s abstention rate, close to 67 percent, made the Millennials equivalent to the Silent Generation, and lost its demographic advantage. Millennials had a favourable view of Sanders at 54 percent, against 37 percent of Clinton. Just 17 percent of young people had a positive view of Trump.

Had only millennials voted, Clinton would have won the election in a landslide, with 473 electoral votes to Trump’s 32.

The first obvious observation is that if the traditional intergenerational rift disappears, we will have little change in politics, as older voters are usually more conservative. And the second obvious observation is that citizens’ participation will progressively shrink, as the young will age.

What is worrying is that we have too many polls on the reasons behind the political disenchantment of young people to think that the political system is unaware. On the contrary, many political analysts think that parties in power don’t mind abstentions in general terms. It shrinks the voters to those who feel connected, whose priorities are clear and simpler to satisfy, as the older generations feel more secure than the younger ones.

And the theme of young people is disappearing in the political debate, or is merely rhetorical. A good example is that the Italian government devoted in 2016 a whopping 20 billion dollars to save four banks, while it dedicated a total of 2 billion dollars to create jobs for young people, in a country which has close to 40 percent youth unemployment.

For youth, the message is clear: finance is more important than their future. So they do not vote, and they are less and less a factor in the political system.

Spending on education and research are the first victims (together with health) when austerity hits. The results are evident. In Australia (where 25 percent of the young people said that “it does not matter what kind of government we have”), those over 65 pay no tax on income under 24,508 dollars. Younger workers start paying taxes at 15,080 dollars.

In rich countries the world over, people over 65 have subsidies and special discounts, such as on the cinema and other activities. Not the young people…. But when somebody with a message for the young comes into the picture, participation changes. In Canada, just 37 percent of the 18-24s voted in the election of 2008, against 39 percent in 2011. But when Justin Trudeau campaigned on a message of hope in 2015, youth participation rose sharply to 57 percent.

What is a real cause of concern for democracy, as an institution based on the waning concept of popular participation, is that young people are not at all apolitical. In fact, they are very aware of priorities like climate change, gender equality, social justice, common goods, and other concepts, much more than the older generation. At least 10 percent of young people volunteer in social groups and civil society, against 3 percent of the older generations.

They feel much more connected to the causes of humanity, have fewer racial biases, believe more in international institutions, and are more interested in international affairs. A good example is Chile. In 2010 general abstention was 13.1 percent. In 2013 it went to 58 percent. Youth abstention was 71 percent. If young people would vote, they could change the results.

Simply, they have given up on political institutions as corrupt, inefficient, and disconnected from their lives. A report last year found that 72 percent of Americans born before the Second World War thought it was “essential” to live in a country that was governed democratically. Less than a third of those born in the 1980s agreed.

We must note that the decline of participation in elections is a worldwide phenomenon, not just among young people, but also the general population. The last elections at the writing of this article were in the Bahamas; only 50 percent of the population went to vote. In Slovenia abstention is now at 57.6 percent, in Mali 54.2 percent, in Serbia 53.7 percent, in Portugal 53.5 percent, in Lesotho 53.4 percent, in Lithuania 52.6 percent, in Colombia 52.1 percent, in Bulgaria 51.8 percent, in Switzerland 50.9 percent…and this in regions as different as Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia…the crisis of political participation goes from the cradle of the parliamentarian system (Great Britain), 24 percent abstention, in 1964, to 34.2 in 2010 to Italy (7.1 percent in 2063, and in 2013 24.8 percent).

There is a general consensus among analysts that the damages of globalization and the discrediting of political parties are the major causes for the decline in participation. Yet the winners never take into account the reasons of the losers. The victory of Macron in the last French elections was well-received in Germany, but as soon as the new president started to speak about the need to strengthen Europe, for instance by creating a European finance minister, the immediate reaction was: Germany is not going to place one cent of its well-earned surplus with Europe to the service of other countries: those who spend their money on women and drinks and now expect solidarity form the North of Europe (the Dutch President of Eurofin, Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

How long it will it take to get the winners inside the European Union to understand that the political crisis is a global one, and must be addressed urgently? Voter turnout has been dropping precipitously in Germany, from over 82 percent in 1998 to only 70.8 percent in 2009. As at the last election, this year the number of non-voters is expected to surpass the number of voters in favor of the most successful party.

Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, warns of a non-voter record. “There is reason to fear that fewer than 70 percent of eligible voters will go to the polls,” he says. If the non-voters were included on a conventional TV graphic, they would have the highest bar in the chart. They should actually be touted as the true winners of the election — if it weren’t for the fact that this also represents a defeat for democracy.

Climate Change Has Changed the Geography of Honduras’ Caribbean Coast

15 May 2017 - 7:07pm

The sea is encroaching fast in the coastal area of Balfate, along Honduras’ Caribbean Coast, where natural barriers are disappearing and the sea is advancing many metres inland. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

By Thelma Mejía
BALFATE, Honduras, May 15 2017 (IPS)

In Balfate, a rural municipality that includes fishing villages and small farms along Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the effects of climate change are already felt on its famous scenery and beaches. The sea is relentlessly approaching the houses, while the ecosystem is deteriorating.

“What was it like before? There used to be a coconut palm plantation before the beach, and a forest with howler monkeys. Today there are no palm trees and the howler monkeys have left,” environmental activist Hugo Galeano, who has been working in the area for over three decades, told IPS.

“Where the beach is now, which used to be 200 metres inland, there used to be a thick palm tree plantation and a beautiful forest. Today the geography has changed, the sea has swallowed up much of the vegetation and is getting closer and closer to the houses. The effects of climate change are palpable,” he said.

Galeano coordinates the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Honduras, and is one of the top experts on climate change in the country. He also promotes climate change mitigation and reforestation projects, as well as community integration with environmentally friendly practices, in low-income areas.

In the near future, this majestic tree will no longer be part of the scenery and a natural barrier protecting one of the beaches in Balfate, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The municipality of Balfate, with an area of 332 square kilometres and a population of about 14,000, is one of the localities in the Caribbean department of Colón that makes up the coastal corridor where the impact of climate change has most altered the local residents’ way of life.

Other communities in vulnerable corridor are Río Coco, Lucinda, Río Esteban and Santa Fe. In these places, the sea, according to local residents, “is advancing and the trees are falling, because they can’t resist the force of the water, since the natural protective barriers have disappeared.”

This is how Julián Jiménez, a 58-year-old fisherman, described to IPS the situation in Río Coco. He said his community used to be 350 metres from the sea, but now “the houses are at the edge of the beach.”

Río Coco, a village in the municipality of Balfate is increasingly near the sea. Located in the central part of the Caribbean coast of this Central American country, it is a strategic hub for transportation by sea to islands and other remote areas.

To get to Balfate you have to travel along a partly unpaved road for nearly eight hours from Tegucigalpa, even though the distance is only around 300 km. To reach Río Coco takes another hour, through areas where the drug trafficking mafias have a lot of power.

Jiménez has no doubts that “what we are experiencing is due to climate change, global warming and the melting of glaciers, since it affects the sea, and that is what we tell the community. For the past decade we have been raising awareness, but there is still much to be done.”

The geography of Balfate, a land of famous landscapes in Honduras’ Caribbean region, has changed drastically from three decades ago, due to encroachment by the sea, according to local residents. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

“We are also guilty, because instead of protecting we destroy. Today we have problems with water and even with the fish catches. With some kinds of fish, like the common snook, there are hardly any left, and we also are having trouble finding shrimp,” he said.

“It is hard for people to understand, but everything is connected. This is irreversible,” said Jiménez, who is the coordinator of the association of water administration boards in the coastal areas of Balfate and the neighbouring municipality of Santa Fe.

Not only Colón is facing problems along the coast, but also the four departments – of the country’s 18 – with coasts on the Caribbean, the country’s eastern border.

In the northern department of Cortés, the areas of Omoa, Barra del Motagua and Cuyamelito, which make up the basin of the Motagua River, near the border with Guatemala, are experiencing similar phenomena.

In these areas on the gulf of Honduras, fishers have also reported a substantial decline inT fish catches and yields, José Eduardo Peralta, from the Coastal Sea Project of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines, told IPS.

“The sea here has encroached more on the beach, and on productive land, than in other coastal areas. With regard to fishing, there are problems with the capture of lobster and jellyfish; the latter has not been caught for over a year and a half, save for one capture reported a month ago in the area of Mosquitia,“ in the Caribbean, he said in his office in Tegucigalpa.

This tree on one of the beaches in Balfate could fall in a matter of six months, due to the force of the waves which works against its roots, as part of the encroachment of the sea. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

Peralta said the government is concerned about the effects of climate change, because they could reach dramatic levels in a few years.

The sea, he said, is rising and “swallowing up land, and we are also losing biodiversity due to the change in water temperatures and the acidification of the water.”

In line with Jiménez, Peralta said that “the sea currents are rapidly shifting, and the current should not shift overnight, the changes should take between 24 and 36 hours, but it’s not like that anymore. This is called climate change.”

Honduras is considered by international bodies as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate impacts, as it is on the route of the hurricanes and due to the internal pressures that affect the wetlands, such as deforestation and large-scale African oil palm plantations, which have a direct effect on water scarcity.

Ecologist Galeano said official figures show that in wetland areas, there are approximately two hectares of African oil palms per one of mangroves. He said it was important to pay attention to this phenomenon, because the unchecked spread of the plantations will sooner or later have an impact on the local ecosystems.

On Mar. 9, Environment Minister José Antonio Galdames launched the Climate Agenda, which outlines a National Plan for Climate Change Adaptation for the country, whose implementation recently began to be mapped out.

Among the measures to be carried out under the plan, Galdames underscored a project of integral management of the Motagua River basin, which will include reforestation, management of agroforestry systems and diversification of livelihoods at the productive systems level.

Hurricane Mitch, which caused incalculable economic losses and left over 5,000 people dead and 8,000 missing in 1998, tragically revealed Honduras’ vulnerability. Two decades later, the climate impact is felt particularly in the Caribbean coastal area, which was already hit particularly hard by the catastrophe.

According to the United Nations, 66.5 percent of households in this country of 8.4 million people are poor.

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Kenya’s Drought: Response Must Be Sustainable, Not Piecemeal

15 May 2017 - 6:11am

Dabo Boru, 21, is a mother of three who trekked with her family to Badanrero from her home village of Ambato, 38 km away. They were forced to move here in order to save their cattle from dying of thirst and hunger due to drought. Credit: @unicefkenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 15 2017 (IPS)


A malnutrition emergency

Food security in Kenya has deteriorated significantly since the end of 2016. UNICEF reports a significant increase in severe acute malnutrition. Nearly 110,000 children under-five need treatment, up from 75,300 in August 2016.

Waterholes and rivers have dried up, leading to widespread crop failure and livestock depletion. At the height of the drought, surface water in most counties had either dried up or its level dramatically reduced.

Consequently, within a year, the price of maize flour has risen by 31 per cent, milk by 12 and sugar by 21 per cent. These food price increases have driven inflation up from 9.04 per cent in February to 11.48 per cent in April. Many families are making do with just one meal in a day.

Conditions are dire in half of Kenya’s 47 counties. Livestock and milk production has declined, adversely affecting food consumption levels for communities, particularly women and children.

Malnutrition is widespread among children. In the hardest-hit counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Mandera, a third of children under 5 are acutely malnourished – double the emergency threshold. High malnutrition, when combined with an outbreak of cholera or measles, can lead to a surge in deaths among children and other vulnerable groups.

A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition receiving therapeutic milk at UNICEF-supported clinic in Loiyangalani, Marsabit County in Kenya. UNICEF in collaboration with partners is responding to the drought by providing urgently needed therapeutic feeding supplies. Credit: ©UNICEF Kenya/2017/Knowles-Coursin

Underfunded response

We must urgently respond to this malnutrition crisis through treatment and prevention. Blanket supplementary feeding for young children and pregnant and lactating women can avert a catastrophic spike in mortality in the months ahead.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners have developed a US$30 million plan to intervene with blanket supplementary feeding in nine northern hotspots, but only 10 per cent of the required funds have been committed.

By the time the Government had declared drought a national disaster, over 2.6 million Kenyans were in urgent need of food aid. This figure will increase unless an appeal for US$166 million to support the most vulnerable is met; less than a third of that amount is available so far.

Don’t be fooled by the news of floods in recent weeks, this has done nothing to alleviate drought-induced malnutrition among children. Flooding is an indicator of poor infiltration resulting from lack of vegetation and soil degradation. This means that much water is flowing off the soil and too little is seeping in. We will face drought again before the onset of the short rains later this year.

Government efforts

President Uhuru Kenyatta declared a national drought disaster in February 2017 and committed US$128 million towards the national drought response.

The Government of Kenya has allocated resources for food aid and monthly cash transfers through its Hunger Safety Net Programme.

Its Livestock Insurance Programme offers a lifeline to affected pastoralists, enabling them to purchase animal feed to keep their herd alive during drought. In addition, offtake programmes are helping farmers to sell of their herds and restock as necessary when conditions improve.

These are commendable efforts but the number of people accessing such support is not enough, and the needs are fast outpacing the response.

Sustainable, not piecemeal

Climate scientists predict that weather patterns will continue to change. This will bring about more frequent, intense and widespread droughts and flash floods.

The vast majority of smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods and are subject to the vagaries of the weather.

We need long-term solutions to alleviate the adverse impacts of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.

We must build the resilience of communities and invest in agriculture and rural infrastructure. This includes turning away from dependency on rain-fed agriculture towards large-scale water harvesting and innovative irrigation systems.

Due to traditional farming practices, crop yields on the continent have about one-tenth the average productivity of Western farms. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where per capita food production is sadly falling. Areas in Somalia and coastal Kenya affected by the current drought have registered crop failure of 70 to 100 percent.

In richer countries, drought-resistant crop varieties have been developed to cope with water scarcity and other climate-induced shocks, including varieties of maize, cowpea and sorghum. A major hindrance to their adoption in East Africa is the weak legislative framework for registration and the lack of appropriate technologies.

Soil moisture management is becoming an increasingly important aspect of crop production. In partnership with the EU, WFP, IFAD and the Government of Kenya, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a developed programme to promote conservation agriculture, but this approach must be scaled up. UNDP has created capacities for food production in Turkana County, slowly building community resilience and food security through irrigation. This has the potential to reduce dependence on rain fed agriculture and create practical models for scaling up through the northern frontier development council in Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Lamu, Tana river, Garissa and Isiolo Counties.

With advances in mobile technology, smallholders now have better tools to forecast impending crises. The Kenyan Government should work closely with communities to build resilience and put in place mitigation measures before the onset of large-scale crises. County governments, created mainly to bring services closer to citizens, are particularly suited to mapping out priorities and matching them with viable solutions.

For example a county like Turkana has the potential of not only being the breadbasket of Kenya, but a source for fresh water for all of Kenya for the next 70 years.

Turkana women water their banana field from the nearby River Turkwel. Credit: UNDP Kenya

The international community can contribute to these efforts by\supporting and partnering with policymakers, researchers and local communities on the effective uses of forecasting and early warning early response mechanisms.

Piecemeal responses to climate-related emergencies can no longer suffice. We need sustainable solutions to effectively tackle drought and its devastating impacts on Kenya’s most vulnerable communities, particularly women and children.

World Lags on Clean Energy Goals

14 May 2017 - 7:51pm

At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
VIENNA, May 14 2017 (IPS)

It may be the 21st century but more than three billion people still use fire for cooking and heating. Of those, one billion people have no access to electricity despite a global effort launched at the 2011 Vienna Energy Forum to bring electricity to everyone on the planet.

“We are not on track to meet our goal of universal access by 2030, which is also the Sustainable Development Goal for energy,” said Rachel Kyte, CEO for Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General.“Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.” --Vivien Foster

“We must all go further, faster—together,” Kyte told more than 1500 delegates and government ministers at the 2017 version of the biannual Vienna Energy Forum this week, organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Kyte reminded everyone that the 2015 Sustainable Development Goal for energy (SDG 7) was a unanimous promise to bring decarbonized, decentralized energy to everyone and that this would transform the world bringing “clean air, new jobs, warm schools, clean buses, pumped water and better yields of nutritious food”.

Moreover, to prevent catastrophic climate change the world committed to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 under the 2015 Paris Agreement, she said. “Why are we not moving more quickly?”

At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity, according to the Global Tracking Framework 2017 report. Most of those people will be in Africa.

In Chad, Niger, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo only one person in ten currently has access and this is falling as populations increase, said Elisa Portale , an energy economist at the World Bank who presented the report’s findings.

Although renewable energy like solar and wind gets a great deal of press and attention, the world is failing to meet the SDG target of decarbonizing 36 percent the global energy system and will only get to 21 percent by 2030. Currently it is about 18 percent since renewables include hydropower and biomass. A few countries managed to increase their renewable share by 1 percent per year but some others like Canada and Brazil are actually going backwards, she said.

Decarbonizing electricity is going much faster than decarbonizing energy for heating and for transportation, which is seen to be more challenging.

Improvements in energy efficiency are also far behind. Investment in energy efficiency needs to increase by a factor of 3 to 6 from the current 250 billion dollars a year in order to reach the 2030 objective, the report concluded.

The biggest failure the Global Tracking Framework revealed was that the current number of people still using traditional, solid fuels to cook increased slightly since 2011 to 3.04 billion. Those fuels are responsible for deadly levels of indoor air pollution that shorten the lives of tens of millions and kill four million, mainly children, every year according to the World Health Organization.

This seems to be a low priority and by 2030 only 72 percent of the world will be using clean cooking fuels, said Portale. In other words, 2.5 billion people – mostly in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa – will still be burning wood, charcoal or dung to cook their foods.

Clean cooking is not a priority for most governments although Indonesia is doing quite well, said Vivien Foster, Global Lead for Energy Economics, Markets & Institutions, The World Bank. “Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined,” Foster told IPS.

One reason clean cooking is a low priority is that men are largely the decisions makers in governments and at the household level and they often are not involved in cooking. Environmental health issues generally get far less attention from governments she said. “Sadly, it’s often mobile phones before toilets,” Foster said.

However, the situation in India is dramatically different.

Green energy – decarbonized, decentralized energy — is no longer expensive or difficult. It is also the most suitable form of energy for developing nations because both access and benefits can come very quickly, said Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Energy.

Access to clean liquid propane gas (LPG) for cooking has increased 33 percent in the last three years, which is about 190 million homes. In the last year alone 20 million of the poorest of the poor received LPG for free, Goyal told IPS.

Although millions have no connection to electricity, Goyal said it was his personal belief this will no longer be the case by 2019, three years before India’s 2022 target.

“Prime Minister Modi is completely committed to universal access,” he said. “He grew up poor. He knows what it is like to not have electrical power.”

India is adding 160 gigawatt (GW) of wind and solar by 2022 and it may beat that target too as the cost of solar and wind are well below coal, the country’s main source of energy. The US currently has just over 100 (GW) in total. One GW can power 100 million LED lightbulbs used in homes.

On the energy efficiency front, India is also closing in on a target of replacing all of its lighting with LEDs, saving tens of millions in energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions by as much as 80 million tonnes annually.

“We are doing this even if no one else is. We have a big role to play in the fight against climate change,” Goyal said.

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Hungry Children Behind Bars

14 May 2017 - 10:06am

By Fr. Shay Cullen
May 14 2017 (Manila Times)

If you were in Metro Manila and went to visit a Bahay Pag-asa or “House of Hope” where children as young as seven are incarcerated along with youth up to 17 years of age, you will see that the majority of 12-year-olds look like 8-year-olds.


This is because one in three Filipino children is malnourished and stunted. There are 3.4 million stunted Filipino children. Take the case of Jeremy. He was rescued from a Metro Manila jail and we thought he was eight years old but in fact he was about 12 years of age.

A study in 2015 discovered that 20 percent of children under 5 years old died due to poor health services and as many as 300,000 children under five years old were underweight. The Philippines ranks ninth among nations that have high stunted incidence. The rate of chronic malnutrition and stunting among Filipino children is 33.4 percent. Street children and those living in slums and in poor rural villages suffer the most.

If this continues, the Philippines will have a huge percentage of children that are stunted, malnourished and mentally challenged, unable to study and learn.

Children in jails suffer the most from hunger and neglect. Local governments manage the jails for children but officials think they are criminals. Children are hungrier than most — hungry for food, for freedom, for respect, dignity and recognition. They are human and need to be cared for. They need to be in school and not forced to sleep on a concrete floor, locked up all day and night and abused and bullied. They have no exercise, sunlight, stimulation, and entertainment, reading, games or anything to occupy them.

Imagine living in a small cell for months with 20 others, bored and going slowly insane. These children can be mentally and emotionally damaged. They were innocent going in but they will have a criminal mind coming out and will grow up angry at society. Without basic education, they have no chance for a better life, thus will likely end up as scavengers and beggars.

They need their parents but the parents do not always know that they are jailed. Many more children as young as nine years old will be locked up if the Philippine congress passes a bill that will reduce the minimum age of criminal liability to nine years old. That’s how the adult world of leaders see innocent children – as criminals at nine years old. In fact, many a criminal sits in congress dressed in fancy clothes and living a life of extreme luxury, corrupt and uncaring. Sixteen million people said they go hungry in this wealthy nation where they say 140 families rule the 103 million Filipinos.

When Sen. Risa Hontiveros from the Akbayan party-list was reading the column of this writer about children in jails, she was stopped by Senator Richard Gordon who did not want the senators to hear the truth about the condition of the children in jail. He silenced and blocked Hontiveros, violating her right to free speech. Senator Gordon was one of the respondents in the criminal case filed against President Rodrigo Duterte at the International Criminal Court for the killing of thousands of people in the government’s war on drugs. So many Catholics support the killings. Are they Christians, followers of Jesus of Nazareth? Some churches in Pampanga are hanging banners calling for a stop to the killings and opposing the death penalty.

The authorities love to blame innocent children for the crime of the adults. No evidence needed. The police are frequently involved in crimes themselves so they blame and arrest children. They claim they have solved the crime and get a promotion perhaps.

Every parish in the country and especially in Metro Manila ought to have a mission to their local Bahay Pag-asa or House of Hope. On the last day, we will be judged by the acts of charity we did in our lives. God will say “Enter the Kingdom, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25: 31-46).”

We need to find Jesus not only in churches but in action for justice and compassion. If not, our spirit dies forever. Let’s act to release the children from the jails of hopelessness and give them a new life.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Social Ripples of Rape

14 May 2017 - 9:50am

By Adnan R Amin
May 14 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When alleged rapist Shafat Ahmed and accomplice Shadman Sakif were arrested, and the former’s father brought under investigation, I had decided not to write about the rape incident that took place in a hotel in Banani. The actual rapes have, sadly, been described to some detail – and no one, but the culprits, needs to relive the barbarity of it. But what, perhaps, needs recording are the social ripples generated by the episode.

Source: hercampus. com

Of course, the first order of business is a backlash against the disproportionate favour bestowed upon the victims by society and media reports alike. “Why do you not act thus when it happens outside of Banani?” And it is a justified question. In fact, this is precisely what made me reluctant to write about this. Why relegate Hazrat Ali and Ayesha to the rail-tracks, but leap to clicktivism over this? But we know why: we are a classist and tribalist lot. And that isn’t the issue here. The issue is ‘rape’.

To accept that we are inherently flawed and biased is perhaps a first step in starting this long-overdue conversation about rape. That it had to start from this incident is, for now, an insignificant detail. However, the beginning of a nuanced discussion of rape is not in itself an insignificant detail.

From a purely analytical standpoint, the case has some important features. The victims overcame the paralysing fear of stigma and spoke out. Once they spoke out, they found public support. This will no doubt set a precedent and encourage others to come forward. Citizens have already shown their support for the young women. It is time for mass media to demonstrate how delicately they are able to handle these cases and thus encourage future victims to be candid in their quest for justice."Many of us have sighed with relief after two of the rapists/accomplices were arrested recently. With this, we also need to think about what has been achieved. Have we changed minds? And deep-rooted patriarchal views of women's appearance and mobility?

The aggrieved party also managed to find a powerful narrative that worked in their favour. The goal was not only to evoke sympathy, but also to trigger action. For example, the two victims were referred to as ‘students’ – a category that is traditionally associated with idealism and positivity. Narration of the lopsided power dynamics – both between the tormentors and the victims and their respective families – helped generate public empathy. And where law and order systems need to be pressurised into action by public opinion – these are important reminders for all.

Of course, law enforcement officers deserve credit for rounding up two of the suspects. I hope the other rapist – the now-disowned con artist and event-manager – does not disappear into the smog of misinformation and political clout (if it weren’t illegal and illiberal, I would’ve happily convened a lynch mob in this man’s honour). But the two arrests are important: especially considering that Banani police at first refused to take the plaintiffs’ case for several days. Perhaps more than the actual crimes, the thought of police kowtowing before influential quarters was what ignited a social media storm. Photos showing the alleged rapists posing for photograph(s) inside a police station further fuelled the rage.

While arresting suspects redeems the force to some extent, it is also important to hold an inquiry into if and why lodging of a case had been initially stalled. In that connection, it is also important to evaluate and improve how law enforcement officers interact with victims of violence against women. This is 2017: we cannot have troglodytes manning the posts where tortured and vulnerable women are encouraged to seek restitution.

Mainstream media responded better. First off, journalists deserve a pat on the back for (a) not naming the victims and (b) keeping the focus on the alleged rapists. Even with raids on terror dens and loss of fireman Matin, they have commendably stuck to the story. What they ought to be reprimanded, if not prosecuted for, is how they hounded victims and staked out their homes. Still, I admit that reporting was responsible; sensational details were kept out. What did seep in – the political-power overtones, methamphetamine addiction and pretty ex-wife – eventually composed important parts of the story.

It has been pointed out that the social outroar stemmed largely from a sense of institutional failure. While routinely ridiculed, social media chatter certainly buoyed this incident and forced mainstream media to follow-up the story. It was thus that the suspects’ fathers and their behind-the-scenes rescue efforts became known. And it was thus that their businesses were identified, and in a few cases, boycotted. Once Facebook users began unearthing and passing on to media inconvenient photos and connections, law enforcement activity seemed to gain momentum.

So, in a way, your Facebook post and your discussion actually helped arrest the alleged rapists. However, only so many cases can reach such a critical mass and exert pressure on authorities. In the end, there is no other recourse to investigating institutional failures.

What does need to be reiterated is a concern about the language in which all above parties discuss rape. In Bangla, we must stop describing rape as a ‘loss of honour’ or a ‘loss of virtue’. If anyone loses honour or virtue during a rape, it is undoubtedly the rapist. It is important to challenge the notion of ‘honour’ being located in a woman’s vagina. At the same time, we must not equate rape to just any form of violence. We must remember that usually rape is also about patriarchy, inter-gender power dynamics and fragile masculinity. It is about inflicting the sense of loss of honour and virtue. It is as much a psychological assault as it is a physical one.

Every account needs to repeat that: rape is not an act of sex; it is an act of violence. Therefore, conversations about it must not be romanticised, sexualised or depicted as an outcome of prevailing situations, relationships or conflicts. The idiocy of invoking revealing clothing, sexual signals, respectable hours and unsafe spaces must be forever shunned. We live in civilised society. We punish illegitimate violence. Fullstop.

Lastly, because sexual violence is so emotionally-charged, it is difficult to talk about it without the fear of being misunderstood: but girls need to be cautious. They shouldn’t have to be. But they need to be. Times have changed; men haven’t. Therefore, anything from skimming through ‘what-to-do-when’ articles to pepper sprays to basic self-defence training will help. These days there are personal safety apps for smartphones that can alert a relative, friend or police station at the tap of a finger. I hope all these things will become obsolete one day. Sadly, that day isn’t here yet.

After Jyoti Singh Pandey was raped in Delhi in 2012, a social tumult followed. Thousands upon thousands of citizens protested the language of victim-blaming and the central government’s failure to provide enough security for women. A judicial committee was set up to explore and take citizen suggestions about legal reforms that enabled speedy trials for rapists. Some 80,000 citizens were consulted before an amendment was passed to allow fast-tracking cases of violence against women.

Throughout this period, the victim was referred to only as ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘the fearless one’.

Many of us have sighed with relief after two of the rapists/accomplices were arrested recently. With this, we also need to think about what has been achieved. Have we changed minds? And deep-rooted patriarchal views of women’s appearance and mobility? We can choose to term the arrests as marking the end to a sensational rape case. Or we can choose to see this as the beginning of a very important, candid and nuanced conversation about sexual violence.

The writer is a strategy and communications consultant.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Rights of Nature

14 May 2017 - 9:32am

By Asfand Yar Warraichr
May 14 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Should a tree have the right to sue? This line of inquiry is met with an equal measure of incredulity and fascination. After all, to answer in the affirmative is to entertain the rather rib-tickling idea that a tree, much like a human being, is capable of being wronged and deserving of restitution. To answer in the negative is to reassert the status quo — that a tree is simply a tree, inanimate and insentient, incapable of any hurt, unqualified for any compensation.

Asfand Yar Warraich

In 1972, Christopher D. Stone, an American legal theorist, wrestled with this intriguing question. In an article titled, ‘Should Trees have Standing?’ Stone opined that natural objects, such as trees, ought to be accorded legal rights. The law, he argued, was already replete with examples of inorganic entities being treated as legal persons: corporations, trusts, joint ventures and partnerships, to name but a few, and therefore the same rights should be extended to nature, to allow it to defend itself against the intrusion of modern civilisation.

Recently, in a landmark judgement, the high court of Uttarakhand revived Stone’s philosophy and declared that all glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests, springs and meadows in India are “legal entities”, with all the corresponding rights of legal persons. Delivering the seminal verdict, Justice Sharma stated that “the rights of these legal entities shall be equivalent to the rights of human beings” and that any injury caused to them, shall be treated as an “injury caused to a human being”.

Can trees and rivers be accorded legal rights?

Remarkably, this is not the first time that nature has found itself personified by law. In 2008, Ecuador became the first nation in the world to grant constitutional rights to nature. Article 71 of its constitution stipulates that nature has “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles”. Furthermore, it goes on to state that “every person, people, community or nationality” shall be able to demand the recognition of this right before public bodies.

Similarly, in the culmination of a 100-year campaign by the Whanganui Iwi, an indigenous community in New Zealand, parliament in New Zealand lately bestowed a similar status to the Whanganui River, making it the legal equivalent of a person, with members of the community being empowered to bring a legal action in its name, just as a parent is able to bring an action in the name of their child.

The aforementioned developments are revolutionary. They are a testament to a paradigmatic shift in environmental jurisprudence — a movement away from the rights of man ‘to’ nature, towards the rights ‘of’ nature against man.

To date, environmental law has been inherently human-centric, stuck to the idea that mankind is entitled to a clean, sustainable environment. Even the global movement for environmental conservation is in reality an act of self-preservation against what appears to be an imminent danger — the destruction of ‘our’ habitat. This is a radically different approach, built on the opposing premise that nature is equally entitled to exist free from the interference of mankind.

But polemics aside, what is the practicality of these developments? Are they merely symbolic or do they harbour any potential? While this novel approach may seem eccentric, it certainly warrants consideration.

For one, it opens up alternate avenues for environmental protection. It allows interested parties to seek redressal from the courts, even in the absence of a violation of any express environmental legislation, thereby reducing our dependency on inefficient state institutions that are often unwilling to enact or enforce protectionist principles due to corporate interests. Similarly, it allows courts to take cognisance of environmental harm and assess compensatory damages.

Moreover, there is a socio-cultural aspect. By personifying natural objects, this approach challenges the prevailing idea that nature is our property, ripe for appropriation as we see fit, and instead fosters an understanding of the world where every component of our ecosystem is imbued with a degree of consciousness, and therefore deserving of respect and protection. As our conception of nature changes, so does our relationship with it — from one of domination to one of reciprocity.

That said, the framework is not entirely flawless. A fundamental question remains unresolved: who shall sue on behalf of nature? If a governmental appointee is made custodian, we run the risk of being entrapped in the same cycle of incompetence and lethargy that plagues the current system. If, on the other hand, the general public is entitled to bring action, there is always the dangerous possibility of our courts being bombarded with frivolous litigation, thus overburdening an already fractured system.

Regardless, this rights-based approach offers a much-needed reorientation of our relationship with nature. And in a global system that is gluttonously devouring its precious natural resources, perhaps that is what we truly need — a fresh perspective.

The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

Punishment for Human Rights Abusers Is Irrevocable Achievement for Argentine Society

12 May 2017 - 6:27pm

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 12 2017 (IPS)

What at first was terrible news that outraged a large proportion of Argentine society, who see the conviction and imprisonment of dictatorship-era human rights violators as an irrevocable achievement for democracy, became a cause for celebration a week later.

An unexpected ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 3 initially opened the door to hundreds of members of the military and civilians in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to seek a reduction of their sentences, which would in some cases even allow them to immediately be released.

However, the wave of outrage that arose in human rights groups spread in the following days throughout society, leading to changes that came about at a dizzying pace that made it unlikely for the court ruling, which applied to one particular case, to be used as a precedent for other human rights abusers to obtain a reduction in their sentences.“I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.” -- Andrés Gil

“It won’t go any farther than this. In the Argentine justice system, the Supreme Court’s decisions are not binding on lower courts. After the strong social repulsion and after all political sectors spoke out against the early release of human rights violators, this will end with Muiña,” Jorge Rizo, chairman of the Buenos Aires Bar Association, told IPS.

It was the case of Luis Muiña, a civilian in prison for his participation in kidnappings and torture in 1976, that sparked the massive protest demonstrations held over the past week.

In a divided ruling, the Supreme Court decided to apply the “two for one” law that compensates for time spent in pre-sentence custody, to reduce Muiña’s 13-year sentence to the nine years he has already served.

But exactly a week later, on May 10, Congress passed a law supported by all political sectors which established that the two-for-one law was not applicable in cases involving genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

A few hours later, hundreds of thousands of people filled the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, reminiscent of the biggest rallies in the country’s history.

Many wore white headscarves, a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups, who in April celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first march in the Plaza de Mayo square to demand that their “disappeared” sons and daughters be returned to them.

According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the regime.

A big banner on the stage read: “Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”. The main speaker at the massive rally was Estela de Carlotto, the longtime head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have so far found 122 of their grandchildren, stolen by the dictatorship and raised under false identities.

“Just like with the Nazis, wherever they go we will go after them,” Carlotto chanted along with the crowd estimated by the organisers at 400,000 people.

“Fortunately, society has taken a firm stance,” said the activist, adding that the quick action by Congress “fills us with hope and gratitude.”

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In the demonstration there was in the air a strong rejection of the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri, even though it did not play any role in the trial. Many protesters held signs linking the president to the Court’s decision, a connection also insinuated in Twitter by former president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who at the moment was traveling through Europe.

The government had a somewhat unclear response to the Supreme Court ruling. It initially left the response exclusively in the hands of Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj who, although responsible for this area, is not a high-ranking official. Perhaps over-cautiously, he urged people to be “respectful of the verdict.”

But as the negative repercussions grew, the government began to reject the ruling, through more important figures. And once Congress passed the law, Macri himself congratulated the lawmakers, and said he was opposed to “any tool that favours impunity, and especially when this tool is applied to crimes against humanity.”

The Supreme Court ruling was divided, three-to-two. The majority was made up of Elena Highton, Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz – the latter two named to the Court last year on Macri’s recommendation.

The two-for-one law, which stated that every day spent in pre-sentence custody counted for two days after two years had been served, was designed to help Argentina address the large proportion of people in prison who have not yet been tried and sentenced. But the 1994 law was repealed in 2001 as it had failed to achieve its aim.

But the three Supreme Court justices argued that the most beneficial law for the accused must be applied in penal law, even in cases involving crimes against humanity.

“The sentence, technically, goes against international law,” said Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Social and Legal Studies Centre (CELS), a human rights organisation created during the dictatorship.

“The law which was passed promptly by Congress is a result of the cross-cutting nature of the reaction against the ruling. From now on, the justice system will have to be very autistic to ignore the rejection that the sentence generated,” Chillier told IPS.

One of the founders of CELS, lawyer Marcelo Parrilli, filed criminal charges accusing the three magistrates of prevarication, or knowingly handing down a decision contrary to the law.

Soon after, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán considered that there were grounds to launch a judicial investigation. And the Front for Victory (FPV) political faction headed by former president Fernández sought to impeach Highton, Rosatti and Rosenkrantz.

But it did not all end there, since a well-known constitutionalist lawyer, Andrés Gil, asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to order Argentina to abstain from reducing the sentences of those convicted of human rights violations.

Gil told IPS: “I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.”

“Those who signed that decision did not realise that the trial and punishment of those responsible for human rights abuses during the last dictatorship now form part of the heritage of the Argentine people,” he added.

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Unlocking the Diaspora Development Potential

12 May 2017 - 9:11am

By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, May 12 2017 (degrees of latitude)

‘Diaspora is the biggest development community that exists in the world’, according to Pedro De Vasconcelos, manager of IFAD‘s Financial Facility for Remittances. However, its potential is still largely untapped.

In 2015, over 200 million migrants sent home about 450 billion dollars in remittances. An amount which is three times the official development assistance and exceeds foreign direct investments in most countries. Recent estimates by the World Bank suggest a decline of 2.4 percent in 2016, whilst a growth of 3.3 percent is expected in 2017.

De Vasconcelos strongly believes that the money migrants send back to their home countries can be leveraged to stimulate investments, boost development and pull people out of poverty.

How to exploit migration-related inflow of capital to spur growth and build prosperity? Reducing transaction costs is not enough to, according to De Vasconcelos. Migrants and their families need financial inclusion, which is access to basic financial services, such as payments, savings, including current accounts, credit and insurance. Senders and recipients of remittances need options to the cash-to-cash system.

Where cash is king

A World Bank and IFAD report indicates that ‘two billion or 38 per cent of working-age adults globally have no access to financial services delivered by regulated financial institutions, with 73 per cent of poor people unbanked’. However, millions of them receive remittances.

‘The reason they are not banked is because those who provide financial services think that these people are poor and have no money. That’s it’, De Vasconcelos told Degrees of Latitude in an exclusive interview.

That’s a ‘cliché’, he said. They get regularly what is equivalent to a monthly salary. ‘The majority of them want financial democracy, [but] they are living in a world where cash is king… They are equipped to some extent, with a little more of help, to be part of a financial democratic revolution’, he added. ‘Give them the options and see if cash remains king’.

When remittances received through regulated financial institutions, families plan for long-term investment goals, savings can be reinvested in the local community and they can “function as a buffer against instability at the macroeconomic level”, according to IFAD and World Bank. ‘Think of you’, without a banking account where to credit wages, without a credit card, no access to online banking services or without a credit history: ‘What do you do? You are going back to cash and hopefully you have it, but that’s it. How can you leverage anything? What you are having in your hands is what you have and what you will get’, De Vasconcelos said.

In the agricultural sector, for instance, financial institutions do not provide services or loans to farmers on the assumption that agriculture is a risky business without taking into consideration the remittances they receive. ‘Financial institutions just don’t see the opportunities that exist [with remittances]’, he said. ‘It is a sector of complete missed opportunity over missed opportunity … and it’s not just doing good, doing the right thing, it’s a win-win situation.’

De Vasconcelos has no doubt: ‘Financial inclusion is the biggest opportunity that exists.’

Learning, saving and investing

Financial inclusion requires the implementation of strategies to let offer and demand meet each other. Families need financial literacy to manage financial services, but financial institutions need to understand that banking senders and recipients of remittances is possible.

With the Financial Facility for Remittances established ten years ago, IFAD aims at testing mechanisms for accessing remittances in rural areas, but also promoting investment and entrepreneurship, as well as diaspora engagement in their countries of origin. ‘We are a laboratory’, De Vasconcelos said. ‘We saw dramatic changes’ testing new financial products with financial literacy programmes.

In Sri-Lanka, for instance, a project in collaboration with the Hatton National Bank helped senders and recipients gain access to financial services. The bank designed an account targeted for the migrants’ needs, linking savings to remittances and then providing housing or business loans. After the pilot, demand increased and Hatton Bank opened several branches offering remittance services.

In Italy, IFAD engaged Philippine diaspora with a training to learn how to budget, manage daily expenses, and increase savings. ‘That was a paradigm change … Now that [they] have saved, that know how to save, we showed that there are other options … Don’t give the money away, maybe you can invest.’ Many decided to actually invest in agricultural businesses in their communities.

Scaling up

IFAD’s projects are pilots designed to show what works and what doesn’t. Scaling up requires the involvement of multiple actors, from private sector to governments, and the mainstreaming of remittances into the programmes of many international organizations, according to De Vasconcelos. ‘Ministries of agricultures, [for instance]. It is imperative they understand that their target groups receive remittances. And the majority of them not even know or care. They think that it’s not their problem’, he said.

On 16 June, the International Day of Family Remittances will be celebrated at the United Nations headquarters, in the context of the fifth Global Forum on Remittances just one month before the High-Level Political Forum that will assess the advancement in the implementation of the first 10 Sustainable Development Goals. ‘…. If you want to achieve the SDGs, you have to look at this phenomenon that is affecting one out of ten people in planet.… One remittance affects five people on average’, De Vasconcelos stressed.

Maybe remittances are not the silver bullet, but while policymakers try to find solutions on ‘how to transform billion into trillions, and that’s what you need to achieve the goals’, migrants have sent trillions of dollars back home, according to De Vasconcelos. ‘Can you maximise that dollar when they send it? Can you try to make that dollar convert into two … by offering more options? You could do that. That’s the beautiful part of this story, it’s not a question of money for once. It’s a question of will, it’s [the] question of facilitating. The money is there, what you need is just the actors to make it happened’, he said.

‘Remittances are tricky’, De Vasconcelos noted. The risk of doing nothing, of remaining in a cash-to-cash system is to keep families dependent on what they receive from abroad.

This story was originally published by Degrees of Latitude

Indonesia’s Trial and Verdict by Omission

12 May 2017 - 8:42am

The author is a manager and instructor at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute , Jakarta since 1991.

By Warief Djajanto Basorie
JAKARTA, May 12 2017 (IPS)

Remove one word in the narrative. You hit your target with a two-year jail sentence.

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely know as Ahok, was the target. After a six-month trial, the North Jakarta District Court on May 9 sentenced him to two years in jail with immediate imprisonment for defamation of religion. It was a double blow within a month.

On April 19 Ahok lost his bid for reelection as governor of this metropolis of 10 million people to former education minister Anies Baswedan.

Ahok’s change in fortune occurred on Sept 27 2016. Surveys up to then showed Ahok was a shoe-in to win reelection. He had garnered one-million-plus signatures of support from eligible voters in Indonesia’s capital, collected by a non-party volunteers group. His popularity was on a high for his clean government stance and success in delivering services. And the Jakarta race is centrally crucial.

The importance of the Jakarta governorship is that it’s a proven path to the presidency. The proof is in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who was previously Jakarta’s governor 2012-2014. As Jokowi did not complete his five- year governorship, Ahok as his deputy, succeeded Jokowi as governor.

On that clear Tuesday morning, Sept 27, Governor Ahok travelled to Pramuka Island in the Thousand islands group off the coast of North Jakarta. The trip was to celebrate a karapu fish harvest but the event turned to be a pre-campaign delivery.

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation of 250 million people. Ahok is of Chinese descent and a Christian, a double minority. Apparently Ahok did not perceive the consequences when he cited a verse in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, in light of the coming gubernatorial campaign.

“You know, perhaps in the back of your mind, you feel you can’t vote for me. Because you were fooled to use Al Maidah (verse) 51 …,” Ahok remarked off-the-cuff of opposing politicians who might use Islam’s holy scripture against him.

Al Maida (The Table Spread) , the fifth surah (chapter) in the Qur’an, has 120 ayat or verses. The verse in question is verse 51.

In essence Al Maida verse 51 calls on the faithful not to accept a non-Muslim as their leader.

On Oct 6 a Jakarta academic reviewed Ahok’s statement in video and concluded Ahok has committed blasphemy. Communication studies scholar Buni Yani uploaded a clip of the video and its transcript on his Facebook account. It stirred a storm.

“All of you (Muslim voters) were fooled by Al Maidah (verse) 51 …”. This is the quote in Buni Yani’s transcript.

The difference with the original quote is that Buni Yani’s transcript does not have the word “use” (pakai in Indonesian). At a talk show on TV One Oct 11, the academic confessed he erred in transcribing the remarks the Jakarta governor made.

Buni admitted he excluded the word “use” because he asserted he did not wear a headset to listen to the statement of Governor Basuki. But the damage has been done.

Buni’s 31-second video clip with provocative commentary can be described as a “post-truth” message where the narrative appeals to emotion disconnected from facts. The talking point continues eventhough the message is found to be misleading.

Oxford Dictionaries on Nov 15 has declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a “highly-charged” political 12 months.

Buni Yani’s belated admission of verbal exclusion in his posted video could not repair the damage and restrain what was to come. Nor the public apology Ahok made in gatherings and on television over his misconceived Sept 27 remarks.

The omission of a single word was one element that drove a sea of white-clad mostly men on Nov 4 to flood the multi-lane streets off Jakarta’s Monas Square. The Square in Central Jakarta separates Freedom Palace, the president’s residence to its north, and City Hall, the governor’s office to its south.

Led by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and other hardline groups, the mass rally demanded Ahok’s arrest and criminal prosecution for defaming Islam.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo read out a midnight statement slamming the street violence and damage before the palace gates that ensued that night. He stated “political actors” were behind the mayhem that caused one death.

On Nov 16 the chief for criminal investigation of the National Police, three-star Police Commissioner General Ari Dono Sukmanto, declared Ahok a suspect in an alleged act of blasphemy. This followed intense investigation culminating in a 10-hour case screening that heard testimony Nov 15.

On Dec 2 another huge rally took place. Like the one before, it was held on a Friday to create a great mass after noon public prayers at the capital’s mosques.

On Dec 13 Ahok went to his first of 22 hearings of his blasphemy trial.

On May 9 2017 Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, chief of the five-judge panel, read out the court’s verdict. Ahok is found guilty of violating Article 156a of the Criminal Code on defaming a religion. The sentence is two years with immediate imprisonment.

The bench’s decision goes beyond the prosecutors’ demand for a year in jail with a 2-year probation. Ahok appealed.

The convicted governor was quickly bundled to the Cipinang Prison in East Jakarta. Later in the evening Ahok was transferred to the police mobile brigade compound in Depok, south of Jakarta, “for safety,” the Cipinang warden said.

Th court’s verdict triggered an outcry of grief among Ahok supporters. They gathered in front of the courthouse, the prison, City Hall and on Wednesday night May 10, they held a candle-lit vigil at Proclamation Park, central Jakarta, where Indonesia’s first president Soekarno declared Indonesia’s independence Aug 17 1945. Similar vigils assembled in Manado and Waingapu, Christian majority centers in Eastern Indonesia.

“#Save Ahok” and “#Free Ahok” were the twitter hash tags. Many of the supporters at City Hall were red-clad women. Some in red and white, the national colors. Men wore the plaited colored shirts of Ahok’s campaign.

Ahok opponents approved the verdict. In front of the court venue, wearing white garb, they cried out in triumph and knelt on the ground in gratitude.

President Jokowi called for all to respect the legal process.

“I request all parties to respect the legal process, the verdict that was read out, and also to respect the steps taken by Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama,” Jokowi stated.

Defence lawyer I Wayan Sudarta didn’t mince words. He told The Jakarta Post the verdict was politically driven and unacceptable.

Ahok lost votes because of the trial. The rumor mill was rife of moves to mess with the president.

Further to Jokowi’s midnight statement Nov 4 on the activity of “political actors”, Coordinating Minister for Politcal, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto announced May 8, the day before the Ahok verdict, that the government seeks to ban by legal means the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an organization that calls for an Islamic caliphate.

HTI’s disbandment is justified as its existence is against the Constitution and Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila (The Five Tenets), State Intelligence Chief Budi Gunawan stated.

Indeed, the legal process and the political dynamics in Indonesia comes under scrutiny. The big raucous demonstrations outside the court house and the mass rallies demanding Ahok’s conviction contrasting against the pro-Ahok vigils raise the spectre of social unrest, if not disunity.

Interfaith leaders in Indonesia’s have repeatedly called for tolerance to safeguard the sanctity of the national credo, Bhinekka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity.

This is a testing time for Indonesia where minorities in religion like the Ahmadis and Syiahs face discrimination as well as LGBTs. Papua in the Eastern end of Indonesia is another issue where a movement seeks separation.

As Indonesian citizens, they want equal rights under the Constitution to express their case. Article 28E(3) of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion.”

All sections in the nation have a stake to make Indonesia a truly peaceful, just and inclusive society, to paraphrase the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2017 that Jakarta hosted early May.

To ward off any communal conflict that could arise from the Ahok case, one voice of moderation comes from a Muslim cleric in Depok, 20 km south of Jakarta. On the Sunday before the Ahok verdict, in a post-morning prayer sermon, he stated that those who bring up Al Maideh verse 51 must also acknowledge the message in verse 8 of the same chapter.

“Let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice.” The cleric explained Muslims must treat people of other faiths with justice.

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

New surgery, first time in UAE restores hearing to teen

12 May 2017 - 2:47am

DUBAI, May 12 2017 (WAM)

Surgeons at Dubai Hospital have succeeded in implanting a bone conduction hearing aid for the first time in the UAE, enabling a 17-year-old Emirati born with a thinner-than-average skull and hearing loss in the right ear to fully regain her hearing, according to the hospital doctors.

The procedure usually requires the patient to have a skull thickness of at least 8 millimetres. The young patient’s skull was only 1.5 millimetres.

The new procedure gives hope to patients who wish to regain their hearing ability and lead a normal life. This is why Dubai Hospital was keen to use this technology and adapt it to those with thin skull thickness, said Dr Jamal Kassouma, ENT Consultant at Dubai Hospital, adding that the patient, who was not named, was discharged the next day, because she won’t be needing any rehabilitation following the surgery.

The bone conduction implant uses the body’s natural ability to transfer sound. “While a lot of the sound we hear travels to our ears through the air (air conduction), we actually hear a great deal through vibrations in the bone, he explained.

“The young patient who suffered from hearing loss in her right ear has a skull thickness of 1.5 millimetres, which made it impossible to implant a regular bone bridge, which requires that the skull thickness is at least 8 millimetres,” he said.

In less than an hour, the team of doctors attached a titanium plate to the skull so that an external device could pick up sounds and transfer them to the plate, attached by a magnet to transfer the vibrations from the right to the left ear, Dr. Kassouma added.

After careful studying of the CT scan, the doctors found a limited area with three millimetres in thickness. “We fixed the implantation in that area using a titanium screw.”

Dubai Hospital has so far succeeded in conducting seven bone conduction hearing aid procedures on individuals whose skull was thicker than eight millimetres.


Using Agriculture and Agribusiness to Bring About Industrialisation in Africa

12 May 2017 - 2:24am

Rice fields in Northern Ghana. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Akinwumi Adesina
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, May 12 2017 (IPS)

No region of the world has ever moved to industrialised economy status without a transformation of the agricultural sector. Agriculture, which contributes 16.2% of the GDP of Africa, and gives some form of employment to over 60% of the population, holds the key to accelerated growth, diversification and job creation for African economies.

But the performance of the sector has historically been low. Cereal yields are significantly below the global average. Modern farm inputs, including improved seeds, mechanisation and irrigation, are severely limited.

In the past, agriculture was seen as the domain of the humanitarian development sector, as a way to manage poverty. It was not seen as a business sector for wealth creation. Yet Africa has huge potential in agriculture – and with it huge investment potential. Some 65% of all the uncultivated arable land left in the world lies in Africa. When Africa manages to feed itself, as – within a generation – it will, it will also be able to to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the planet in 2050.

However, Africa is wasting vast amounts of money and resources by underrating its agriculture sector. For example, it spends $35 billion in foreign currency annually importing food, a figure that is set to rise to over $100 billion per year by 2030.

Akinwumi Adesina

In so doing, Africa is choking its own economic future. It is importing the food that it should be growing itself. It is exporting, often to developed countries, the jobs it needs to keep and nurture. It also has to pay inflated prices resulting from global commodity supply fluctuations.

The food and agribusiness sector is projected to grow from $330 billion today to $1 trillion by 2030, and remember that there will also be 2 billion people looking for food and clothing. African enterprises and investors need to convert this opportunity and unlock this potential for Africa and Africans.

Africa must start by treating agriculture as a business. It must learn fast from experiences elsewhere, for example in south east Asia, where agriculture has been the foundation for fast-paced economic growth, built on a strong food processing and agro-industrial manufacturing base.

This is the transformation formula: agriculture allied with industry, manufacturing and processing capability equals strong and sustainable economic development, which creates wealth throughout the economy.

Africa must not miss opportunities for such linkages whenever and wherever they occur. We must reduce food system losses all along the food chain, from the farm, storage, transport, processing and retail marketing.

To drive agro-industrialization, we must be able to finance the sector. Doing so will help unlock the potential of agriculture as a business on the continent. Under its Feed Africa strategy, the African Development Bank will invest $24 billion in agriculture and agribusiness over the next ten years. This is a 400% increase in financing, from the current levels of $600 million per year.

A key component will be providing $700 million to a flagship program known as “Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation” for the scaling up of agricultural technologies to reach millions of farmers in Africa in the next ten years.

This is the transformation formula: agriculture allied with industry, manufacturing and processing capability equals strong and sustainable economic development, which creates wealth throughout the economy.
Finance and farming have not always been easy partners in Africa. Another pillar of the Bank’s strategy is to accelerate commercial financing for agriculture. Despite its importance, the agriculture sector receives less than 3% of the overall industry financing provided by the banking sector.

Risk sharing instruments may resolve this, by sharing the risk of lending by commercial banks to the agriculture sector. Development finance institutions and multilateral development banks should be setting up national risk-sharing facilities in every African country to leverage agricultural finance. And the African Development Bank is setting the pace based on a very successful risk sharing scheme that I promoted while Agriculture Minister in Nigeria.

Rural infrastructure development is critical for the transformation of the agriculture sector, including electricity, water, roads and rail to transport finished agricultural and processed foods.

The lack of this infrastructure drives up the cost of doing business and has discouraged food manufacturing companies from getting established in rural areas. Governments should provide fiscal and infrastructure incentives for food manufacturing companies to move into rural areas, closer to zones of production than consumption.

This can be achieved by developing agro-industrial zones and staple crop processing zones in rural areas. These zones, supported with consolidated infrastructure, including roads, water, electricity and perhaps suitable accommodation, will drive down the cost of doing business for private food and agribusiness firms.

They will create new markets for farmers, boosting economic opportunities in rural areas, stimulating jobs and attracting higher domestic and foreign investments into the rural areas. This will drive down the cost of doing business, as well as significantly reduce the high level of African post-harvest losses. As agricultural income rises, neglected rural areas will become zones of economic prosperity.

Our goal is simple: to support massive agro-industrial development all across Africa. When that happens, Africa will have taken its rightful place as a global powerhouse in food production. It could well also be feeding the world. At this point the economic transformation that we are all working for will be complete.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. The 2017 AfDB Annual Meetings in Ahmedabad, India, 22-26 May, will focus on ‘Transforming agriculture for wealth creation in Africa’.

Poor Rural Communities in Mexico Receive a Boost to Support Themselves

11 May 2017 - 6:12pm

Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HUAQUECHULA, Mexico, May 11 2017 (IPS)

Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit.

“These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional diet and an income, producing healthy food that brings in a profit,” said Morales, who told IPS that she starts her day as soon as the sun comes out, checking on her avocado trees, trimming her plants, applying fertiliser and making organic compost.

She is a member of the “Santa Ana for Production” association in the town of Santa Ana Coatepec, in the municipality of Huaquechula, in the southeastern state of Puebla, some 170 km south of Mexico City.

On August 2015, these small-scale producers planted avocado trees on 44 hectares of land in the ejido of El Tejonal, where 265 hectares belong to 215 ejido members. Of these, 55 are currently members of the association, which is close to achieving gender equality, with 29 men and 26 women, who play an especially important role.“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population.” -- Fernando Soto

Each member was initially given 32 plants on the ejido, which is public land allocated for collective use – a widespread traditional system in rural Mexico.

The initiative is part of Mexico´s Strategic Programme for Food Security (PESA).

This programme, created globally by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1994, was adopted by the Mexican government in 2002, and has been implemented since 2011 by the Agriculture Ministry together with the U.N. agency.

The aim is improving agricultural production and the diet and income of poor rural families and communities, such as Santa Ana Coatepec, in order to strengthen food security and help them gradually overcome poverty.

The association raises poultry to sell its meat and eggs, in addition to planting avocadoes, maize, sorghum and different vegetables. They also raise tilapia, a fish used widely in aquaculture in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Santa Ana for Production was founded in 2014, together with the Community Foundation, one of the 25 rural development agencies (ADR) in Puebla implementing the PESA, which only supports groups of small-scale farmers and not individuals.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry hired 305 ADRs in the 32 states (plus the capital district) into which Mexico is divided, to carry out the programme in selected low-income rural areas.

“Women who participate have the personal satisfaction that we ourselves are producing, that we are the workers,“ said Morales, a single woman with no children.

The group has been trained in fish farming techniques, agroecological practices, and nutrition, to produce their own food and to know what to eat. The first production goal is self-sufficiency, and the surplus production is sold or traded with local residents.

Santa Ana Coatepec, population 1,147, was chosen by FAO and the Mexican government to participate in PESA, due to the high poverty rate.

The Ministry of Social Development and the National Council of Assessment of Social Development Policies reported in 2015 that 80 per cent of the population in Huaquechula, population 26,514, lived in poverty, while 30 per cent lived in conditions of extreme poverty.

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The state of Puebla has the fourth largest number of ADRs, after Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas – the poorest states in Mexico.

María Aparicio, a married mother of three, knew nothing about fish farming, but became an expert thanks to the project, which has financed the association’s initiatives with a total of 263,000 dollars.

“We are creating knowledge for the region (of Puebla), for people to know how to raise tilapia,“ she told IPS.

First, the association installed a tank four metres deep, with a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres of water, obtained from the El Amate spring, 1.6 km from the town.

They laid a pipeline from the spring to the tanks, using the water also to irrigate the avocado trees, and maize and sorghum crops. The works took three months. The members pay 0.26 dollars per hour of water use.

The association raises Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), from the southeastern state of Veracruz, and so far have produced 1.6 tons of fish. Tilapia grows to 350 grams in five months, when it is big enough to be sold.

The fish farmers sell the fish at about four dollars per kilogram, with a production cost of about 1.8 dollars for each fish.

In June 2016, they installed three more tanks that are one metre deep and have a volume of 28 cubic metres, to raise “Rocky Mountain White” tilapia, a light-colored hybrid breed, investing 105 dollars. But in March they produced only 90 kilograms, much less than expected.

“We’re going to raise grey tilapia now. Our goal is to farm some 5,000 fish“ during each production cycle, said Aparicio, who returned to live in her town after working as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The group created a savings fund, fed by the profits of their different undertakings, to finance and expand their projects.

For Fernando Soto, FAO representative in Mexico, PESA generates “positive results“ of different types.

“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population,” he told IPS in Mexico City.

These days, with the arrival of the first rains, the farmers have begun to prepare the land to plant maize and sorghum.

Watching their avocado trees and tilapia grow, the members of the association have new hopes for their future. “We will have food security, and we will generate employment,” said Morales.

“I see this and I cannot believe it. Soon all this will be full of plants and then we will harvest,” said Aparicio, looking at the avocado plantation with a hopeful expression.

PESA still has a long way ahead. An internal FAO report carried out in January stressed the importance of studying the factors that affect the survival and performance of the ADRs that support farmers at a local level, not only with quantitative measurements, but also with qualitative studies.

This study found that 270 ADRs do not register community promoters, 120 lack administrative staff, and 65 report no members.

“A higher chance of survival for the agencies and better prospects of stability in the employees’ jobs would have positive effects on the programme´s impact,” the document says.

Soto suggested promoting programmes to increase productivity in the southern and southeastern regions, strengthen the well-being and capacities of local people, contribute to preserving environmental assets, expand coverage under urban development systems, and strengthen productive infrastructure and regional connecting services.

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Why Honesty Is Best Policy: It Feels Better

11 May 2017 - 12:55pm

By Yen Makabenta
May 11 2017 (Manila Times)

A new university research study has added a twist to the saying, “honesty is the best policy,” which has been immortalized by the Holy Bible, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin and countless mothers.

Yen Makabenta

The twist, according to the London Telegraph, is that “honesty feels better.”

In an article early this month (“The secret of honesty revealed: it feels better,” by Henry Bodkin, Telegraph, May 1, 2017), the paper reports that a new study in University College, London, sheds new light on the motherhood virtue, and could offer hope for our perennially failed efforts to stop corruption and enhance honesty in our public service.

The main finding and conclusion is that most people are honest, because honesty feels better. It is the corrupt and the deceivers who are tortured by guilt and doubt, and who in the end must pay for their transgressions.

While many in public service are tempted to steal, lie and bend the rules, the average person will not do the same. They are impelled by their scruples or conscience to act honestly.

I shall quote the article in its entirety here because I would like my readers and government policymakers to judge for themselves. I will discuss its relevance to current issues in our public life and public service in the discussion that immediately follows.

London Telegraph article

“It is a mystery that has perplexed psychologists and philosophers since the dawn of humanity: why are most people honest?…

“Researchers at University College London discovered that at a physical level the brain finds decency far more satisfying than deception.

“The trial revealed that, despite accumulating a large amount of money, most participants derived no deep-seated satisfaction if the success was gained at the expense of others.

“Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others

“Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study indicates that, at least at a psychological level, the old adage that ‘crime doesn’t pay’ is right.

“ ‘When we make decisions, a network of brain regions calculates how valuable our options are,’ said Dr. Molly Crockett, who led the research.

“ ‘Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses in this network, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others.’

“ ‘Our results suggest the money just isn’t as appealing’.

“The research team scanned volunteers’ brains as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money.

“The experiment involved 28 couples of participants who were paired off and given the ability to give each other small electric shocks.

“They were given the option of selecting sums of money that were related to a shock either for themselves or their partner.

“The researchers noticed that, as they made their decisions, a region of the brain called the striatum, key to the understanding of value, was activated.

“MRI imaging found that this brain network was far more active when the participants gained money while inflicting pain on themselves than on another, suggesting they found it instinctively more valuable.

“ ‘Our findings suggest the brain internalizes the moral judgments of others, simulating how much others might blame us for potential wrongdoing, even when we know our actions are anonymous,’ said Dr. Crockett.

“The scans also revealed that an area of the brain involved in making moral judgments, the lateral prefrontal cortex, was most active in trials where inflicting pain yielded minimal profit.

“In an allied study, participants were asked to make moral judgements about decisions to harm others for profit.

“It showed that when people refused to profit from harming others, this region was communicating with the striatum.

“The researchers believe this shows that normal societal moral rules are visible in the form of neurological signaling, and that these disrupt the value we might otherwise place on ill-gotten gains.

“They insisted that the electric shocks administered to participants were carefully matched to each recipient’s pain threshold to be ‘mildly but tolerably painful’.”

Bong, Jinggoy, PDAF looters will agree
The study is nothing revolutionary. Buddha’s teaching thousands of years ago said that doing good steers the human person towards the right path and enlightenment.

If we ask the senators (Senators Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada) and the legislators who are now facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan, they will probably agree that honesty would have made them feel better. Now, as they stew in their misery, they surely rue the day they ever thought of stealing their PDAF allocations or the day they met Janet Lim Napoles.

Straight path artists
The dishonest officials who still have to face the music are notably former President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and former budget secretary Butch Abad who, not content with routinary graft opportunities, even invented the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to raise their loot to billions of pesos in public funds.

And they had the bright idea of calling it all the straight path (tuwid na daan).

Compared to these Filipino originals, Richard Nixon who declared, “I am not a crook,” was a baby.

Unchanging rules and principles
It‘s individuals who are too clever for their own good who run afoul of ethical politics and government.

The old rules have not changed. Public officials are still obligated to render honest judgment, to work hard and efficiently, and to maximize the benefits of government to all citizens.

The basic principles are in truth unchanging:
1. Public officials must no lie, cheat, or steal in any official capacity. They must obey the law.
2. Public officials must avoid all conflicts of interest created by business, friendship or family relationship.
3. Public officials owe a fiduciary (trustee’s) duty to taxpayers and all citizens to ensure that public funds are used honestly.
4. Public officials should perform their duties based solely on the public interest and the public good, rather than on what is in their best personal interest.

Ethics in government is really no different from ethics in personal life.

Hence, people who do not lie, cheat or steal in business or personal life generally have no problem handling ethical questions in government.

But then power corrupts and tempts. And those with little character are too weak to resist.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Who Defends the Rape Survivor?

11 May 2017 - 10:13am

By Moyukh Mahtab
May 11 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We live in a country where women who are survivors of sexual violence not only have to go against the traditional grain of society but the justice and law enforcement systems as well. Our antiquated laws, medical procedures to prove rape, the cruel character shaming and the general social impunity granted to men makes one wonder how brave a woman has to be to even demand justice.

It’s been almost a week since newspapers started reporting on the rape at gun point of two university students in a hotel in Banani. We know five men have been accused, that the women have been threatened against going to the police, and that when they did go to the police, their characters were questioned and it took 48 hours to register the case. We know that among the accused is a son of the owner of a leading jewellery brand, who despite being home for days after the case filed, was not interrogated let alone arrested by the police. We know that keeping to the norm in this country, his father defended his actions. By the time the police did raid his home on May 9, a full three days after the case was registered, the accused and his passport were missing.

Yet, social media is full of people defending the rape of these two women as “divine justice” for their supposed transgressions: they should not have gone out to a “party”, they should not have been friends with men, and they should have fit the narrow ideals of what the role of women is in a society. I do not know what to say to these people, for despite the reality they witness, they are blind to the concept of consent. But for those, who feel compelled to point out that for now, we should put the word “alleged” before the word rapist, or question why the women waited more than a month before going to the police, please remember the society we live in.

Let us start with why the women waited a month before going to the police. According to their testimonies, aides to the accused filmed them while they were being raped. They were threatened that the clips would be released on the internet if they did, and also told that because of the power and money of the accused, the police would not be able to do anything to them. These women knew the consequences of going public: that they would be shamed, their characters put to the stand and that there would be enormous pressure on them and their families. The officer in charge in Banani police station BM Forman Ali, who is now on a five-day-leave, had initially asked if the women were “nortoki” or dancers from the hotel. Why else would women be at a party there? (Samakal, 10 May, 2017)

Questioning of the women’s character is part of the criminal proceedings of rape cases. As Ishita Dutta in her paper in the book Of the Nation Born: The Bangladesh Papers, points out this “Good Girl-Bad Girl Dichotomy” shifts the question of ascertaining the guilt of the accused to “whether the survivor was chaste enough to have made a true accusation.” She writes how under Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872, “the victims testimony may be discredited by showing that she was of ‘generally immoral character’.”"We need policy and law reforms. We need cells at police stations and medical facilities where they will be heard and not further abused. We need institutional changes in the way the police act towards the survivors. Till then, the least we can do is not question if these women are speaking the truth.

What is heartbreaking is that despite the courage it took for these women to finally seek justice, as the head of forensic medicine at DMC who headed the board that examined the women says, it would be difficult to find evidence of rape if the incidents took place over a month ago. But, even if they had gone the next day, what are the chances that justice would be facilitated? It took two examinations before it was officially established that Shohagi Jahan Tonu was indeed raped before she was murdered. The legal definition and medical tests proscribed by our law also means that any delay, even due to unavailability of medical facilities, would essentially make it harder to collect forensic evidence. The laws which lay out the procedure of collection of evidence date back to the colonial period, and as such barbaric procedures such as “the two finger test” to determine if rape had occurred are still used. The two finger test rests on the presence or absence of the hymen – a procedure which is not only medically anachronistic, but also seems to assume only a woman who has never had any sexual relation before can be raped.

Dutta points out how while globally the legal definition of rape has evolved to the establishment of consent, in Bangladeshi law, rape is defined as “forced penetration.” That is, even if a person is sexually assaulted, say at gun point, but there was no physical force used on her, it would technically not be considered as rape. The question of consent, that is whether the the woman was in agreement with the sexual act is absent from our laws and our society.

We need a change and our laws need to define rape in terms of consent. For example, the Department of Justice of Canada, defines consent as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question. Conduct short of a voluntary agreement … does not constitute consent”. It then sets out the situations which would entail lack of consent such as cases “where the accused induces the complainant … abusing a position of trust, power or authority”. That is, rape would be defined not in terms of whether the woman was physically forced into the act but by whether she voluntarily consented to that act.

If these were not enough barriers, in court, the women are again subjected to similar attacks on her character. Since the legal definition of rape rests on the purity of character of the woman, her life is dissected in a patriarchal, unfriendly environment. The initial reluctance and questioning of character when filing cases, as was claimed by the women who were raped in Banani, point to an institutional structure which is far from being gender sensitive. It does not give women a safe space where they can seek refuge and justice, but from the filing of the case to the court proceeding, puts them through the trauma of having to prove that they are not immoral people who somehow “asked for it”.

Then comes the “pressure”; from society and from the perpetrators. And if the perpetrators are powerful men, we even see instances where the police officer questions the women if they are filing a case to claim money from the accused. The accused might even go missing just before the police put up a show of action and end up in a different district, where they will not be found.

When women, under these constraints, still appeal to our courts of law to seek justice, it is cruel to start our discussion with questioning whether she is lying or not. We as a society cannot get over the idea that women supposedly have the upper hand or some ulterior motive when reporting sexual violence.

That is not to say that we can bypass the legal requirement of proof when it comes to rape or any other crime. That we are sometimes bound to take a stand speaks of failures of our justice system. We need policy and law reforms. We need cells at police stations and medical facilities where they will be heard and not further abused. We need institutional changes in the way the police act towards the survivors. Till then, the least we can do is not question if these women are speaking the truth.

The writer is a member of the editorial department, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Who Are the Best ‘Eaters’ and How to Use Eggplants as a Toothbrush

11 May 2017 - 9:09am

Tempura, sashimi, pickles, ris og misosuppe (Tempura, sashimi, pickles, rice and miso soup). Credit: cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 11 2017 (IPS)

The news is this: Japan is a global model for healthy diets and it currently has the lowest rate of obesity among developed countries–below four per cent. This is on the one hand. On the other, African eggplant gorongo is often used as toothbrush.

None of this is based on any personal, empirical experience—it all comes from the United Nations thought its leading food specialised agency.

See what the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says.

Japan has a very unique food culture that can greatly contribute to improvements in global nutrition, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva on May 10 assured during his visit to the country, which has a healthy and “unique” food culture, one that includes many vegetables, fruits and fish.

To explain this better, he cited Washoku, a comprehensive set of skills, knowledge and traditions relating to the preparation and consumption of food, which has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Washoku is based on a “respect for nature” and is composed of fresh, seasonally available, low-fat ingredients, which together represent a well-balanced diet.

Graziano da Silva noted that Japan has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with other countries– an interaction the organisation he leads is keen to promote as an activity related to the United Nations Decade on Nutrition.

Graziano da Silva with a group of women who are participating in a vegetable-growing project in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria. Credit: FAO

This Decade aims to address poor dietary habits, which have been closely linked to non-communicable diseases, including heart attacks strokes, cancers and diabetes– a leading cause of premature death, not only in high-income countries, but also increasingly in many parts of the developing world.

“These diets are typically not only unhealthy, but environmentally unsustainable.”

In this context, Japan exemplifies how effective public policies and legislation can promote adequate nutrition, especially through laws aimed at educating children and controlling adults’ weight, according to the FAO chief.

Such measures, are in line with commitments made by world leaders at the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to establish national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and transforming food systems to make nutritious diets available to all.

He praised Japan for supporting developing countries through the UN agency in the areas of food production and consumption as well as with regards to the agricultural sectors, including forestry, fisheries, livestock, land and water.

For example, in Afghanistan, Japan has contributed more than 100 million dollars to the organisation’s agricultural interventions, especially with efforts to rehabilitate the country’s irrigation infrastructure.

In Myanmar, funds from the Japanese government have helped deliver emergency and livelihood-rebuilding assistance – including high-quality seeds and fertilizers – to rural households affected by flooding and conflicts.

A Journalist and a Chef, Goodwill Ambassadors

The UN specialised agency chief announced the appointment of Hiroko Kuniya and Katsuhiro Nakamura as the first-ever FAO National Goodwill Ambassadors for Japan.

Kuniya became well known as a television news-anchor for the NHK Japan network, including on the acclaimed “Today’s Close-Up” programme, covering poverty, hunger and other social issues. More recently, she has worked as a journalist covering topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nakamura initially became famous as the first Japanese chef to receive a One-Star Restaurant recognition by Michelin in 1979 in Paris. He later returned to Japan and in 2008 was named head chef during the G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido.

What about the Eggplant-Toothbrush Story?

Now that you know who are the best “eaters” on Earth—the Japanese, you will certainly like to also learn about why and how eggplants can be used as toothbrush. Here you are:

To start with, African eggplant lives up to its name: as it grows it bears white, oval-shaped fruits that look just like eggs before they ripen and turn green.

African eggplant “gorongo”. Credit: FAO

It is one of the vegetables grown by farmers displaced by Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria who are participating in an FAO project to kick-start local food production. Here, this traditional vegetable is known as gorongo and it is an important social ingredient as well as a nutritious one.

The raw fruit of the gorongo is often chewed by women to clean their teeth. The fruit is also eaten as part of marriage and naming ceremonies.

What happened is that just few days before going to Japan, Graziano da Silva visited an FAO-supported dry season vegetable production site.

There, he met a group of women working together in a field growing gorongo among other crops. The women are survivors of Boko Haram attacks on their villages, and are the sole providers for their families.

One of the women explained that using the gorongo to clean her teeth was a way to restore a sense of dignity and to bring healthy smiles to her and her friends.

Gorongo is a useful plant for small-scale farmers because it bears fruit continuously and can produce an abundant yield even from a small plot.

Women have been able to grow a surplus of vegetables that they can sell to earn cash to cover their needs beyond food such as health care and education for their children.

The African Eggplant

The African eggplant originates from Central Africa, and has spread to other countries, particularly in West Africa, the UN specialised body informs.

The fruit can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, pickled, or in stews and the leaves are often used in soups. To make a stew, the eggplant is boiled then mashed, then added to a pan with oil, onion, cooked beans and chilli flakes.

Apart from oral hygiene, the plant is used in traditional medicine to treat throat infections by heating and then chewing the leaves. The juice of boiled roots is used to treat hookworm, while the crushed leaves are said to be useful for gastric complaints.

Now you know who eats better and what to do if run out of toothpaste.

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