Interpress News Service

Inclusive Electoral Processes: a Pathway to More Peaceful Societies

5 October 2017 - 1:53am

Polling station staff assists a voter placing their vote in the ballot box on election day in CAR. Credit: UNDP / Central African Republic

By Magdy Martinez-Soliman and Patrick Keuleers

The Sustainable Development Goals 16 (SDG16) calls on UN Member States to promote responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making, and to build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

While the means to promote participation have diversified rapidly, in particular through the use of new technologies and social media, elections are, and will likely remain, the definitive mechanism by which most governments derive legitimacy through popular vote.

As part of its responsibility to respond to national requests for enhanced governance capacity, UNDP has provided support to elections and referenda in over 100 Member States since the early 1990s. Our efforts have focused on developing the capacity of national electoral management bodies; promoting the political participation of those most at risk of being left behind; empowering women as electoral administrators, voters and candidates; promoting electoral dialogue between competing political parties; and supporting civic education for a more informed electorate.

UNDP’s work in support of political and electoral processes is done in close partnership with other entities in the UN system. Noting the inherently political nature of elections as contests between those seeking authority to govern, UNDP works closely with and under the guidance of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in his capacity as UN Electoral Focal Point, nominated as such by the General Assembly in 1991.

In that capacity, the Focal Point is responsible for establishing the parameters for UN engagement in a Member State’s national elections, in response to either a national request for assistance or a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly to assist in post-conflict elections.

Every two years, the Secretary-General (SG) reports to the General Assembly on the UN’s work in support of democratic elections, showcasing the breadth and complexity of UN electoral activities around the globe. The 2017 Report was published on August 1, 2017.

Among the many activities undertaken by the UN, it highlights the support that UNDP provides to the UN’s peacekeeping and special political mission efforts in post-conflict elections, as well as UNDP’s work as “the major implementing body of the Organization for support to developing electoral institutions, to building partnerships, legal frameworks and processes and for support to elections in non-mission settings.” In the 2015-2017 period covered by the report, UNDP provided such support to 63 Member States.

Each of the SG’s biennial reports on the UN’s electoral work also addresses specific thematic issues that have proven topical during the reporting period. This year’s report addresses violence surrounding electoral process and suggests strategies that Member States can adopt for the prevention of such violence.

These include, for example, measures to dilute “winner takes all” politics in elections, changes to electoral systems that promote greater inclusivity for the entire spectrum of national political opinions, and promoting dialogue between those competing for political power and the national electoral authorities acting as the guarantors of peaceful and legitimate elections.

Examples of exactly how successful these initiatives can be, were evident in high-stakes presidential elections in countries such as Burkina Faso and Nigeria in 2015, where DPA and UNDP came together to work with national counterparts and electoral contestants at diffusing political tensions in the pre-electoral environment.

In the case of Burkina Faso, the “timely engagement of institutions at the international, regional and sub-regional level was instrumental in encouraging progress and providing the diplomatic, technical and financial support required to restore stability and prepare for the 2015 legislative and presidential elections.” Cote d’Ivoire is a good example of effective capacity development of national electoral institutions.

“The extensive electoral support provided to the Independent Electoral Commission of Côte d’Ivoire since 2005 by UNDP and UNOCI has been gradually scaled down with the Commission fully assuming its role and independently organizing the 2016 (Constitutional Referendum and legislative) elections which were conducted peacefully within the constitutionally established time frames…The subsequent closure and withdrawal of UNOCI by the end of June 2017 attest to the good progress of the political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

This year’s report of the Secretary General also addresses thorny issues such as the challenges presented by election boycotts, and the elimination of presidential term limits. There are currently no international standards or commitments that Member States have made to introducing or retaining term limits in their national legislation; this remains an issue of national sovereignty.

The SG’s 2017 report however notes on this subject that term limits “can be important safeguards against “winner-take-all” politics,” and, crucially, that “the manner in which related amendments are sought can be critical factors affecting public confidence” in the electoral process.

A novel but very important topic also addressed in the report is the advent of technological developments that can enhance the inclusiveness of political processes; in this regard the report notes in particular “the additional credibility to an electoral process that expanding voting rights to citizens based abroad can bring.”

The report is very positive about the contribution that we, as the UN, make together to the promotion of democratic values, institutions and processes. UNDP is proud to remain a key partner, with the Department of Political Affairs, in supporting Member States’ efforts to ensure the integrity and freedom of inclusive and peaceful electoral processes globally.

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Need for Inclusive Peace Efforts in South Sudan: No More ‘Compassion Fatigue’

4 October 2017 - 1:56pm

An Oxfam staffer helps a woman at UN House in Juba carry home some of the emergency supplies she has just received. Credit: Anita Kattakhuzy/Oxfam

By Lindah Mogeni

“Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year of Peace and Prosperity.’

A mere two years after its split from Sudan, a country plagued by decades-long of ethnic-based civil war between Arab and non-Arab tribes, the independent state of South Sudan erupted in conflict when President Kiir, a Dinka, accused his then vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup.

Amid heightening political tensions, violent skirmishes flared up in the nation’s capital of Juba in mid-December 2013 between loyalist soldiers from both parties. South Sudan has been mired in conflict ever since – much to the dismay of its citizens who hadn’t imagined they would carry the torch of war into their new republic.

Three months into a peace agreement signed by both parties in August 2015, the conflict reached a boiling point in December 2015 when President Kiir dissolved South Sudan’s 10 regional states and established 28 new states, resulting in a surge of violence beyond the capital, to several areas of the country.

A transitional government formed by both parties in April 2016, with the peace agreement as a precursor, failed to temper the violence as clashes continued country-wide. Further, President Kiir’s appointment of General Gai, Machar’s political ally, as his new vice president inflamed Machar and his loyalists, resulting in a split within the opposition – thus fueling the conflict.

A government ceasefire, declared after Machar fled the capital, crumbled shortly thereafter.

With lengthy, arduous peace efforts failing and confidence in ending the conflict flailing, South Sudan is facing its gravest humanitarian situation in years.

“This is the last chance of salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…we must resolve now, both individually and collectively, to do more to end this conflict,” said Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, while addressing the UN Security Council last week.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced by the South Sudan conflict. An estimated 830,000 have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, according to Oxfam America.

Harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, forced recruitment of child soldiers, widespread sexual violence and restricting movement of UN peacekeepers by both sides characterize the conflict in South Sudan, according to prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“In over 30 years working in South Sudan, Oxfam has never responded to such dire needs under such difficult conditions,” said Oxfam America’s president, Abby Maxman, speaking on South Sudan at the UN.

Asked about the country’s grim situation, Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response, told IPS that, “with the conflict hitting many parts of the country simultaneously, with more access to advanced firepower, with a collapsing economy, with food insecurity and famine on the rise and, most especially, with no resounding commitment from the international community, South Sudan is more vulnerable than it has ever been.”

The suffering of communities in South Sudan has reached unprecedented levels.

“The situation is South Sudan is dire but not hopeless…when a situation is seen as hopeless and when the rhetoric surrounding it makes it seem ‘too complex’ and diminishes on-the-ground efforts, compassion fatigue arises,” said Gottschalk.

Though it is the responsibility of the significant parties in South Sudan to root out the source of the problem, it is the duty of the international community to navigate a peaceful outcome for the sake of 12 million South Sudanese who have not given up.

“We have not given up on them and we have not forgotten them…they have a friend and advocate in the US,” said Haley.

The UN, African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recently agreed to pool their efforts to support the revitalization of the political process in South Sudan.

The primary goal in mind, for this joint communiqué, is to adequately represent all significant parties and encourage them to focus on the full implementation of the August 2015 Peace Agreement, under a permanent ceasefire.

“This is the last chance at salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…the different parties to the conflict must use the next several weeks to commit themselves to this process and to conclude it,” said Haley.

Before undertaking these well-intended collective measures, it is important to understand the nature of the conflict in South Sudan.

“To get the country back on its feet, we must first recognize this conflict for what it is and what it isn’t…it’s not a tribal conflict, because ethnic identity doesn’t determine allegiance on the ground, it’s not a military conflict, because civilians, not soldiers, are bearing the brunt of the violence…in many ways it’s not even a political conflict, because that would imply that it’s about competing visions for governing this nation…what it is, is a hostage situation,” said Maxman.

In July this year, the AU Commission, South Sudanese officials, and UN representatives met in Juba to discuss the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan, envisioned under the 2015 Peace Agreement, and agreed on plans to finalize the court’s statute by August, according to Human Rights Watch.

Notably, South Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As such, its leaders can only be held accountable by the ICC through a request from the Sudanese government or a referral by the UN Security Council.

Though a lack of accountability is a conflict-accelerant, a more immediate focus is required in the inclusive peace efforts geared towards helping the people in South Sudan.

“It’s high time we throw our lot in with the hostages, not the hostage-takers,” said Maxman.

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Rainwater Harvesting Improves Lives in El Salvador

4 October 2017 - 1:33pm

Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
TEPETITÁN, El Salvador, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water.

But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life.

“Now we just pump, fill the tank and we have water ready to use,” said the 30-year-old woman from the village of Los Corvera, in the rural municipality of Tepetitán, in El Salvador’s central department of San Vicente.

In this village, 13 families benefit from a system that collects the rainwater that falls on the roof of Canjura’s house, which is then channeled through a pipe into a huge polyethylene bag, with a capacity of 25,000 liters.

From there, it is manually pumped into a tank with a faucet used by all of the families.

“Since it has rained a lot, the bag is always full, which is a joy for us,” Canjura told IPS, while carrying a jug on her head which she had just filled."We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water... we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families." -- Lorena Ramirez

The initiative, launched in February 2017, is being promoted by the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which, together with Australian aid and the Ford Foundation, have provided funds to get it going, while local organisations and governments have given operational support.

The system´s technology was developed by the consortium Mexichem Amanco, which entered into the market of polyethylene membranes used as waterproof barriers in civil engineering works, sanitary landfills, and artificial lagoons for aquaculture, among other uses.

In 2013, GWP Central America had already promoted a water harvesting project in southern Honduras in communities suffering from drought, and this project is being replicated in El Salvador’s Jiboa Valley.

In this small country of 6.4 million people, eight rainwater harvesting systems have been installed so far in seven municipalities in the Jiboa valley in San Vicente. There is one in each municipality, except for Jerusalen, located in the department of La Paz, where two systems have been installed.

Of the 323 families identified as having problems of access to water in rural communities in these municipalities, 100 are benefiting directly from the project, conceived of as a pilot plan that would offer lessons for its expansion to other areas.

Participation by local women has been vital to the implementation of the project, taking advantage of the fact that they already have a strong presence in the communities through the Network of Women Entrepreneurs of the Jiboa Valley.

“We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water… we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families,” said 43-year-old Lorena Ramirez.

Ramirez shared her experience with IPS during a meeting on the country’s water situation, held on Sept. 21 in San Vicente, the capital of the department.

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

She is originally from Hacienda Nuevo Oriente, a village of 400 people, located in the jurisdiction of Verapaz, also in the department of San Vicente. There, another 15 families are benefiting from the harvesting of rainwater.

Ramírez, a homemaker who has a kitchen garden, added that, before the arrival of the project, the families of the village had to look for water in the ravines to wash clothes and for other necessities.

The water they used to drink was fetched from a spring located a kilometer away, but they had to get up very early, otherwise it would be empty. “We drank from that spring,” she said.

During the May to October rainy season there is no problem keeping the polyethylene bag full, Ramirez said. But during the dry season, they will have to establish a mechanism for using the resource wisely.

It is estimated that the 25,000 liters stored in the bag are equivalent to five tanker trucks, and can supply a family for 15 days to one month, depending on the use, although each system installed in El Salvador is intended for 15 families.

“We can’t say this completely meets the needs of those 15 families; this is for filling a couple of jugs for drinking water and to use for basic things,” she stressed.

And when the water runs out in the summer, the participating municipalities have committed to sending tanker trucks and keep the bags filled, so there will always be water.

The basic idea is that the harvested water is exclusively for drinking, so the families involved in the program have received a filter to make it potable.

The University of El Salvador will provide equipment and scientific personnel to measure the quality of the water that has been purified, said Marta Alfaro, mayor of Jerusalen, one of the municipalities participating in the programme.

One of these systems is currently being installed in the Jerusalen neighborhood of El Progreso, and another in the village of Veracruz.

“We want to keep installing more systems, it’s not so costly, but the thing is that this year it was not included in the budget,” Alfaro told IPS.

For the next year her administration will include in the budget the installation of 10 systems in 10 other communities.

Each system costs around 1,400 dollars, Vilma Chanta, a researcher in territorial development for the non-governmental National Development Foundation, told IPS.

The plan to harvest rainwater is “a short-term solution for rural communities, instead of installing water pipes connected to the national grid or other mechanisms, which would be for the medium and long term,” added Chanta, who is also a volunteer at the Water Youth Network, an independent space promoted by GWP Central America.

And with the already visible climate change effects, this effort “has the potential to be an alternative for the adaptation to climate change impacts,” she said.

Jorge García, of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ Water Fund, told IPS that one of the main goals of the water plan is to store water in large reservoirs, to address the problem of scarcity.

The plan would cost about 1.2 billion dollars, he said.

“This pilot project in the Jiboa Valley will set a precedent that can be replicated,” he said.

And while the water collected is primarily for drinking, Lorena Ramírez, from Hacienda Nueva Oriente, said that because in the rainy season the bag fills up quickly and must be drained, she plans to capture that surplus in a small well and use it in her garden.

“That way I use it to cover our main needs and irrigate my milpa (traditional corn crop) and my crops of beans, tomatoes and green beans, and without affecting the other 14 families,” she concluded.

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Back-to-Back Hurricanes Take Heavy Roll on the Caribbean

4 October 2017 - 12:58pm

A seven-year old boy stands in front of debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Credit: UNICEF/UN0119399

By António Guterres

As you know, we are coming off a jam-packed High-level week and opening of the General Assembly. Some of the most important speeches during that period came from leaders of Caribbean nations reeling from back-to-back hurricanes.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda reported that the entire population of Barbuda had been left homeless. The Prime Minister of Dominica declared that he had come to the United Nations “straight from the front line of the war on climate change”.

Today I am announcing that I will travel on Saturday (October 7) to Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica to survey the damage and to assess what more the United Nations can do to help people recover, visiting of course also the operations that are taking place there.

When I met them last month, I was struck most of all by a prevailing message from all the Caribbean leaders – including from the hardest hit countries. Yes, they said, we urgently need support today. But even in the wake of utter devastation, they urged the world to act for tomorrow.

As I said in my address to the General Assembly, we should not link any single weather event with climate change. But scientists are clear that such extreme weather is precisely what their models predict, and they predict it will be the new normal of a warming world. I would like to share some relevant data about what we are seeing.

First, some facts about this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Irma, which devastated Barbuda, was a Category 5 hurricane for three consecutive days – this is the longest on satellite record. Irma’s winds reached 300 kilometers per hour for 37 hours — the longest on record at that intensity.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma marked the first time that two Category 4 storms made landfall in the United States in the same year. And, of course, they were followed by Hurricane Maria, which decimated Dominica and had severe impacts across Puerto Rico.

It is rare to see so many storms of such strength so early in the season.

Second, some facts about the changes in major climate systems. Sea levels have risen more than 10 inches since 1870. Over the past 30 years, the number of annual weather-related disasters has nearly tripled, and economic losses have quintupled.

Scientists are learning more and more about the links between climate change and extreme weather. Climate change is warming the seas. This, in turn, means more water vapor in the atmosphere. When storms come, they bring more rain.

A warmer climate turbocharges the intensity of hurricanes. Instead of dissipating, they pick up fuel as they move across the ocean. The melting of glaciers, and the thermal expansion of the seas, means bigger storm surges. With more and more people living on coastlines, the damage is, and will be that much greater.

Scientific models have long predicted an increase in the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. This is precisely what is happening – and even sooner than expected. To date, the United Nations and its partners have provided a variety of humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean region by air and by sea: 18 tons of food; 3 million water purification tablets; 3,000 water tanks; 2,500 tents; 2,000 mosquito nets and school kits; 500 debit cards for cash assistance; and much else.

We have launched appeals for $113.9 million to cover humanitarian needs for the immediate period ahead. I commend those countries that are showing solidarity with the Caribbean countries at this time of dire need, including those doing so through South-South cooperation.

But on the whole, I regret to report, the response has been poor. I urge donors to respond more generously in the weeks to come. The United Nations will continue to help countries in the Caribbean to strengthen disaster preparedness, working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

We are strongly committed to helping small island states and, indeed, all countries to adapt to inevitable climate impacts, to increase the pace of recovery and to strengthen resilience overall. Innovative financing mechanisms will be crucial in enabling countries, like the Caribbean ones, to cope with external shocks of such significant magnitude.

We know that the world has the tools, the technologies and the wealth to address climate change. But we must show more determination in moving towards a green, clean, sustainable energy future. Once again, I urge countries to implement the Paris Agreement, and with greater ambition.

That is why I will convene a Climate Summit in 2019, as you know. But today and every day, I am determined to ensure that the United Nations works to protect our common future and to seize the opportunities of climate action.

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Why American Overseas Aid Should Focus on SDGs?

4 October 2017 - 10:59am

Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

By Bjorn Lomborg

The average American believes the US spends a whopping third of its federal budget on foreign aid. Consequently, a majority of people think that too much is spent on foreign aid. That is one reason US President Donald J. Trump, who has campaigned on putting the needs of Americans first, has proposed deep cuts to foreign aid in his 2018 budget.

The problem is, this common understanding is very wrong. US foreign aid in 2017 will cost $41.9 billion out of a total federal budget of $4.15 trillion or one percent. When informed of this, support for cutting aid halves, while support for increasing the budget more than doubles. The aid budget should be maintained. And the far more important question should instead be addressed: how do we get the most possible out of this spending?

We can look to recent history for reassuring evidence that US aid spending can achieve a great deal. A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew.

From 2000, the world agreed on 18 key undertakings, including halving the proportion of people in poverty, halving the proportion of people going hungry, and cutting child mortality by two-thirds.

The study concludes, “especially on matters of life and death, 2015 outcomes were not on track to happen anyhow”. The MDGs ensured that more money went to the most important areas. Improvements sped up. At least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. We know more today than ever before about how to create meaningful change with each dollar spent. More transparency should be encouraged to reassure taxpayers about how money is spent.

When the MDGs were being replaced in 2015 with a new development agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), my think-tank Copenhagen Consensus commissioned economists from around the world to analyze development priorities as they were proposed. The results are a body of work revealing what one aid dollar can achieve if spent in different ways.

I would be the first to argue that the SDGs are problematic: the simple 18 MDG targets were replaced with an impossibly long list of 169 targets. That’s just silly.

Targets such as the development of tools to monitor sustainable tourism or teaching the “knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” don’t deserve priority when malnourishment claims at least 1.4 million children’s lives annually, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation.

But our research conclusively showed that among this list, there are 19 incredibly powerful development targets. If USAID focuses more on the most effective targets, the public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition does deserve funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

Among the myriad of well-meaning environmental targets, our research shows that protecting coral reefs deserves prioritization. In addition to biodiversity benefits, healthy reefs increase fish stocks, benefitting fishermen and tourism.

Another transformative target would be universal access to contraception and family planning. At an annual cost of just $3.6 billion, allowing women control over pregnancy would mean 150,000 fewer maternal deaths and 600,000 fewer children being orphaned.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US.

If common belief were right and foreign aid really did swallow one-third of all federal resources, it may indeed make sense to focus more on American needs.

But in a world where a few dollars can do a world of difference, spending just one percent of the budget on aid seems a sensible investment.

When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

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The World Is Running Out of Much Needed New Antibiotics

4 October 2017 - 8:31am

Posters: Misuse of antibiotics and risks. Credit: WHO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

The world is running out of new antibiotics to combat the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, a new specialised report warns ahead of this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week, adding that most of the drugs currently in the clinical pipeline are modifications of existing classes of antibiotics and are only short-term solutions.

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on this issue “Antibacterial agents in clinical development – an analysis of the antibacterial clinical development pipeline, including tuberculosis” found very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections identified by the organisation as posing the “greatest threat to health,” including drug-resistant tuberculosis which kills around 250,000 people each year.
Fact sheet on antibiotic resistance

• Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
• Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.
• Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
• A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhoea – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.
• Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.

SOURCE: World Health Organization

In fact, the indiscriminate, excessive use – and misuse – of synthetic products, such as anti-microbial medicines, to kill diseases in humans, agricultural and food systems, may be a major conduit of the anti-microbial resistance that causes 700,000 human deaths each year and has the potential to raise this number to up to 10 million annually.

According to the United Nations, Antibiotic Resistance (AMR) is a natural phenomenon of micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are no longer sensitive to the effects of antimicrobial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections.

Nevertheless, commercial practices meant to increase benefits have been leading to the dramatic fact that these drugs are more and more used almost entirely to promote animal growth, the UN explains.

“Anti-microbial resistance has the potential to be even more deadly than cancer, to kill as many as 10 million people a year,” the UN warns. See: When Your Healers Become Your Killers

A Global Health Emergency

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global health emergency that will seriously jeopardize progress in modern medicine,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “There is an urgent need for more investment in research and development for antibiotic-resistant infections including TB, otherwise we will be forced back to a time when people feared common infections and risked their lives from minor surgery.”

In addition to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the UN specialised agency has identified 12 classes of priority pathogens – some of them causing common infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections – that are increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics and urgently in need of new treatments.

WHO survey reveals widespread misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance . Credit: WHO

The report identifies 51 new antibiotics and biologicals in clinical development to treat priority antibiotic-resistant pathogens, as well as tuberculosis and the sometimes deadly diarrhoeal infection Clostridium difficile. Among all these candidate medicines, however, only 8 are classed by WHO as innovative treatments that will add value to the current antibiotic treatment arsenal.

“Pharmaceutical companies and researchers must urgently focus on new antibiotics against certain types of extremely serious infections that can kill patients in a matter of days because we have no line of defence,” says Dr Suzanne Hill, Director of the Department of Essential Medicines at WHO.

To counter this threat, WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) set up the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership. On 4 September 2017, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and the Wellcome Trust pledged more than 56 million euro for this work.

“Research for tuberculosis is seriously underfunded, with only two new antibiotics for treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis having reached the market in over 70 years,” says Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of the WHO Global Tuberculosis Programme. “If we are to end tuberculosis, more than US 800 million dollars per year is urgently needed to fund research for new anti-tuberculosis medicines.”

The world health agency explains that antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines. Bacteria, not humans or animals, become antibiotic-resistant. These bacteria may infect humans and animals, and the infections they cause are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.

“The world urgently needs to change the way it prescribes and uses antibiotics. Even if new medicines are developed, without behaviour change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat. Behaviour changes must also include actions to reduce the spread of infections through vaccination, hand washing, practising safer sex, and good food hygiene.”

Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics . Credit: WHO

Rising Dangerously

Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, WHO reports, adding that new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, while a growing list of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhoea – are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective.

“Where antibiotics can be bought for human or animal use without a prescription, the emergence and spread of resistance is made worse. Similarly, in countries without standard treatment guidelines, antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians and over-used by the public. Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.”

How to Prevent, Control

Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics as well as poor infection prevention and control. Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.

According to WHO, to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, individuals can only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional; never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them; always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics, and never share or use leftover antibiotics.

Individuals can also prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.

The theme of this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week (on 13-19 November) is ‘Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics’ and the WHO says that antibiotics are a precious resource, so it is important to get the right advice before taking them.

“This not only ensures you and your family get the best treatment, responsible use of antibiotics will also help reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance.”

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Greater Cooperation To Strengthen Taxation

3 October 2017 - 6:25am

Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 2017 (IPS)

Since the 1950s, there has been a popular dance called the ‘limbo rock’, with the winner leaning back as much as possible to get under the bar. Many of today’s financial centres are involved in a similar game to attract customers by offering low tax rates and banking secrecy.

How Low Can You Go?
This has, in turn, forced many governments to lower direct taxes not only on income, but also on wealth. From the early 1980s, this was dignified by US President Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Professor Arthur Laffer’s curve which claimed higher savings, investments and growth with less taxes.

Following a long hiatus, Laffer is now making a comeback with the recent election of Donald Trump who has espoused a similar claim that lower taxes will lead to higher growth, lifting all American boats. It remains to be seen how President Trump will reconcile this with his promise to build and improve infrastructure in the US, which many hope will finally create the basis for the long awaited recovery following the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

With the decline of government revenue from direct taxes, especially income tax, following Laffer’s advice, many governments were forced to cut spending, often by reducing public services, raising user-fees and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Beyond a point, there seemed to be little room left for further cuts, while governments had to raise revenue to fund its functions.

This increasingly came from indirect taxes, especially on consumption, as trade taxes declined with trade liberalization. Many countries have since adopted value added taxation (VAT), touted in recent decades by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others as the superior form of taxation: after all, once the VAT system is functioning, raising rates is relatively easy.

Instead, a progressive tax system would seek to ensure that those with more ability to do so, would pay proportionately more tax than those with less ability to do so. Instead, tax systems have become increasingly regressive, with the growing middle class bearing the main tax burden.

Meanwhile, tax competition among developing countries has not only reduced tax revenue, but also made direct taxation less progressive, while the growth of VAT has made the overall impact of taxation more regressive as the rich pay proportionately less tax with all the loopholes available to them, both nationally and abroad. Although there are many reasons for income inequality, untaxed assets have undoubtedly also increased both wealth and income inequalities at both national and international levels.

After Panama

Following the Panama revelations, most Western government leaders have pledged tough action against tax evasion and avoidance, especially by those using developing country tax havens. In the face of continued failure to deliver on the almost half-century old United Nations commitment to provide aid to developing countries equivalent to 0.7 per cent of their national incomes, then OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) chair, Erik Solheim, proposed greater tax cooperation instead.

After all, many developing countries are not devoid of financial assets, but so much has been taken out and hidden by wealthy elites in private financial institutions, especially in ‘offshore’ tax havens.

But since most using tax havens seek assets in OECD countries, the Paris-based organization has historically focused efforts on very limited matters of concern to their members. Hence, they have blocked efforts to give the UN a stronger mandate to advance international cooperation on taxation, culminating in the modest Addis Ababa Action Agenda declared at the third UN Financing for Development conference in July 2015.

As major users of such facilities themselves, many developing country elites have been conspicuously silent in the face of the Panama revelations of what they have long enabled and practiced. After all, much of what is involved is publicly considered illicit, immoral, and even ‘sinful’, even if not illegal. As Warren Buffett and the group of ‘patriotic millionaires’ in the US have noted, the rich currently pay less in tax than most of their lowest paid employees.

Reversing the slide
Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax as in the US and Canada.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should seek to enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

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Women and Girls: The Hardest Hit Rohingya Refugees

3 October 2017 - 2:52am

A group of young Rohingya girls collect drinking water for their families from a local pump in Balhukali settlement, Bangladesh. Credit: Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

By Paolo Lubrano
BANGLADESH, Oct 3 2017 (IPS)

Of the nearly half a million Rohingya refugees who’ve fled across the border and have sought refuge in Bangladesh, women and girls are the most at risk, sleeping under open skies, roadsides, and forest areas with little or no protection.

More than two-thirds have no shelter, half have no drinking water, and with the existing camps and host communities underequipped to deal with such a large influx, the ground situation is chaotic and volatile. We at Oxfam are seriously concerned about abuse and exploitation of women and children.

The majority of Rohingya refugees are women and children. Initial assessments suggest that 53% are female, 58% percent are under the age of 18, and 10% are either pregnant or lactating mothers. Many have lost their families, communities, and all their possessions, and after an emotionally and physically grueling journey across the border, they are left with little hope.

They are greeted with overburdened camps and impoverished communities. The already appalling ground conditions have only been made worse by the recent torrential downpours which have also slowed delivery of aid and construction of facilities like wells, toilets, and shelter. There are reports of outbreaks of fevers, respiratory infections, dysentery, and diarrhea.

The scale of the needs is enormous with a majority struggling for life-saving essentials like clean drinking water, food, medical supplies and essential facilities. In early September, the humanitarian partners estimated that 58 million liters of water is needed daily, 1.5 million kilos of rice is needed every month, and that 60,000 shelters, 20,000 toilets, and identifying land for more camps are among the most pressing needs. As the influx grows, so do the needs, and those of women, girls, and young children must be more carefully assessed and elaborated.

As of 25th September 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), identified 180 cases of sexual violence against women and girls. Given the lack of safe spaces and reporting mechanisms, this figure can only be seen as the tip of the iceberg. Further, as William Lacy Swing, the Director General of the UN Migration Agency rightly puts it in his media statement, it is impossible to understand the scale of violence just by the number of reported cases.

Razida, 35 carries her ten month old son Anisul through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Razida arrived in Bangladesh 20 days ago after walking for six days with her eight children. She brought nothing with her when she fled Myanmar and had to ask for food from people on the way. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

The forms of violence include, and is not limited to, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. A significant number of teenage girls are married, many are with children and pregnant, which makes the challenge of supporting them even more urgent.

Oxfam has so far supported nearly 140,000 people by providing clean drinking water and emergency food supplies, and by building facilities like tube wells and toilets in camps. Our dignity kits will include hygiene items for women, girls, and children.

We are also supporting local government and partners to design and build camps that are better equipped to meet the needs of the refugee population, especially women and girls. We advocate for adequate facilities to ensure that their safety and wellbeing are protected. For example, separate toilets, bathing areas, social spaces, and well-lit and safe access paths are essential to ensure protection of women and children. When there is a lack of child and women-friendly spaces, the risk of exploitation and violence is much higher.

Prevention of and support to the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence must be increased significantly. We underline the need for psycho-social support for all women, girls, and children, and especially those who’ve survived acts of violence.

We commend the efforts of the Bangladesh government, humanitarian partners, and local communities in providing life-saving assistance for the nearly half a million refugees. However, less than half the funding for the $77 million USD appeal launched by the humanitarian community a month ago has been committed so far.

Since then, the number of refugees has nearly doubled, the influx continues, and the needs of the more vulnerable populations such as women, girls, and children are yet to be fully responded to. Oxfam asks the governments, donors, and individuals to act now so that we can provide life-saving support immediately.

To learn more and support Oxfam’s response, please visit:

The post Women and Girls: The Hardest Hit Rohingya Refugees appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Society’s Success Builds on the Legacy of Its Elders

2 October 2017 - 3:42pm

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Oct 2 2017 (Geneva Centre)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Older Persons, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Ambassador Idriss Jazairy urged the world society to facilitate the increased participation and involvement of elderly people in societies.

Idriss Jazairy

He noted that the “world is witnessing a demographic shift in which the world’s elderly population – aged 65 and above – has nearly doubled in the last 50 years. The World Bank estimates that nearly 10% of the world population are aged above 65 with the highest share – approximately 1/5 of the population –in North America and in Europe.”

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director deplored the misleading and flawed narrative depicting elders as a burden to modern societies. Ambassador Jazairy mentioned that the Arabic and Islamic traditions embrace elders as a social asset – enjoying widespread respect and esteem within societies. That tradition could serve as a source of inspiration for advanced societies:

The Arabic and Islamic traditions consider ageing as a source of wisdom for which elders gain more respect and admiration from other social components the older they get. In certain advanced societies, ageing is considered as a handicap excluding elderly people from meaningful participation in societies and at times relegating them to geriatric homes.

The world society needs to develop a model that gives space for elders to contribute to the well-being of our modern societies. International decision-makers have spoken for decades about the need to address the ‘greying of societies’ implying that elder persons constitute a burden to modern societies.

Instead of embracing our elders who sowed the seeds of our modern society’s successes, the status of elders in many societies is becoming that of a forgotten and marginalized segment of population. Exclusion and rejection of elders are becoming the norms in many parts of the world. This is civilisation in reverse.

Isolation and remoteness of elders will not enable the society to harness their wisdom and intellect. A new social model needs to be identified in which elders are allowed to participate in, and contribute to, the economic development of our societies; they should not be excluded from the workforce by ‘ageism.’

In addition to the economic involvement of elders, governments must promote policies enabling meaningful involvement of elders in all spheres of society encompassing cultural, social, health and political spheres in line with the provisions set forth in the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Elders must have a central position in the family and children should be obligated by law to provide support and protection for their parents. Society’s success builds on the legacy of its elders. Neglecting approximately 1/10 of the world population will not contribute to a sustainable future,” concluded the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre.

The post Society’s Success Builds on the Legacy of Its Elders appeared first on Inter Press Service.

These Young Women Want the Power Seat in UN Security Council

2 October 2017 - 2:35pm

Students at the Asian University for Women, in Bangladesh, performing a Christmas Carol performance. In the author’s international relations class, all his students want to “play” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador, in Security Council simulations.

By Herman T. Salton, PassBlue*
CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

If you want to understand how Donald Trump’s America is being perceived by women in the global South, my students are a good place to start.

I teach international relations at an all-female liberal arts college in Chittagong, Bangladesh, which follows a Western curriculum and is attended by 700 enthusiastic young women from 16 countries in Asia and the Middle East. Syria and Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all represented, as is Palestine.

Most of our students at the Asian University for Women are the first in their families to go to university. Many come from war-torn societies. Although the university is largely supported by Western donors, not one of our students heeds from — or has been schooled in — the West.

Like liberal arts colleges elsewhere, we take a holistic approach to education, focusing on life-long skills, such as ethical leadership and critical thinking (“fake news” is a growing concern). Our classes tend to be small, student-centered and discussion-based — in a region where schools encourage rote-learning, female literacy is low and patriarchy dominates.

Because of its normative mission, social justice is the core of what we do: virtually all of our students are on full scholarships, and the institution relies almost entirely on donations.

The divide between idealism and reality is often stark, so mechanisms are in place to address it. A pre-collegiate year assists students in bridging language gaps and developing critical thinking skills, while a pre-foundation year enables two groups of heavily marginalized young women — Rohingya immigrants and garment workers — to find a path into education.

Through a unique scheme, factory owners support their employees’ education by continuing to pay their salaries with the expectation that upon graduation, they will return to the factories in more senior roles.

Because of my teaching subject, since the 2016 presidential election in the United States, I have heard a fair share of views about Trump and America. Most are not positive: if, in late 2016, the sense among our students was one of disbelief that the US would elect Trump, his Muslim immigration ban has done more damage to America’s image here in Chittagong than anything I have seen in a long time. How can such an advanced democracy elect somebody like him is a common question.

As a secular university located in a Muslim-majority country where the US is considered an indispensable but arrogant superpower, these views are hardly surprising. More intriguing is the complex and contradictory approach adopted by most of my students toward the US, the United Nations and the Trump administration, including the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

But let me step back, when a pedagogical dilemma awaited me upon arrival here in late 2013: should international relations and the UN be taught irrespective of students’ backgrounds? In other words, is it the students who ought to adapt to the teacher or the reverse? Not having given much thought to this question, it was with a confidence born out of ignorance that I went to my first class — on Syria, of all topics.

The experience was memorable: within minutes, hands shot up and questions were asked that exposed not only the inadequacy of my approach, but also the Western-centric and parochial nature of my discipline, one that is supposedly global in outlook.

How can war be humanitarian? Why should we rely on the UN, given that it was established — and is controlled — by the US? And, why should we trust the US more than we trust Russia or China? These were some of the questions I faced in the first minutes of my first class.

Testier queries awaited me: why are non-Western regions and issues underrepresented in your course? Why do our readings ignore non-Western contributions? And, trickiest of all, Don’t you think that your Western identity affects your teaching?

This was no facile anti-Americanism; it was people from different backgrounds coming together. As I soon discovered, teaching humanitarian intervention feels rather different when your pupils include people whose parents have been killed by coalition bombs.

The fact that I am a man teaching at a college with a Western curriculum but with a non-Western female student body makes the experience all the more fascinating. I threw away my notes, discarded my PowerPoint slides and engaged in a debate with my students that has been continuing for the last five years.

What I did notice in my students’ attitudes to the US and the UN is that they are hardly linear. As one would expect from a motivated group of people trained not to take anything at face value, most of my students are critical of America’s dominance in world politics.

Many also question what they see as UN passivity and –perhaps more surprisingly — its human-rights regime, which some see as a byword for Western dominance. Though this is a legitimate view, it harbors contradictions that usually come to the fore during class exercises and simulations.

While few of my students see the US as a force for good — most associate its foreign policy, including former President Obama’s, with self-interest and neo-imperialism — they admire the superpower’s ability to “get its way.”

In simulations of UN Security Council meetings, for instance, most students want to “play” the US role — or at least another powerful country — because of its dominance and the (mistaken) belief that America’s high profile will result in higher grades (nobody wants to play the hapless Bhutanese ambassador)!

As a powerful woman, the role of Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN, is in especially high demand, and I was surprised at the ease with which my students adapted to her positions on issues as diverse as North Korea, Iran and climate change.

Interestingly, they all want to “play” Haley regardless of Trump’s harsh policies. That she is seen as an influential diplomat appears to exert special fascination (Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton are equally popular) for the students. Power, it seems, is despised only when one does not have enough of it.

The fact that Haley is Indian-American does not seem to affect my students’ views of her. To give an example of their sentiments, most of my students dislike Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist for global girls’ education, viewing her as a pawn of the West.

A final tension involves the issue of human rights. Though one can see why some of my students would be skeptical of the UN’s ability to enforce such rights, the skepticism varies. So, while freedom of expression –especially the secular type — is often considered a foreign implant, religious freedom scores better.

Yet it is gender equality that lies at the top of their priority list, with virtually all my students arguing that women’s rights are universal, rather than a product of Western dominance.

For most of the students, as for most people anywhere, some human rights are clearly more universal than others: a reminder that what unites us is bigger than what divides us.

*(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Making an Economic Case for Climate Action

2 October 2017 - 11:16am

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report.

Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy and public health and urges for policies to move the country towards a sustainable future.

“It’s not about ideology, it’s about good business sense,” the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the report’s co-author James McCarthy told IPS.

“Many people say that they will not have the discussion because they are not convinced of the science—well then, let’s just look at the economics, let’s look at what it is costing to not have that discussion,” he continued.

A Wake of Destruction

The U.S. is still reeling from an unprecedented month of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires, devastating landscapes from Puerto Rico to Washington.

Hurricane Maria alone left Puerto Rican residents without food, water, or electricity. Approximately 44 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water and just 11 out of 69 hospitals have fuel or power, pushing the island to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

“This year was nothing like we’ve seen,” said McCarthy.

Though aid delivery is underway, the economic losses from not only Hurricane Maria, but also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma along with the wildfires that swept through the Western coast, are estimated to be the costliest weather events in U.S. history.

The report estimates a price-tag of nearly 300 billion dollars in damage, representing 70 percent of the costs of all 92 weather events in the last decade.

Since hurricane season is yet to end, more expensive and damaging storms may still be in the forecast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, the number of extreme weather events that incurred at least one billion dollars in economic losses and damages have increased in the last decade by almost two and a half times.

Such losses will only rise as human-induced climate change continues, contributing to dry conditions favorable for more wildfires and warm oceans which lead to more intense storms and higher sea levels.

McCarthy, who is also an Oceanography Professor at Harvard University, told IPS that investments beyond creating hurricane-proof infrastructure are needed to counter such damage.

“Infrastructure is important, but everything we can do to reduce the intensity of these events, by slowing the rate of global warming, will make future infrastructure more likely to be effective,” he said.

An Unhealthy Dependence

Among the major drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which the U.S. continues to rely on to produce energy.

Coal, oil and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuels— currently account for over 80 percent of the primary energy generated and used in the North American nation. When such fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released to the atmosphere, contributing to rapid changes in the climate.

Though emissions regulations have reduced air pollution health damages by 35 percent, or nearly 67 billion dollars per year, burning fossil fuels still produces health costs that average 240 billion dollars every year.

If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least 360 billion dollars annually, or 55 percent of U.S.’ growth, over the next decade.

And the government won’t be footing the expensive bill, the report notes.

“Time after time, we are going to see the public bearing the costs…it becomes a personal burden for them,” McCarthy told IPS.

He highlighted the importance of the U.S. taking steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“To move people, literally and figuratively, into the future to be more healthy and more sustainable and a less expensive way of doing business just makes sense,” McCarthy said.

Not only will it provide sustainable clean electricity and reduce the rate of global warming, renewable energy also can add to the economy by producing jobs.

Clean energy already employs almost 2 million workers, and doubling solar and wind generation can create another 500,000 jobs.

In order to successfully transition to a low-carbon economy, investments are essential, some of which can potentially come from taxing carbon emissions, the report states. A carbon tax aims to reduce emissions and promote a more efficient use of energy, including the transition to electric cars.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a tax on carbon emissions can potentially produce revenues of up to 200 billion dollars in the U.S. within the next decade.

The carbon tax has been a controversial policy, with some expressing concern that companies will simply shift the cost to the consumer by way of increasing the prices of gasoline and electricity.

However, McCarthy noted that the public already currently bears the burden in terms of damages from extreme weather events and unhealthy air expenses.

A Government Denial

Despite the evidence for climate change and the role of fossil fuels in driving such change, U.S. President Donald Trump has begun to unravel many essential environmental protections.

Not only did his administration announce the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement, but it is currently working to dismantle the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants across the country.

The move is tied to President Trump’s repeated calls to renew investments in the coal industry, claiming that it will bring back jobs.

McCarthy said that these actions are not “borne out by the facts.”

“The notion that you will be able to return the U.S. to a coal economy—there is no evidence for that. And secondly, if you are going to create jobs, the sensible way to create them is in a forward-looking area such as renewable energy rather than the highly risky and repeated exposure of coal,” he told IPS.

In spite of a national strategy that may exacerbate climate change, McCarthy said that cities and states are taking the lead and will continue to move in the right direction regardless of bipartisan politics.

Iowa is the leading U.S. state in wind power with over 35 percent of its electricity generated from wind energy.

In Oklahoma, where U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt hails from, 25 percent of electricity comes from wind energy.

“When you look at a state like Iowa and see [their] electricity is coming from wind energy, it doesn’t say anything about the politics of Iowa—it says something about people being sensible about how they spend their money and what they invest in to get a particular product,” McCarthy said.

The U.S.’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world. Since the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will take time, McCarthy expressed hope that the U.S. will change its course.

“We hope over that period of time that [President Trump] will see that this partnership has enormous value and not only what the U.S. is doing that affects the rest of the world but vice versa,” he said.

“We should find reason to join efforts with the community of nations that have recognized, much like what we try to say in this report, that if we don’t do something, these are going to be very expensive and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences of this sort of neglect,” McCarthy concluded.

The EPA is expected to release a revised version of the CPP in the coming weeks, and it is expected to be significantly weaker than the original.

Governments will be convening in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The focus will be on how to implement issues including emissions reductions, provision of finance, and technology.

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The world community must support the efforts of Bangladesh and the UN in offering temporary refuge and protection to the Rohingyans

2 October 2017 - 9:58am

2017 World Habitat Day – 2 October 2017

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
Geneva/Dubai, Oct 2 2017 (Geneva Centre)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim appealed to the world community to provide financial, technical and material assistance to Bangladesh and the UN in providing adequate housing and shelter to the approximately 700,000 Rohingyan refugees – entrenched in Bangladesh – after fleeing persecution and oppression in Myanmar. Al Qassim’s appeal came in the wake of the deplorable humanitarian situation unfolding in the region and on the occasion of the 2017 World Habitat Day.

Rohingya children wait after arriving to Shahparir Dip in Teknaf, Bangladesh. Credit: IPS

The world community has a responsibility to provide support and assistance to neighbouring states providing refuge to the Rohingyans fleeing persecution, ethnic cleansing and maltreatment in Myanmar,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman noted that the provision of adequate shelter to refugees “is stipulated in Article 21 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and in Article 18 of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. International law guarantees the realization of the right to adequate shelter and housing to refugees in the context of forcible displacement of people.”

Dr. Al Qassim likewise echoed the views of the United Nations calling upon the government of Myanmar to allow for an international fact-finding mission to investigate the gravity of the human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingyans by Burmese security forces in line with Resolution 34/22 – adopted on 24 March 2017 – by the UN Human Rights Council.

Evidence from satellite images – as reported by international media – confirms that more than 200 villages have been pillaged and burned to the ground in a deliberate attempt to forcibly expel – once and for all – the Rohingyans from Myanmar.

An international fact-finding mission must be given access to visit the Rakhine State and undertake an objective and impartial assessment of the gravity of human rights violations inflicted on the civilian population. Myanmar has a duty and an obligation – as a member State of the UN – to comply with the founding principles of the Charter of the UN to maintain international peace and security. Despite the fact that the Rohingyans have lived for centuries in Myanmar, their citizenship and even their basic human rights are being blatantly denied and violated,” added Dr. Al Qassim.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman was also concerned about recent reports warning about the outbreak of diseases and hunger in refugee camps sheltering Rohingyans owing to lack of access to food, water and sanitation.

He said that “the deplorable situation of the Rohingyans could turn into a humanitarian tragedy if the world community continues to remaining silent about, or fails to fully address, the plight of the Rohingyan people. I call upon the world community to support the efforts of Bangladesh and the UN to ensure temporary refuge and protection to the Rohingyans and to assert their citizenship rights in, and their right to return to, Myanmar. We cannot turn a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing and the genocide and their ominous projections – as observed by the UN special advisor for the prevention of genocide Adama Dieng in September 2017 who said: ‘In fact it can be the precursor to all the egregious crimes – and I mean genocide’ – that is unfolding in Myanmar,” Dr. Al Qassim concluded in his statement.

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Non-violence and lasting peace are key to secure the long-term stability of the Arab region

2 October 2017 - 6:26am

International Day of Non-Violence – 2 October 2017

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
Geneva/Dubai, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim is calling on the international community to address the surge of extremist violence exacerbating the volatile security situation in the Arab region. This appeal was made by Dr. Al Qassim in relation to the commemoration of the 2017 International Day of Non-Violence observed on 2 October 2017.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The Arab region is witnessing yet again a wave of extremist violence owing to the proliferation of local and international conflicts. Armed conflicts and internal upheavals in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have resulted in the displacement of millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the surge of extremist violence and armed conflict which undermine the long-term stability of the Arab region,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman warned against extremist violence and related external military interventions in the Arab region which “provide fertile ground for terrorist groups to spread and justify its heinous and deadly ideology in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. “

In order to address the volatile security situation in the Arab region, Dr. Al Qassim appealed to “countries in the West and in the Arab region to work together to defeat all extremist and violent groups causing destruction and death in societies in the West, the Middle East and North Africa alike. All societies – regardless of religious beliefs and geographical location – are targets of the poisonous ideology of such extremist and violent groups.”

Dr. Al Qassim also noted that military victory over terrorism will “only bring a short-term solution to the Arab region as building lasting and sustainable peace requires addressing inter alia the root-causes of conflict, injustice, inequality, poverty and lack of social development.” He therefore stated that “the international community must provide an enabling environment allowing countries in the Arab region – affected by conflict and violence – to rebuild their societies through reconciliation, dialogue, respect for human rights and non-violence.”

He further noted that the spirit of the great Statesman of the Global South – Mahatma Gandhi like his African counterpart Nelson Mandela – should serve as an example for international decision-makers in promoting peace and justice in every corner of the world. In this regard, he stated that “the 2017 International Day of Non-Violence – observed today in commemoration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi – is an opportunity for world society to commemorate the non-violent ideology of a world Statesman who believed in promoting peace and justice worldwide.”

Non-violence and lasting peace are key to securing the long-term stability of the Arab region and to promoting a sustainable future. On the commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence, let the spirit of Gandhi guide the efforts of decision-makers in achieving this goal and in bringing justice, to all countries and in particular to those that suffer most in the Arab region,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Global Green Growth Week 2017: Unlocking Africa’s Green Growth Potential – October 17-20, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2 October 2017 - 4:41am

By IPS World Desk
Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

The Global Green Growth Institute in partnership with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia will hold Global Green Growth Week 2017 on October 17-20, 2017, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

#GGGWeek2017 will gather GGGI members, stakeholders from the public and private sectors, international organizations, and civil society to strengthen and catalyze green growth in Africa and globally in order to achieve Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement and make progress on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

#GGGWeek2017 will address a number of key topics, including: Mobilizing green/climate finance to bankable projects in developing countries; Sustainably managing resources to address water and food security challenges; and Developing and adopting policies that drive environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economic growth.

Visit the GGGWeek2017 website here:

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The Attack on the Rohingya Refugee Safe House: We Must Hang Our Collective Heads in Shame

1 October 2017 - 4:54am

By Javid Yusuf
Oct 1 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The unseemly incident at the UNHCR safe house at Mt. Lavinia last week where the 30 Rohingya refugees had been located highlights the fact that the seeds of racism planted during the time of the previous regime have still not been uprooted.

Apart from the fact that the purveyors of hate like Sinhala Ravaya, Ravana Balaya and Bodu Bala Sena are lurking in the background making use of every opportunity to stoke the flames of religious and racial hate, what is even more disconcerting is the fact that new outfits such as Mahason Balakaya and Sinha-le and some others have cropped up taking advantage of the new climate of freedom that the Yahapalana Government has ushered in.

These groups seem to be undeterred by the fact that the country as a whole has spoken up loud and clear on January 8, 2015 rejecting the path of hate and embracing a path of reconciliation on which platform President Mathripala Sirisena and the UNP campaigned.

It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka which has been a model of co-existence and inter-communal harmony over centuries, notwithstanding the brutal armed conflict of the last three decades, is facing the current situation of uncertainty due to the actions of a few who with callous disregard to human values as well as Sri Lanka’s name are acting in this manner.

It is even worse when a few members of the clergy are associated with such mobs who seem to be wanting to take the law into their own hand to achieve their own objectives. This is a continuation of the philosophy of the Bodu Bala Sena who declared and acted during the previous regime as an unofficial police force.

Last week’s incident targeting the Rohingya refugees witnessed the presence of individuals who had been previously arrested and bailed out for similar incidents of hate speech brazenly acting in violation of such bail conditions. The incident also saw the Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary who had been somewhat silent following the recent legal proceedings coming out of the woodwork and adding his bit in support of the attack on the refugees at a subsequent news conference.

As was well known and officially confirmed after the incident last week, these Rohingya refugees did not come to Sri Lanka on their own volition. They had been travelling in a boat to Australia or some such destination and had been rescued by our Navy when the engines in their boat had stalled.
These innocent victims of the horror that is currently being enacted in Myanmar numbering 30 including 15 children and 7 women had been thereafter produced in the Sri Lankan Courts where order had been made by the Magistrate that they be handed over to the UNHCR to be cared for and thereafter sent to another country. It is the UNHCR that had arranged for them to be located in the safe house at Mt. Lavinia.

The members of the mob that targeted these refugees if they were genuinely concerned about the presence of these refugees should have gone like any other law-abiding citizen and informed the Mt. Lavinia Police who would undoubtedly have inquired into the matter and appraised them of the situation. Instead as has been the practice in the past by this group and those of their ilk they attempted to take the law into their hands and terrorise these unfortunate human beings.

Consequently, the authorities have been compelled to transfer them to the Boosa detention camp for their own safety. The situation that the Rohingya refugees are compelled to face can best be described by the Sinhala phrase ‘Gahen Weticcha Minihata Gona Anna Wage’ which translated into English means ‘Like being gored by a bull after having fallen from a tree.”

The action or inaction of the Police officers present at the scene has also come in for criticism by some. In fairness to the Police officers, video footage clearly showed them valiantly taking all efforts to prevent the mob entering the safe house. The mob was heard warning the Police not to lay hands on the clergy and clearly the Police would have been uncertain as to how to handle the situation by arresting the miscreants or taking any further action.

The Police, who are the guardians of law and order and are, therefore, in the frontline in situations of this nature, have to be given clear and unambiguous guidelines by the Government as to how such situations have to be handled. Such directions must be given wide publicity to ensure that those who wish to take the law into their own hands will think twice before doing so. The failure to do so without further delay will leave the Police uncertain as to what would be their fate if they took action in accordance with the law of the land against such mobs and with particular reference to members of the clergy who act in contravention of such laws. This is all the more important because these violent mobs attempt to use the presence of the clergy and put them in the forefront to prevent the Police from acting.

A classic example of such a predicament faced by the Police is the incident before the UN headquarters in Colombo where the Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa was engaging in a fast unto death during the previous dispensation. A senior Police Officer was taking steps to control the unruly crowd when he was given a phone call and asked to step back by some higher authority. While he was doing so, one of the members of the unruly crowd humiliated the officer by dislodging his cap in the full view of television cameras and the officer had to eat humble pie and take no action.

That the Police are capable of taking action where necessary is seen by another episode. A few months back when there was a spate of attacks on Muslim places of worship and Muslim businesses, the National Shoora Council together with other civil society orgainsations like the Puravesi Balaya and the National Movement for Social Justice made representations to the Inspector General of Police and urged him to take action to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. One of the measures proposed to the IGP was to have mobile patrols in potential trouble spots. The IGP took prompt action. Consequently all the attacks came to an immediate stop.

In arresting this menace of hate-mongering, the behavior of politicians is a critical factor. The Joint Opposition does not seem to be learning from its past and continues to repeat its mistakes which became a contributing factor in their defeat at the last elections. National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa and another NFF Parliamentarian raised the issue of the Rohingya refugees housed in Mt. Lavinia in Parliament last week without a word of condemnation against the targetting of these refugees.

In contrast, Government Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Rajitha Senaratne and Lakshman Kiriella condemned the actions of these mobs and called upon the Police to take stringent action. At the same news conference at which Minister Rajitha Senaratne did not mince his words when he condemned the actions of the mob at Mt. Lavinia, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera chose his words carefully and struck a different note when he only explained that the refugees were here temporarily and would not be given citizenship but carefully avoided any condemnation of the mob attack in Mt. Lavinia.

The JVP too has come out strongly and condemned the incident.

Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the news conference that the matter would be taken up at the next Cabinet meeting. It will be salutary if the Cabinet appoints a Cabinet sub Committee to immediately formulate a plan to address the issues relating to hate-mongering and to suggest ways and means of countering such actions.

The Rohingya refugees are some of the most marginalised people in the world. They are poor and deprived of citizenship in the land of their birth and are being hounded and killed in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a text book case of ethnic cleansing. The international community, including the Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, have unreservedly condemned this unfolding human tragedy.

Yet a mob that includes members of the clergy sought to attack the safe house where these refugees, three fourths of whom were women and children, were housed, without showing an ounce of human compassion for their plight.

As Sri Lankans we must surely hang our collective head in shame at the uncivilised and heartless actions of a few of our countrymen.

If the members of the mob paused for a moment to put themselves in the shoes of the helpless refugees who had been driven away from their homeland, relocated temporarily in alien territory in another country where they did not know the language of the land and depended on the largesse of the UN and suddenly found themselves being targeted by a screaming mob, they may have thought twice.

But they did not consider about the impact their actions had on the unfortunate women and children who must have been terrified inside the safe house. Instead they acted in complete variance with the character of the Sri Lankan nation nourished by the teachings of the four great religions and well known for its hospitable and kind nature.

Even in the dark days of July 1983 it was a microscopic few who attacked and killed the Tamils while large numbers of Sinhalese and Muslims opened their doors to provide protection and look after the victims. But Sri Lanka’s proud standing in the world and as a respected member of the Non Aligned Movement and as a country that stood up for justice and peace took a severe beating due to the actions of a few.

Sri Lanka is only now slowly but surely rehabilitating itself and rebuilding its image in the eyes of the international community. The Government cannot allow its efforts in this area to be jeopardised by the actions of a few who are clearly unconcerned about what is right and wrong or as to what happens to the image of the country. The Government must act now before it is too late.


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

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The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

30 September 2017 - 5:43pm

Tuxá families take a break while building their new village in Surubabel, as part of what they consider the recovery of their ancestral lands, on the bank of what was previously the river where they lived, the São Francisco River, but which now is a reservoir on the border between the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Bahía. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS)

The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.

Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.

While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone." -- Manoel Jurum Afé

“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.

The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.

After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.

After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.

The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.

Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.

But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.

She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.

“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.

Dorinha Tuxá, a leader of the native Tuxá people, sings to her sacred river and smokes her “marakú”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, to ask her ancestors to help them get the lands which were promised to them when they were evicted from their island to make way for a dam in northeastern Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

After three decades of living with other local people, the Tuxás stopped wearing their native clothes, although for special occasions and rituals they put on their “cocares” (traditional feather headdresses).

They welcomed IPS with a “toré” – a collective dance open to outsiders. Another religious ceremony, “the particular”, is reserved for members of the community. That is how they honour the “enchanted”, their spirits or reincarnated ancestors.

But they are also Catholics and very devoted to Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Rodelas, which was named after Captain Francisco Rodelas, considered the first chief who fought alongside the Portuguese against the Dutch occupation of northeast Brazil in the 17th century.

Armando Apaká Caramuru Tuxá is a “pajé” – guardian of the Tuxá traditions.

“The waters covered the land where our ancestors lived. Many times I saw my grandfather sitting at the foot of a jua (Ziziphus joazeiro, a tree typical of the eco-region of the semi-arid Northeast), there on the island talking to them up there (in the sky),” he said.

“We lost all that. That place which was sacred to us was submerged under water,” he said, sadly.

The Tuxá people, who for centuries were fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers, practically gave up their subsistence crops in their new location.

Some bought small parcels of land and grow cash crops, such as coconuts.

“We need to improve our quality of life. Before we used to live on what we produced from agriculture and fishing. Today that is not possible, so we want to return to agriculture, and to do that we need our land,” Chief Uilton Tuxá told IPS.

In 2014, a decree declared some 4,392 hectares of land an “area of social interest” in order to expropriate it and transfer it to the Tuxá people.

In June of this year, they won a lawsuit in a federal court, which ruled that the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) had three months to create a working group to begin the demarcation process. It also set
a new compensation to be paid to the Tuxá people.

But distrustful of the state bureaucracy and the courts, the Tuxá people decided to occupy Surubabel, the area near their village, on the banks of the reservoir, which was expropriated in order for it to be demarcated in their favor, but this never happened.

They began to build a new village there, in what they call “the recovery” of their lands.

“The occupation of this land by us, the Tuxá people, represents the rekindling of the flame of our identity as an indigenous people native to this riverbank. We were already here, since the beginning of the colonization process, even in the 16th century when the first catechists arrived,” argued Uilton Tuxá.

“We want to build this small village for the government to fulfill its obligations and the order to delimit our territory,” he said.

During the week they have other activities. They are public employees or work on their plots of land. But on Saturdays they load their tools in their vehicles and build their houses in the traditional way.

“Nowadays a lot of land in this sacred territory of the Tuxás is being invaded by non-indigenous people and also by indigenous people from other ethnic groups,” chief Xirlene Liliana Xurichana Tuxá told IPS.

“We were the first indigenous people from the Northeast to be recognized and we are the last to have the right to our land. This is just the beginning. If the justice system does not grant us our right to continue the dialogue, we will adopt forceful measures, we will mobilise. We are tired of being the good guys,” she warned, speaking as a community leader.

Meanwhile, the small portion of their ancestral land that was not submerged, and the land they occupy now, are threatened by new megaprojects.

These lands were left in the middle of two canals, on the north axis of the diversion of the São Francisco River, a project that is still under construction, which is to supply 12 million people with water.

“The Tuxá people have suffered impacts, above and beyond the dam. There is also the diversion of the river and the possibility that they might build a nuclear plant will also affect us,” said Uilton Tuxá, smoking his marakú during a break.

They say the marakú attracts protective forces. And this time they hope these forces will help them to get the land promised to them when their ancestral land was taken away, and that they will not lose it again to new megaprojects.

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A Taste of India in Australia’s Hinterland

29 September 2017 - 10:23am

Julmat Khan [center] cooking with two other migrant chefs at his Little Indian restaurant in Broome, Western Australia. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
BROOME, Western Australia, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Julmat Khan migrated from the seaside resort town of Digha in West Bengal, India, about 14 years ago to the coastal tourist town of Broome in Western Australia. He is amongst a small proportion of international migrants to have settled in a regional town instead of Australia’s popular metropolises of Sydney and Melbourne.

Only 20 percent of international migrants settle in regional Australia, which is home to approximately one-third of the nearly 24 million populace. Often international migrants are seen as an option of last resort for regional communities that need more people, but the Canberra-based economic and political think tank, Regional Australia Institute (RAI), believes they should be the top priority. Broome, renowned for pearling and home to the Aboriginal Yawuru people, has been a melting pot of cultures since the 1800s.

A father of three young children, Khan says, “The slow-paced lifestyle is similar to what I was used to back home and it is ideal for raising a family. My parents were farmers, but I trained as a chef. I have been running my own restaurants here, improvising on my mother and grandmother’s Bengali and Oriya cooking styles to create my own recipes.

“We grind our own spices and prepare our own paneer [Indian cottage cheese], which is a drawcard with the multicultural mix of locals and tourists. The number of visitors has been swelling with more cruise ships now sailing along the Kimberley coast, which is good for business.”

Broome, renowned for pearling and home to the Aboriginal Yawuru people, has been a melting pot of cultures since the 1800s. It has attracted migrants from Japan, China, Malaysia, Philippines, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa; and in recent years from Thailand and India. Indians comprised 4.8 percent of recent arrivals (2007-2016) in Broome, which has a population of 16,222 with the median age being 33 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Census.

RAI’s research, examining the latest 2016 Census data, found from 2011 to 2016, 151 regional Local Government Areas helped offset local population decline by attracting international migrants. For example, in the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016, the number of Australian-born locals had reduced to 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961.

“By relocating to regional areas, migrants not only provide population stability and younger residents with family-building potential, they also build diversity in the local community and create new jobs. Importantly, they help fill labour shortages in both high [such as doctors and nurses] and low [workers in abattoirs and poultry plants] skilled occupations, where positions are unable to be filled by the local workforce alone,” according to RAI’s analysis.

The small, agricultural town of Nhill in the south-eastern state of Victoria, had been facing a declining working-age population. Over a five-year period, the economic impact of increased labour supply – with 160 Karen humanitarian migrants settling in the community – in terms of Gross Regional Product is estimated to be 41.5 million dollars in net present value terms, according to a joint Adult Multicultural Education Services and Deloitte Access Economics Report published in March 2015.

“Regional communities may initially attract a small settlement group. Once they start to see some success, the process can begin to ‘snowball’, with both the community and the initial migrants helping encourage others to move to the area,” according to RAI’s The Missing Migrants report.

“Shifting the settlement of international migrants however is not primarily about numbers. It is about enabling regional communities to access people with the vital skills and resources they need to ensure their future. Furthermore, it can result in much better outcomes for migrants – especially those who come from agricultural backgrounds and would much prefer to live and work in rural areas than in metropolitan cities,” the report says.

Since 2004, the Australian Government has been providing incentives to skilled visa applicants who move to regional areas. Australia’s First Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Citizenship Policy, David Wilden says, “The Government encourages all migrants to explore Australia and seek residence and employment in regional areas. We work closely with regional authorities and State and Territory Governments to develop specialised migration programs that help fill skill shortages, boost the local economy and attract migrants to regional Australia.”

“The programs developed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection are flexible, designed to address the special circumstances of rural and regional Australia, and include concessions for regional employers,” Wilden tells IPS.

Most migrants prefer big cities because they are perceived to provide better access to education, employment and health services; and where they are more likely to find people from their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

The RAI report says. “To be successful in attracting and retaining international migrants, regional communities must work to ensure there are sufficient employment opportunities and availability of quality services and amenities (e.g. affordable housing, education, healthcare, public transport, childcare). In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, of relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones. This has been propelled by community partnerships with local businesses and local government initiatives.”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) offers a five-day Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program for refugees and migrants in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Latin America. Funded by Australia’s Department of Social Services, the program has been delivered to over 80,000 people since its inception in 2003.

IOM’s AUSCO program manager Constanze Voelkel-Hutchison tells IPS, “AUSCO is the first step in a cultural orientation journey that continues with an onshore settlement program that starts after our clients arrive in their new home. We provide them with practical advice and information on the departure and resettlement processes.

“At the most basic level, this includes how to pack a suitcase and what to expect upon arrival in Australia. We also provide guidance on the many aspects of their settlement, including employment, education and health. Most importantly, we try to empower participants to become self-sufficient.”

But it is not always easy for international migrants to be accepted in their local regional communities. As Dr David Radford from University of South Australia’s Hawke-European Union Centre for Mobilities, Migrations and Cultural Transformations says, “International migrants, especially non-European background migrants, often also bring cultural, social and religious differences that regional communities, generally more tight-knit, traditional and conservative in nature, can find difficult to embrace.

“On the other hand, there is greater acceptance where international migrants are viewed as supporting population stability and regional growth through meeting employment needs and adding resources for the community.”

“When there are members from both long-term regional communities and international migrants, who are able to bridge and promote relationship and understanding between the two communities, this increases the opportunity for acceptance, participation, and a sense of belonging in the regional community. The reverse occurs when international migrants are not seen to contribute to regional growth and/or the inability of members of local and international migrant communities to bridge social, cultural and religious differences,” Radford tells IPS.

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Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Arab Region: Where Do We Stand?

29 September 2017 - 10:18am

From left to right, H. E. Mr. Amr Ramadan, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt ; Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, H. E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Geneva Centre, H. E. Ms. Hoda Al-Helaissi, Member of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council and Dr. Susan Carland, Director of Monash University's Bachelor of Global Studies in Australia, during the panel discussion on “Women’s rights in the Arab world: between myth and reality” organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on 15 September 2017, at the UN Geneva.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy and H. E. Ms. Naela Mohamed
GENEVA, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and gender equality should remain a central objective of the world community. The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes specific provisions to member States of the United Nations – notably through SDG 5 – to commit to enhancing gender equality and to give women a stronger voice in the fight for equality. The Preamble of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for “equal rights” to be enjoyed by “men and women”: 69 years later, gender equality has not only been recognised for what it is: a fundamental human right, it is also becoming a guiding principle in the efforts of States to attain the highest ideals of a just and inclusive society and the highest rate of growth.

No society in the world can claim to have a society exempt from discrimination against women and girls. All regions of the world face their specific challenges related to the promotion and advancement of women’s rights. In the Arab region as in the West, the enhancement of the social status of women is of high importance. The barriers and the challenges which stand in the way of making impeding gender equality a reality cannot be seen as attributable solely to one region; charting a more inclusive agenda to enhance gender equality requires all regions to identify a suitable framework responding to its specific needs.

Amidst growing instability and social unrest as currently witnessed in the Middle East and North Africa region, encouraging developments are taking place in the Arab region. Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan have recently decided to repeal discriminatory laws enabling rape perpetrators to escape justice if they would opt for marrying their female victims. Tunisia has just initiated ground-breaking measures in favour of women. In the national parliaments of Algeria, Tunisia and Iraq, women occupy more than 20% of the proportion of seats for parliamentarians. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have likewise introduced legislation enabling women to benefit from equal rights and opportunities as their male compatriots. Other countries in the Arab region have likewise taken similar initiatives to advance the status of women. These developments show that the promotion and the enhancement of women’s rights in the Arab region have gained strong social acceptance within Arab societies.

Despite these encouraging signs, misperceptions and stereotyping of Arab women have become prolific news sources for mainstream media in depicting and offering a misleading picture of Arab women. The rise of extremism, Islamophobia and right-wing populism have further contributed to exacerbate the popular stereotyping of women as weak and voiceless. Societies as a whole are held further “guilty” for the alleged failures of Arab countries in advancing women’s rights. Hence the need to correct “orientalist” misperceptions.

The relations between Islam and women’s rights have also been the subject of widespread debate among women’s rights experts. Some people lacking perceptiveness consider that Islam is incompatible with women’s rights and gender equality, and that Islamic principles are hostile and discriminatory towards women. Generating simplistic solutions to challenges deriving from societal and cultural challenges – with no root in the teachings of Islam – will not solve “the mystery of Islam as a hostile religion to women.” We need to ask Arab women themselves whether they consider Islam as an emancipating factor in their efforts to achieve gender equality. According to the findings of the book “Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism” written by Dr. Susan Carland in 2017, Arab women do not see Islam as an obstacle to fight sexism, discrimination and marginalization of women. Indeed Islam’s egalitarian spirit guides women in their efforts and commitments to advance their own rights. The fact that Islam has played an important role in redefining women’s rights in modern societies is hardly given any recognition in mainstream media. This shows that we have an uphill task ahead of us.

The deconstruction of existing myths regarding the status of Arab women will enable decision-makers and women’s rights experts to identify a common agenda to promote gender equality at a global level. It will enable women’s rights experts from the Arab region and the West to shift from “naming and shaming” and proclamations of moral superiority to the enhancement of women’s rights through constructive dialogue and the identification of joint solutions. Advancing the status of women requires a unified attempt by the Arab region and the West to safeguard women’s rights from adverse policies impeding the realization of gender equality. This idea was explored during the “Women’s rights in the Arab region: between myth and reality” panel debate held on 15 September at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Now is the time to join forces and work together to make this a reality.

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Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismail Trend for Europe

29 September 2017 - 3:40am

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Generally, media have failed to analyse why the result of German elections is the worst possible. Merkel is not a winner, but a leader now in a very fragile position, who will have to make many compromises and pay now for her mistakes. Let us make at least the most important four points of analysis.

Roberto Savio

Point One: the decline of traditional parties. Now for some years, the traditional parties who have run their countries since the end of the Second World War are becoming irrelevant. The last French elections saw the practical collapse of the Socialist and Gaullist parties, with the arrival of a totally unknown candidate, Macron, who has now 60% of the seats in the Parliament. The same happened earlier in the Austrian presidential elections.

This process has now started in Germany. Merkel’s party, the CDU, had the worst performance since its creation. And its sister party, CSU (the Bavarian CDU) has lost a staggering million votes. The same has happened to the SPD, who saw the lowest approval since modern times. The two parties, who had in the last elections 67.2% of the votes, now got just 53.2%. And, as everywhere else, the missing votes went to parties who were recipients of discontent, and the desire to punish the establishment was evident. Linke, a radical left-wing party, got an additional 0.6%, by voters rejecting the increasing social inequality, and did not believe that SPD would be different from the CDU on this issue. The Green got an additional 0.5%, by those who were incensed by Merkel’s promise to increase defence costs to 2% of GDP, to please Trump. But the big winner was the AfD, an extreme right wing party, who was the conduit for people’s dissatisfaction on immigrants, on the European Union, and other nationalist and populist themes. AfD got 12.6 % of the votes, becoming the third party and with 96 members of parliament. AfD got 980.000 votes from the CDU, 470.000 from the SPD, 400.000 votes from the Linke. But, much more importantly, 1,200.000 votes from people who did not vote in the last elections. In a poll, 60% of them said that they were “disappointed with the present political situation’. At the same time the poll company Infratest Dimap, found out that 84% considered Germany’s economic situation “good”, when this was 74% four years ago, and a mere 19% eight years ago. The elections were not clearly on economy, but about immigration and the loss of German identity.

Therefore, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is not the end of the populist wave. And few doubt that if Macron loses his appeal (as it is already happening), and his fight for social reforms is stopped by mass manifestations, Le Pen would win the next elections. And the antisystem parties all over Europe did not win in the last elections, but they did not lose eithe. Now they are the needle of the balance in all Nordic countries, and can declare, like Farage , the founder of the anti-Europe party UKIP, when he lost in the last British election: it is irrelevant, our message has become part of all the political system. And Brexit was the best example that he was right…all parties in the Nordic countries had to incorporate points of the populist, especially on immigration.

It has been generally ignored that it is the middle class, the main actor in this change. Social inequality in Europe has constantly grown, and many from the middle class are impoverished or afraid. Germany is a good example. While unemployment went down with Merkel from 11% to 3.8%, those close to the poverty line went from 11% to 17% of the total. Merkel went from a public deficit of 100 billion dollars, to a surplus of 20 billion, but at the same time poverty doubled to 10%, and there are 2 million people who have two jobs to help them reach the end of the month. And the pensioners who live below the poverty line , have increased by 30%. A full 15.7% of Germans now live under the poverty line. Of these, nearly 3 million are children.

Are the fears and frustrations of the middle class only who have pushed Brexit and Trump ? The economist Homi Kharas, specialized on the middle class, considers that 43% of the world population (some 3.200 million) now form the world middle class. It grows every year by 160 million. What is common to them is that especially the lower middle class have high expectations from the government and they put economic growth before anything else. They are helped by the Internet and social media, to be aware of their rights, and of the risks. In rich countries, massive education helps awareness. In developing countries, the pressure on governments is equally strong. The best example is China. Between 2002 and 2011, there has been a strong increase in protests and loss of trust in the public institution, despite a period of economic growth. The fact is that to keep growth and social justice together, you need resources. And this a problem for the left. Its genetic message is redistribution and participation. How to do this when we are in a world of diminishing resources?

Point Two. The antisystem becomes an entrenched system. Bill Emmot, the ex-director of the Economist, has written: “we live in a period of political turmoil. Parties less than a year old have taken power in France and in the megalopolis of Tokyo. A party less than five years old is heading the polls in Italy. The White House is hosting a billionaire who never had any political experience. And we should add that before the crisis of 2009, no populist or xenophobe party was represented in Parliamen.

We have therefore little experience on how antiparty system behaves when they are in power. But if we look at the United States, Poland and Hungary, clearly they are trying to put under control the public institutions, not because of the values of democracy that brought them to power, but a new campaign on fears and greed: globalization, immigration, automatization’s displacement of jobs, inequality, racism, and “my country first”. And the antisystem parties, who all have sent congratulatory message to the AfD, look to Putin as the political model to follow (except Poland for obvious reasons). But Urban of Hungary speaks openly of “illiberal democracy” as the main reason to combat the EU (and Poland of values of Catholicism against a secular Europe).

It is legitimate then to think that when the AfD, Le Pen, and company will come to power, (if the trend toward antisystem is not stopped), we are going to see a serious decline of democracy…also because we have Japan, India, China, Turkey, Philippines, just to name a few, who are nationalists, xenophobe and tend to project their vision, as the Russian hackers did in the last elections.

We must look at the youth’s decline in participation in politics as a new phenomenon extremely worrying. The priorities in budget allocations go increasingly to the older generations, which vote. It is important to note that the large majority of young people do not vote for the antisystem parties, but abstain. If young people did vote, we would not have Brexit and Trump. In the German elections, only 10% of those between 18 and 24 voted for AfD: all other age groups did so, and we must go to the oldest age group, those over 70 years to see a decline, to just 7% of the vote . But 69 per cent of the oldest voted for CDU and SPD, against 41% of the youngest. So, the theory that young people are moving to the right is a myth. They prefer to abstain…but the problem remains. Their abstention is helping both the system to stay, and the antisystem to win. But take Italy for example, run by a centre left party, the PD. They have just approved an incentive for youth unemployment (close to 30%), after giving 30 billion dollars to bail out four regional banks. The antisystem M5S, which is now heading the polls, has made the fight against the financial system a priority. If you were young, educated and unemployed, what would be your choice?

Point Three: German elections are a disaster for Europe. The appeal of an integrated Europe has been on the wane for a while. It became fashionable to present the European institutions as a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats, out of touch with reality, intent on discussing the size of tomatoes. In fact, it is the Council of Ministers, formed by representative of the States, who take the decisions: EU can only implement them. But it becomes politically convenient to go back from Brussels and present decisions, especially those unpopular, as a diktat imposed on your country. This, of course, is just one of the many reasons for the decline of Europe as a political project. But is useful to remember this game, because it shows the irresponsibility of the political class. There was never a real unity behind the European project. Every country looked only for dividends, and now, not even for that (as the example of Poland and Hungary, very large recipients show). So, where is Europe heading?

There are in fact three visions of Europe. One is the vision of Juncker, the head of the EU. It calls for strengthening the European institutions, and reinforcing the social goals, until now left behind the economic and commercial priorities. It’s not that Juncker is a progressive: he just realizes without doing that, the anti-European parties will have an easier life. His view is of strengthening Europe as a super national entity, with the states conceding more power, for better functioning. Then there is the vision of Macron, who goes in the same direction, but from a country that has always jealously defended its national sovereignty. Yet he realizes that in this competitive world, no European country can go far, and a strong Europe is therefore necessary. Then there is Merkel’s Europe, which is basically toward a federation of countries, where decisions are taken by the states, (with Germany as the strongest), with the EU implementing them. Since Macron came to power, he has been championing the revival of the French-German entente, which is necessary for a viable Europe. Macron and the south of Europe have been asking for socialization of European revenues, so as to sustain the weakest and have a common growth, creating a European Monetary Fund to overcome crisis, a super minister of finance and economy, a common European defence and several social measures to give back faith to the European losers in Europe.

Well, this is exactly what Germany has vetoed every time. Germans do not want to share their revenues with losers. In this debate, there is a strong religious and moral argument: the protestant ethic against catholic culture of easy pardon. Greece was the field to affirm the doctrine of ordo liberalism, the German view of economics, where easy-going and lack of discipline must be punished. This was also a warning to other countries, like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The result of sanctions on Greece, which was just 4% of the European economy, is that after seven years there is at least 20% unemployment, a loss of 25% of the Greek economy, a reduction of the pensions of nearly 40%, and 20% of the population under poverty line. It should not be forgotten that a large component of the bail out loans went first to the banks (mainly German), to pay the large credits they had with the broken Greek state, and not to the citizens. And that now airports and ports are under German administration.

The face of this imposition of austerity, which is a very important component of the anti-European wind, had the face of the implacable and crippled minister of Finance, Schauble. But there was no doubt that he was pro Europe, even if of a Europe based on the German model. But now he has moved to be the President of the Parliament, to leave his place to the chairman of the FPD, the liberal party, Christian Lindner, who is an avowed anti-European. FDP is against the euro, wants Greece out of the Euro, wants a strong policy on refugees: in other words, he is much on the right. Merkel, the extremely prudent Chancellor , will certainly not be able to meet the expectations of Macron and Juncker. Europe will again be on standby. Italy will be probably run by a young PRime Minister (from the antisystem M5S) a totally untested 31 year old, who has announced that he would like to leave the Euro, and limit Brussels power. The tide against Europe has not been stopped at all, contrary to media enthusiasm.

Point Four: Merkel’s responsibilities. There is no doubt that the massive immigration of one million of Syrians, has given a strong weapon to Afd, and the liberals, to help them gain power. But time will prove that it was a wise decision, greeted by the German economy. Statistics show that Immigrants are model citizens, pay their taxes, and bring a net benefit to the country who receives them. Of course, we see only the story of criminals and rapists, that xenophobe parties use with success, because in difficult times to find a scapegoat is easy and convenient. But Merkel just rode the German idiosyncrasy, without doing any statist’s effort to mobilize citizens to a vision. She knows that the secret dream of Germans is to be a Swiss: no participation in the world (other than business), no experiments, no risks. She has become the embodiment of that idiosyncracy – she is glad to be called Mutti, the mother. Other than the immigrants, she took only another risk, which was to abandon nuclear, after the disaster of Fukushima. Therefore, she did nothing to raise the awareness of the citizens on their European responsibilities. She shielded them from any sacrifice for being Europeans, refused any request by the EU, the IMF and the Wold Bank to spend the huge surplus that Germany made with intra-European trade. Her position was: we will keep the money we made with our hard work. And Schauble was just her instrument. Now, as a result of her odd coalition government she will ask the European Central Bank post for a German hawk, Jedemans, from the Bank of Germany: a good company to Christian Lindner. Dark days are coming for Europe; Merkel is the best illustration of the difference between the Germany of Bonn, run by idealist and committed politicians, with the Germany of Berlin, who is just a selfish entity, without vision. And after spending 100 billion a year, for 20 years, East Germany remains hopelessly behind, and it is where AfD took his largest share of votes.

On the night after the elections, the candidate for SPD, Martin Shultz, said looking into her eyes: Mrs Merkel, you are the great loser. You are the one responsible for the victory of AfD. Let us hope that willingly or not, Mutti will be also the one responsible for the end of the European dream.

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