Interpress News Service

The Hidden Problem

7 April 2017 - 6:38pm

Shadows of mental stress over urban adolescents

By Seama Mowri
Apr 7 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

“He had a bottle of poison in his hands and told me he would drink it if I didn’t agree to marry him.”

– A 16-year-old girl living in a Dhaka slum explaining the circumstances that led her to consent to marriage.

PHOTO: COLLECTED

WHILST this might read like teenage melodrama, the girl’s story is not unusual. During the last six months of our research (a project funded by IDRC and led by Professor Sabina F Rashid) in urban slums the research team encountered several stories of manipulative suicide threats and evidence of mental angst among both male and female adolescents and young people. Initially, a love interest may spark such incidents of dramatic behaviour but these are symptomatic of much deeper troubles. The rapid hormonal, physical and mental changes brought by puberty are difficult for any adolescent to navigate but these challenges are intensified when they are experienced simultaneously with the social, economic and structural instability of surviving in poverty in Bangladesh’s dense urban slum communities, where adult responsibilities are imposed on children before they are ready.

The multiple stressors experienced by adolescents in these settings are little discussed but include: fathers abandoning families, parents remarrying, children being forced to drop out of school, unemployment, abusive gossip and rumours about girls’ characters and “morality”, bullying, daily sexual harassment, physical abuse for dowry, taunts regarding dark skin from in-laws, and entrenched gender norms that place unachievable expectations on girls and boys. Any one of these factors – including the dynamics of the overcrowded slums they navigate, living out of cramped one-room households – can have debilitating effects on a person’s mental well-being.

Our research also highlights a complex interplay of age and identity. Amongst the slum dwellers, there is an embedded assumption that ‘married’ implies ‘adult’, and most of these married ‘adults’ are 15-16 years old. In other words, there’s almost no sense of transition about the stages of adulthood that they go through. As we’ve noted, most of the early married adolescent girls face the challenge of forming their adult identity at the same time as they are required to assume the duties of a wife and a mother which can create a great deal of mental stress. But who do they turn to?

“I have nowhere to go, no one to seek help from. I see my nonod (sister-in-law, who is only eight months younger than me) roaming around with her friends, gossiping, going to fairs… but I can’t do any of that. I am ghorer bou (bride of the house). I have to take permission from my husband and my father-in-law before stepping out of the house. The only guidance I get from relatives and programme interventions is related to family planning,” shares Ayesha about her experience after marriage.

The WHO constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” An important implication of this definition is that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

In Bangladesh, there is a dearth of knowledge around systematically-collected data on mental disorders and so the extent of the problem remains unknown. A recent systematic review (by Hossain et al.) suggests that females are more vulnerable to mental disorders in both rural and urban settings compared to males. These findings are consistent with another rural study (Ara et al. 2001) which reported that social stigma inhibits women from seeking medical treatment for their mental problems.

The BRAC School of Public Health has undertaken a number of research projects that focus on exploring mental health issues among adolescents. One of the projects is trying to understand how early marriages change the life opportunities and well-being of girls in urban slums, and their coping strategies in coerced marriages. Qualitative cases pertaining to sexual coercion in early marriages have provided some insight into the challenges faced by adolescent females living in a society fraught with gender disparities. Another research study funded by NWO-WOTRO – “Psychodrama as Transformative Intervention in the SRH of Young Men in Urban Slums” – aims to identify the spectrum of risks and health issues affecting young men. “Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education for young men, particularly those from vulnerable communities like urban slums, is a neglected issue,” says Dr Malabika Sarker (Professor and Director of Research at James P Grant School of Public Health) who is leading the study.

As Dhaka transitions into being the sixth largest megacity by 2030, the urban challenges of structural poverty and inequalities, steep social gradients, risky environment, deprived living conditions, entrenched and changing social and gender norms will start to have serious impacts on the well-being of the population at large. What does that mean in terms of the stress resilience of an increasingly urban population? What are the health consequences of higher social stress exposure and vulnerability of urban-dwellers, given that stress is the most likely cause of many mental disorders, particularly depression? And from a policy perspective, what actions can be taken to protect people living under dense metropolitan conditions from urban stressors and their negative mental impact? With this article I wish to stimulate a conversation in the hope of facilitating a more nuanced understanding of how urban living conditions impact our mental health. And it is imperative that we start the conversation sooner rather than later.

The writer is a project manager at the Centre for Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, James P Grant School of Public Health.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Gold Mine Aggravates Tensions in Brazil’s Amazon Region

7 April 2017 - 6:22pm

The main street of Ressaca, a town of garimpeiros or artisanal gold miners, on the right bank of the Xingu River, along the stretch called the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where a large-scale mining project, promoted by the Canadian company Belo Sun, is causing concern among the local people in this part of Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RESSACA, Brazil, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

The decline of this town is seen in the rundown houses and shuttered stores, and the few people along the streets on a Sunday when the scorching sun alternates with frequent rains at this time of year in Brazil’s Amazon region.

“There is still a lot of gold here,” said Valdomiro Pereira Lima, pointing to the ground on a muddy street in the town of Ressaca, to emphasize that the riches underground extend along the right bank of the Xingu River at the 100-km stretch known as Volta Grande or Big Bend, which could restore the local economy.

This drew Belo Sun, a transnational Canadian mining corporation that intends to extract 60 tons of gold in 12 years through plants that separate gold from rock, in what is to be the largest open-pit gold mine in the country.

But the mine has given rise to a new wave of concern among the locals of Ressaca and other communities downstream, where the local population has already been affected by the impacts of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, operational since late 2015 and set to be completed in 2019.

Valdomiro Pereira Lima, a garimpeiro or informal miner, says there is gold beneath the streets of the town of Ressaca, as in many other areas along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. But the residents of this rundown town in Brazil’s Amazon region are opposed to a large-scale gold mining project. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The 64-year-old Pereira Lima has been mining for gold since 1980, when at the age of 27 he left farming in Maranhão, his home state in northeastern Brazil, to become a “garimpeiro” or informal artisanal miner in Brazil’s Amazon region.

He worked in Sierra Pelada, in the northern state of Pará, and in Volta Grande, which lured near 100,000 miners in the 1980s, as well as in the state of Roraima, along the border with Venezuela, before settling in Ressaca.

But the gold that gave rise to this village and brought it prosperity, as well as to other towns and settlements that emerged around nearby mines, started to become less accessible, while the garimpeiro way of life deteriorated, IPS noted, talking with all the interested parties during a one-week tour of the Volta Grande.

“There were over 8,000 garimpeiros when I arrived here in 1992, today there are just 400 to 500 left,” said 53-year-old José Pereira Cunha, vice president of the Mixed Cooperative of Garimpeiros from Ressaca, Itatá, Galo, Ouro Verde and Ilha da Fazenda.

“We used to find up to two kg of gold per week, now it’s only one per year,” said the garimpeiro leader, known by the nickname of Pirulito, because he is a small man. He has been a miner since the age of 17, and also got his start in Sierra Pelada.

But everything collapsed after 2012, when the police and environmental inspectors began to crack down on the garimpeiros, driving out many of them, he said. Moreover, the mining authorities did not renew the operating permits for the cooperative, outlawing the miners, who are still active in some mines.

Dozens of them have filed lawsuits in faraway cities.

“We have turned to the justice system to secure our rights,” said Cunha, who blames the campaign on Belo Sun and the municipal and state governments, interested in collecting more taxes, since the persecution began two years after the company began investigating potential gold deposits along the Volta Grande.

The village of Ilha da Fazenda depends economically on the town of Ressaca, where many families have left due to the decline of small-scale gold mining, added to the impact of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The company obtained an advance license in 2004, which recognises the environmental viability of the project. And on Feb. 2 the Environment and Sustainability department of the state of Pará granted it a permit to build the necessary plants.

But just two weeks later, the justice system suspended the permit for 180 days, demanding measures to relocate the affected population and clarification about the land acquired for the mine, presumably illegally.

Belo Sun claims that it has met all the requirements and conditions. The company keeps a register of the local population in the directly affected area, which it continually updates, because “the garimpeiros come and go,” according to Mauro Barros, the director of the company in Brazil.

João Lisboa Sobrinho, 85, a baker from Ilha da Fazenda who “only” has ten children. Until recently, he used 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, but now uses just three – a reflection of the decline and depopulation of this island village along the Xingu River, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“It is not necessary to remove the population, we can even operate with everybody staying in their homes, if that’s what they want. All over the world there are active mines next to cities,” said Barros, a lawyer with previous experience in other mining companies.

But he said, in an interview at the company’s headquarters in the nearby city of Altamira, that those who are relocated will be provided with all the services, access to the river and support to earn an income. “We want to develop the region,” he said, adding that at least 80 per cent of the company’s employees will be locals.

The company will generate 2,100 direct jobs at the peak of the installation phase, and 526 once the mine is operational, he said. The promise is to train the garimpeiros to work in mechanized mining.

According to estimates from Belo Sun, there are probable reserves of 108.7 tons of gold.

It takes a ton of rocks to obtain a gram of gold.

Barros ruled out the risk, which has raised concern among the local population and environmentalists, that the mine will pollute the waters of the Xingu River, which has already been contaminated and has a reduced water level due to the Belo Monte mine. He guaranteed that Belo Sun would only use rainwater, and would hold its waste products safely.

But the conflict with the miners’ cooperative, community leaders and indigenous people who live along the Volta Grande has already begun.

“Either Belo Sun throws us out of here or we throw them out,” said Cunha, vice president of the cooperative.

The town has not received the promised compensation from Norte Energía, the company that holds the concession to run Belo Monte, nor services from the municipality, because “it would be pointless, since we are supposed to be resettled,” said Francisco Pereira, head of the Association of Ressaca Residents.

A map from Belo Sun showing the area where the Canadian mining company intends to extract 60 tons of gold. In blue, the Volta Grande or Big Bend in the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has been built, in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The town of about 200 families still has no basic sewage. “The wastewater runs into the river, we have no drinking water or sports field, and at the school the heat is unbearable,” and nothing will be done because of the uncertainty created by Belo Sun, said Pereira, a 58-year-old garimpeiro who is now working as a farm labourer.

The uncertainty and decline are also affecting the roughly 50 families that live in Ilha da Fazenda, a village dependent on Ressaca and separated from it by a two-kilometre stretch of a tributary of the Xingu River. Children from the fifth grade and up and sick people can only go to school or receive healthcare in the town of Ressaca, which they reach in small boats.

“In the good old days of the ‘garimpo’ (informal mining), there were dozens of bars in Ilha da Fazenda. They extracted gold in Ressaca and came here to spend their money,” said 85-year-old baker João Lisboa Sobrinho, who has “only ten children” and is a living history of the island village.

“I used to use 50 kg of flour a day to make bread, now I use three at the most,” he said, standing next to the brick oven made by his father in 1952.

“Ninety-five per cent of the people on the island want to move away,” because if Ressaca disappears, it will be impossible to live in Ilha da Fazenda,” said Sebastião Almeida da Silva, who owns the only general store on the island.

More than 20 families have already left the village.

But “I will only leave if I am the only one left,” said Adelir Sampaio dos Santos, a nurse from José Porfirio, the municipality where the mining area is located. “We will only be left isolated if we don’t take action,” she said, urging her fellow villagers to struggle for the school, medical post, water and electricity that are needed in the village.

“With the garimpo in better conditions, supported by the government, with state banks buying our gold, we could bring life back to local cities and towns, we could pay taxes, we could all stay and prosper,” said Divino Gomes, a surveyor who worked with environmentalist organisations before becoming a garimpeiro.

“I have seen mining companies elsewhere, they take all the wealth and leave craters. We have to think about it ten times over before accepting their projects,” he concluded.

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In Service of Power

7 April 2017 - 5:23pm

By Faisal Bari
Apr 7 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Two years ago, a friend and colleague, teaching at a US university, wrote to me asking if one of her doctoral students working on education issues in developing contexts could work on Pakistan and if I would be willing to guide her in her fieldwork. I thought that having a doctoral student look at leadership issues across gender would be good since there was little local research on this. So I said I would support the student.

Faisal Bari

The student decided to come to Pakistan. She asked me for a letter of support so she could apply for her visa. She submitted her visa application about four months prior to when she wanted to be in Pakistan.

One day I got a call from someone who said he worked for an ‘agency’ and wanted to come to interview me about some American ‘girl’ who had applied for a visa and who had a letter of support from me. I asked him to come by. Our conversation is worth reproducing.

After asking me about what I did, where I taught, what I taught, and if I had any suggestions about how to improve the economy, the gentleman came to the point. He asked me how well I knew the ‘Amreeki girl’. I gave him the context. He asked if she was connected to the CIA. “Not to the best of my knowledge,” I said. He asked me if I could vouch for her ‘good character’. I told him that I had no idea of what he meant by ‘good character’ but I had no reason to believe that the student had any character flaws that precluded her from doing doctoral work in education. He asked me as to why I was interested in getting the student here. “It is a good idea for advanced students to do research on and in Pakistan.” He did not seem convinced by my answer.

In Pakistan, rules are made to serve the powerful and strengthen their hold.

He wanted to know all the places the student would visit. I told him that I knew the districts and the schools she had in her sample and could share the list. But the gentleman wanted to know about all the places the student would visit in the evenings. I said I had no idea about that.

He asked me if I would ‘guarantee’ the safety of the student. I mentioned all the arrangements we were making for her accommodation, transport, help with logistics, and hiring of interpreter/research assistants. “This is all fine but do you guarantee her safety?” By this time I was a bit annoyed. So I said that when I cannot guarantee my own safety and you guys cannot guarantee the safety of citizens of the country, how can you ask me to ‘guarantee’ the safety of another? Again, the answer did not convince him.

He then asked me to provide documents about myself, the organisation I worked for, the kind of research we did, the partners we worked with and even copies of research papers we had written. And then, the final straw, he asked me where I lived and told me that he would come around and interview my father. I had had it by then. I told the gentleman to leave, to give whatever report he wanted to give about the issue but he would not be entertained at my home. He left.

The student did not receive any answer to her visa application for a long time and getting the not-too-subtle hint, decided to work on another country. She is now finishing her thesis write-up.

We have had an unknown number of CIA officials working in Pakistan and we have had, allegedly, Indian nationals working in sugar mills in the country. We had entire air bases given to Americans, had drones flying from there and, apparently, even had a programme where US citizens could come into Pakistan without clearances from Pakistani authorities. But when we want to have an academic come over for a conference or have a colleague come over for joint work, the hurdles in the name of national security are insurmountable.

Even doing research on our own is not easy. I work in education. Every time we have to do household surveys and/or school surveys, we have to get an umpteen number of letters of support and/or no-objection certificates (NOCs). If we want to do positional tagging, so that we can identify and revisit households or schools later, it opens up another Pandora’s box of NOC requirements. If I am going to state schools, it makes sense for me to have permission from the education department, but if I am going into households, I should only be required to have permission of the households in question. Why do I need the state’s permission to visit a citizen at her house? But we do: logic is not one of the strong points of a lot of these requirements.

The issue here, clearly, is power. Rules are made not to serve the larger interest; they are made to serve the powerful and strengthen their hold even further. Were agencies incompetent to the extent that they did not know CIA operatives were coming into Pakistan and some might still be here? I hope that is not the case. They knew. It was just that power interests were such that they wanted to allow these people to come into the country.

“Squeezed elbow room and shrinking leg space is the narrative of Pakistan in our times,” writes Harris Khalique in his new book Crimson Papers. He goes on to say: “It is about demanding a dignified physical space to live, a respectable economic space to earn a decent living, a free intellectual space to think, and an uninhibited artistic space to create. Together, it is all about political space.” So the question really is: can we imagine a different future?

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

2017 World Health Day

7 April 2017 - 8:36am

Message by Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”).

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Apr 7 2017 (Geneva Centre)

Today marks the 2017 World Health Day highlighting the importance of addressing the effects of depression on people’s health.

This year’s theme is a timely opportunity to shed light on an issue that has been neglected for decades despite that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people suffer from this malaise.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

It has in particular become a common challenge for victims of conflicts and terrorism in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the world that have recently been targeted by violent and extremist groups.

The widespread violence and the imminent fear of terrorist attacks and fearmongering result in stress disorder that can in the long run turn into depression and mental illness.

While we witness the destruction of physical objects and infrastructure in the media, the psychological injuries and traumas inflicted on humans remain invisible damages haunting people and societies for years and decades.

According to a recent study initiated in 2015 by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 79% of Syrian refugee children had experienced death, 45% displayed symptoms of PTSD and 44% reported symptoms of depression.

In Iraq, recent estimates by the Iraq Body Count (IBC) suggest that 16,361 civilians lost their lives in Iraq owing to terrorism, sectarian violence and other related factors resulting from the volatile situation in Iraq.

Only in 2016, Iraq witnessed 1,664 suicide attacks. That is equivalent to four attacks a day. Imagine living in daily fear of terrorism that could potentially strike you at any time.

The list of Arab countries in which post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have become a major area of concern can also be extended to include countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt that have recently experienced civilian upheavals and violent turmoil.

The polarized situation in the Middle East, that has created mass-migration, displacement and inter-community strives, needs to give way to ever-broader recognition of equal citizenship rights for all.

Owing to the recent terrorist attacks also in industrialised countries, these symptoms are also becoming of growing concern for civilian populations once considered as “out of reach”.

Following the 7 July 2005 London attacks, 31% of Londoners reported a significant elevation in the stress level.

Similar rises in stress levels related to incidents of terrorism were also reported in the case of the 11 September 2001 and the 11 March 2004 Madrid terrorist attacks.

These disturbing figures show that depression and PTSD are becoming modern epidemics that require the world’s attention.

Ignoring the psychological impacts of conflicts and violence will have long-term consequences for societies and generations to come.

It can foster violence and other harmful practices that can further destabilize societies.

Searching for the cure will require addressing the causes of disorder and restoring normality in people’s daily lives.

Affected victims need to have a greater sense of security and support from society in addressing their plights.

It is important to break the social taboos and stigmas associated with addressing mental-health problems.

People experiencing psychological distortions, such as the Syrian refugee children and the victims of terrorism, deserve our full and unconditional support to address their psychological plights.

Not only individuals need to be cured for their invisible ills, but also society itself is in need of urgent renewal.

The long-lasting anxiety caused by the political stalemate concerning the right of the Palestinians to nationhood also has the potential of destabilizing the region if left unaddressed.

Tomatoes, Limes and Sex-Selective Abortions

7 April 2017 - 12:45am

Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

When Bimla Chandrasekharan saw that women who gave birth to baby girls were being sent out of the house by their angry husbands and mothers-in-law she realised a basic biology lesson was needed.

“We start educating them on this XY chromosome,” Chandrasekharan who is Founder and Director of Indian women’s rights organisation EKTA told IPS. “(But) we don’t say XY chromosome, we do it with tomatoes and limes. ‘Tomato tomato’ it becomes a girl, ‘tomato lime’ it becomes a boy.”

It is just a start but this lesson helps to show fathers that they in fact determine the sex of their children.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are now 117 million girls who are ‘missing’ worldwide because of sex selective abortion and infanticide.

The problem ballooned in India and China in the 1990s, partly due to increased access to ultrasounds. But according to the UNFPA the problem has also now spread to new regions including Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

A new UNFPA program to address the problem in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Nepal will draw on the experiences of both India and China in addressing the problem.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.” -- Luis Mora, UNFPA

“Son preference is a practice that affects many societies around the world,” Luis Mora, Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Gender, Human Rights & Culture Branch told IPS.

“What we have seen over the last three decades is that the practice that initially was considered a sort of exception in China and India … has moved to other countries.”

Yet while the increase in sex selection has coincided with access to technologies like ultrasound, both Mora and Chandrasekharan agree that banning ultrasounds alone won’t fix the problem.

“In a patriarchal society there is always a preference for a male child,” says Chandrasekharan.

This is why EKTA challenges patriarchy and teaches mothers and fathers why they should want to have daughters just as much as they want sons.

Some of the reasons why sons are preferred over daughters are economic. In India parents have to pay a dowry for daughters. In many countries only sons can inherit property, daughters cannot.

But there are other reasons too.

As Chandrasekharan points out, some mothers fear bringing daughters into a world where they are likely to experience sexual harassment and abuse, a lifetime of unpaid housework, and marriage as young as 12 or 13.

Chandrasekharan, is an active member of a national campaign called Girls Count, which aims to fight sex selection in India, and receives funding from both UNFPA and UN Women.

She says that within Girls Count there are “two streams.”

“One stream of people believe in strict enforcement of the law,” says Chandrasekharan, “The other stream is challenging patriarchy, I belong to that stream,” She adds that she also believes in the law, but doesn’t think that laws alone work.

As Chandrasekharan points out India’s Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act was introduced in 1994, banning prenatal scanning and revealing the sex to parents, yet this law has not stopped sex-selective abortions.

Yet Chandrasekharan is also careful to say that challenging patriarchy doesn’t mean that her organisation is anti-men. Patriarchy is a system, she says that has consequences for both men and women, but mostly benefits men.

“We are not against you as an individual we are talking about a system,” she tells the men and boys she works with.

Mora also agrees that it is not possible to end sex selection without addressing gender inequality.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.”

This includes giving rights, equal access to education, employment and land, says Mora. “These are the practical things that make a sustainable change.”

This is also why EKTA introduces role models to the community, to show that not all women will spend their lives doing unpaid housework.

EKTA’s most recent role model came from the local community herself. At a young age she met a family member who told her that she had flown to meet them by plane.

Even though the girl came from a marginalised Dalit family, she told her family that she wanted to be the ‘engine driver’ of a plane, since she didn’t yet know the word for pilot.

Last year, says Chandrasekharan, she became a full-fledged pilot and returned to speak to the community as part of EKTA’s role models program.

UNFPA’s new program in the six selected countries is funded by the European Union, however many other UNFPA programs are now in jeopardy, after the United States’ decision to withdraw all of its funding from the agency on Monday.

IPS spoke to Chandrasekharan during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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UN Strengthens Kenya’s Resilience to Disaster

6 April 2017 - 8:09pm

Drought still accounts for at least 26 percent of all people affected by climate-related disasters. Millions in Kenya are currently relying on wild fruits and vegetables. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

Kenya’s lack of capacity to cope with wide-scale disaster has seen thousands of households continue to live precarious lives, especially in light of erratic and drastically changing weather patterns.

If millions are not staring death in the face due to the raging drought, they are fighting to remain afloat as their homes are swept away by surging waters.For every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, a country is likely to save four to seven dollars in humanitarian response.

“Drought accounts for an estimated 26 percent of all disasters and floods for 20 percent,” warns the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

UNISDR serves as the focal point in the United Nations system for the coordination of disaster risk reduction and has been running various interventions to make the country more disaster-resilient.

Government statistics confirm that drought still accounts for at least a quarter of all people affected by climate-related disasters. The country is at the threshold of the 12th drought since 1975.

Against this backdrop, for seven months now Ruth Ettyang and her household of seven have continued to rely on wild fruits and vegetables to survive the deepening drought in the expansive Turkana County, Northern Kenya.

Temperatures are unusually high even for the arid area and the situation is becoming even more dire since people have to compete with thousands of livestock in this pastoral community for the scarce wild vegetation and dirty water in rivers that have all but run dry.

“When rains fail it is too dry. When they come it is another problem as houses are destroyed and people drown,” Ettyang explains.

Turkana is not a unique scenario and is reflective of the two main types of disasters that this East African country faces.

Additionally, Turkana is among two other counties – Nakuru and Nairobi – which account for at least a quarter of all people killed by various disasters, according to UNISDR.

There is no doubt that Kenya is a disaster-prone country and in the absence of a disaster risk management policy or legislation, the situation is dire.

“The pending enactment of Kenya’s Disaster Risk Management Bill and Policy, which has remained in a draft stage for over a decade, is a critical step in enhancing the disaster risk reduction progress in Kenya,” Amjad Abbashar, Head of Office, UNISDR Regional Office for Africa, told IPS.

Government’s recent call on the international community and humanitarian agencies to provide much needed aid to save the starving millions is reflective of the critical role that humanitarian agencies play in disaster response but even more importantly, in disaster risk reduction.

“Disaster risk reduction aims to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risk, while strengthening preparedness for response and recovery, thus contributing to strengthening resilience,” Abbashar said.

UNISDR supports the implementation, follow-up and review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015 in Sendai, Japan, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly.

“The Sendai Framework is a 15-year voluntary, non-binding agreement that maps out a broad, people-centered approach to disaster risk reduction. The Sendai Framework succeeded the Hyogo Framework for Action that was in force from 2005 to 2015,” Animesh Kumar, Deputy Head of Office, UNISDR Regional Office for Africa, told IPS.

“This global agreement seeks to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries,” Kumar added.

According to UNISDR, the disaster risk reduction institutional mechanism in the country is structured around the National Disaster Operations Centre, the National Drought Management Authority, and the National Disaster Management Unit. The UN agency works with these institutions.

Within this context, UNISDR has supported the establishment of a robust National Disaster Loss Database housed at the National Disaster Operation Centre.

“This database creates an understanding of the impacts and costs of disasters, its risks as far as disasters are concerned and to steer Kenya to invest in resilient infrastructure,” Abbashar said.

“Systematic disaster data collection and analysis is also useful in informing policy decisions to help reduce disaster risks and build resilience,” he added.

UNISDR is also assisting Kenyan legislators through capacity building and support in development of relevant Disaster Risk Management laws and policies.

Though the country is still a long way from being disaster resilient, UNISDR says that there have been some key milestones.

“We have collaborated towards ensuring that a National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction has also been instituted to monitor national disaster risk reduction progress,” Kumar observes.

A National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2018) has been developed to implement the Sendai Framework in Kenya.

At the county level, County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) have been undertaken, which have integrated some elements of disaster risk reduction and peace and security.

Due to UNISDR work in the Counties, Kisumu city in Nyanza region, is one of five African cities that are pioneering local-level implementation of the Sendai Framework in Africa.

“The establishment of the Parliamentary Caucus on Disaster Risk Reduction that was formed in 2015 with a membership of over 35 Kenyan parliamentarians with support from UNISDR is a key policy milestone,” Abbashar explains.

The Kenyan Women’s Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) is also advocating for the enactment of a Disaster Risk Management Bill and its establishment was the result of joint efforts between UNISDR and parliament.

UNISDR remains steadfast that the role of women as agents of change in disaster risk reduction must be emphasized.

But the work that this UN agency does in Kenya would receive a significant boost if just like women, children too were involved as agents of change.

“Incorporation of disaster risk reduction in school curricula can lead to a growing population that is aware of disaster risk reduction as well as a generation that acts as disaster risk champions in future,” Abbashar said.

Setting aside a sizeable amount for disaster risk reduction in the national budget is extremely important.

For every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction, “a country is likely to save four to seven dollars in humanitarian response and multiple times more for future costs of development,” he stressed.

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Partnership: Key word to China’s foreign policy (II)

6 April 2017 - 5:39pm

Last of two parts

By THE EMBASSY OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Apr 6 2017 (Manila Times)

China has always regarded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as a high priority in its neighborhood diplomacy. We firmly support Asean community building, its centrality in regional cooperation and the commemoration of its 50th anniversary. We stand ready to work with Asean for a closer China-Asean community of shared future. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of China’s diplomatic ties with central Asian countries. We support their efforts to follow a development path compatible with their national conditions and to uphold their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We will build a circle of close partnership with central Asia and set good examples of a new type of state-to-state relations. We will continue to expand trade and investment with South Asian countries, enhance people-to-people exchanges, build platforms for mutually beneficial cooperation and contribute our share to the development of South Asia.

China is a strong advocate of and contributor to regional cooperation and supports the Asian Way of mutual respect, consensus building and accommodating each other’s comfort level in advancing regional cooperation. We stand ready to work with the parties to follow through on the outcomes of the upgraded China-Asean Free Trade Area as soon as possible and bring Asean Plus Three cooperation to a higher level. We are willing to help China-Japan-ROK cooperation to overcome obstacles, build consensus and move toward the goal of realizing an East Asia economic community by 2020. We will take solid steps to advance the result-oriented and efficient Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) and build an LMC corridor and an LMC community of shared future at a speed that produces progress every day and outcomes every month. We hope to accelerate the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and strive to conclude the negotiations by the end of the year to demonstrate the region’s resolve in promoting trade liberalization. We will encourage the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the East Asia Summit, the Asean Regional Forum and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia to make fresh contributions to regional peace and development.

Differences created by history
As for the differences with some of our neighbors created by history, we are ready to address them properly through dialogue and negotiation in the spirit of good-neighborliness. Last year, foreign ministers of Asean member states and China issued the Joint Statement on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), at the core of which is the agreement that disputes over the Nansha islands and reefs should be peacefully addressed through dialogue and negotiation by the parties directly concerned and that stability in the South China Sea should be maintained by China and Asean countries together. Thanks to the joint efforts of China and Asean countries, consultations on the “code of conduct in the South China Sea” are making new progress. China is ready to work with Asean countries to develop, by consensus, binding regional rules on the basis of the DOC, thereby demonstrating that we in this region are fully capable of managing our differences and safeguarding regional stability. Every unbiased observer can see that tension in the South China Sea has cooled down significantly. It is important to cherish this hard-won result and not allow ill-intentioned forces to stir up trouble again.

We will enhance partnership with other developing countries to support each other for common development and progress. The developing world is the foundation of China’s diplomacy as well as a sincere partner in pursuing peaceful development. We will vigorously deepen mutually beneficial cooperation with other developing countries following President Xi Jinping’s enlightened view on moral principles, and friendship on the one hand and practical interests on the other, which prioritizes the former over the latter. China will, as always, remain committed to non-interference, attach no political conditions, never impose its views on others, abide by local laws and regulations, respect local customs, and pursue green, shared and sustainable cooperation, so that the future and destinies of China and fellow developing countries will be more closely connected.

China remains a member of the developing world. We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with other developing countries and resolutely safeguard our common interests. In September this year, China will host the ninth BRICS summit in Xiamen. We have extended invitations to leaders of various emerging economies and developing countries representing their regions and leaders of some international organizations as well as BRICS leaders for a dialogue between emerging markets and developing countries. The Xiamen summit is an opportunity to draw the cooperation blueprint for the second decade of BRICS, enhance the quality of BRICS cooperation, build a global platform of South-South cooperation and further increase the voice of emerging markets and developing countries in global governance.

We will keep deepening the partnerships with countries along the Belt and Road and others for common development. The Belt and Road Initiative put forward by President Xi is the most important public good that China has provided to the world and an important effort by China to build partnerships. Following the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the Initiative encourages partner countries and others to combine comparative advantages, narrow development gaps, accelerate regional integration and achieve common development and prosperity by promoting the connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people.

Belt and Road forum
In May this year, China will hold the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, where we will work with the participants to plan our cooperation, revive the splendor of the Silk Road and share enduring prosperity. Together with the relevant countries and international organizations, we will further consolidate cooperation consensus, set out cooperation measures, enhance strategic complementarity, link China’s economic transformation and upgrading with the industrialization, modernization and infrastructure development of other countries, and open up new space for and lend new impetus to the development of all. We will promote cooperation on production capacity and equipment manufacturing with other countries, improve cross-border connectivity, enhance trade and investment cooperation and create new opportunities for global growth. By pooling our ideas and resources, we will explore the establishment of a long-term cooperation mechanism, a win-win cooperation network and a new cooperation model, thus drawing a blueprint for the continued progress of the Initiative.

As President Xi has pointed out with great insight, countries, with or without agreement, could all be partners. China will continue to improve partnerships with countries world-wide with a more open and inclusive approach and, on this basis, make unremitting efforts to accelerate the building of a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation and ultimately achieve the long-term goal of building a community of shared future for humankind. China is taking a journey that is in keeping with the call of the times and the course of human progress. We are convinced that, as time passes, China’s thinking and vision will find resonance with more and more countries, and they will all join us in this journey forward.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Work, What Future? Seven Big Questions Needing Urgent Response

6 April 2017 - 10:31am

Credit: ILO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 6 2017 (IPS)

Around the world, profound changes in the nature of work are underway, that’s clear. So it is a fact that the on-going transformations in the world of labour are disrupting the connection
between work, personal development and community participation.

The future of work gains special relevance now that it is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year.

Meantime, there is a pressing need to improve conditions for the some 780 million women and men who are working but not earning enough to lift themselves and their families out of just 2 dollars a day poverty.

On these major issues, which mainly affects the present and future of the youth, and in particular, the most vulnerable groups such as women, migrants, rural communities, and indigenous peoples, the world leading specialised body, the International Labour Organization (ILO), has posed seven key questions:

• How will societies manage these changes?
• Will they bring together or pull apart developed, emerging and developed economies?
• Where will the jobs of tomorrow come from and what will they look like?
• What are the challenges and opportunities young people are facing as they make the transition into the world of work?
• What do they see as the path forward to achieve sustainable inclusive growth for future generations?
• What are the new forms of the employment relationship and whether and to what extent that relationship will continue to be the locus for many of the protections now afforded to workers?
• What initiatives to revitalise existing norms and institutions and/or create new forms of regulation that may help to meet present and future governance challenges? “Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs. Let alone quality jobs.” - Guy Ryder, ILO Chief

These questions are at the top on the agenda of a two-day (6-7 April) symposium, The Future of Work We Want: A Global Dialogue, organised by ILO at its headquarters in Geneva.

The event is an important step to gain greater understanding of the changes the world is witnessing and to develop effective policy responses that can shape the future of work, says ILO.

Why?

Around the world, in economies at all stages of development, profound changes in the nature of work are underway, the UN specialised body explains, adding that numerous and diverse drivers account for these: demographic shifts, climate change, technological innovation, shifting contours of poverty and prosperity, growing inequality, economic stagnation and the changing character of production and employment.

“The transformations we witness now challenge us to imagine the future of work over the long term in order to steer this evolution in the direction of social justice. Rising widespread anxiety about whether the future will produce greater polarisation within and between countries brings urgency to this task.”

Recognising the pressing need to begin marshaling global expertise to make the future of work the one we want, the ILO launched the The Future of Work Centenary Initiative.

Under it, the symposium has been structured around four “centenary conversations” — work and society; decent jobs for all; the organisation of work and production, and the governance of work

The event has gathered international thinkers and actors who are at the forefront of debates on each topic.

A special session has been devoted to discussing the perspectives for and views of young people –including representatives of the social partners– in the future of work they will experience.

Economic Growth Both Disappoints and Underperforms

“We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

Credit: ILO


Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion, he explained, adding, “This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs. Let alone quality jobs.”

According to ILO chief, persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are “alarming.”

In fact, ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017 shows that vulnerable forms of employment – i.e. contributing family workers and own account workers – are expected to stay above 42 per cent of total employment, accounting for 1.4 billion people worldwide in 2017.

In fact, almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries, said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

As a result, the number of workers in vulnerable employment is projected to grow by 11 million per year, with Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa being the most affected.

Meanwhile, the global unemployment rate is expected to rise modestly from 5.7 to 5.8 per cent in 2017 representing an increase of 3.4 million in the number of jobless people, a new ILO report shows.

The number of unemployed persons globally in 2017 is forecast to stand at just over 201 million – with an additional rise of 2.7 million expected in 2018 – as the pace of labour force growth outstrips job creation.

Unemployment Acute in Latin America, Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa

The report’s authors warn that unemployment challenges are particularly acute in Latin America and the Caribbean where the scars of the recent recession will have an important carry-over effect in 2017, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is also in the midst of its lowest level of growth in over two decades.

Credit: ILO


By contrast, unemployment should fall in 2017 among developed countries bringing their rate down to 6.2 per cent (from 6.3 per cent). But the pace of improvement is slowing and there are signs of structural unemployment.

In both Europe and North America, long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high compared to pre-crisis levels, and in the case of Europe, it continues to climb despite the receding unemployment rates.

Another key trend highlighted in the report is that the reductions in working poverty are slowing which endangers the prospects of eradicating poverty as set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The number of workers earning less than 3.10 dollars per day is even expected to increase by more than 5 million over the next two years in developing countries.

Social Unrest, Migration

At the same time, it warns that global uncertainty and the lack of decent jobs are, among other factors, underpinning social unrest and migration in many parts of the world.

Between 2009 and 2016, the share of the working age population willing to migrate abroad has increased in almost every region of the world, except for Southern Asia, South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific.

The largest rise took place in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Arab States.

Both regions are confronted with strong growth in the numbers of individuals entering working age.

Disease, Not Crime

6 April 2017 - 8:05am

By Shanza Faiq
Apr 6 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

India’s recently passed Mental Healthcare Bill marks the government`s Erst national effort to tackle depression.

One of the bill`s impacts is that it decriminalises suicide, a landmark move that deserves applause. It is high time that depression and a plethora of other mental illnesses are no longer viewed as non-issues, or manifestations of weakness. It is fitting, then, that the theme of World Health Day on April 7 this year is depression.

Shanza Faiq

In Pakistan, attempting suicide is a criminal offence. Under Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code, it is punishable with either simple imprisonment extending to one year, or a fine, or both. Although suicide is not permitted in Islam, many Muslim scholars question whether punishment should also be meted out for an `attempt` to commit suicide.

Instead of throwing the person who attempts suicide in jail to languish there for a year, why not send them to a rehabilitation centre and ensure compulsory treatment? Instead of levying a fine on them especially in a society where the poor are statistically more likely to attempt suicide due to socio-economic constraints why not invest money in their treatment and rehabilitation? A person who attempts suicide is not a criminal; he is a victim, in dire need of acknowledgement of his mental illness, a supportive environment and state policies that allow for treatment rather than punishment.

On April 9, 2016, (then justice) Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar said that there `exists no law under which persons having mental illness can be dealt with`. He was clearly referring to the fact that since the lapse of the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001 (due to the passing of the 18th Amendment, which devolved the subject of health to the provinces), Pakistan has lacked an effective legal mechanism to handle mental illness.

Although the Sindh and Punjab legislatures have since passed the Sindh Mental Health Ordinance, 2013, and the Punjab Mental Health Act, 2014, the issue of awareness regarding these laws and their implementation still remains blatantly worrisome.

Both provinces lack a dedicated authority responsible for overseeing the implementation of these laws, and there is a lack of checks and balances on rehabilitation centres. Seven years since devolution, the state of affairs in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is even bleaker as neither has passed acts regulating mental health.

In today`s Pakistan, scores of people seem to be leading perfectly normal, happy lives. Scratch the surface, however, and what lurks beneath for many is a host ofpsychological issues they`re battling with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated stigma attached to mental disorders in Pakistan. It is not uncommon for the word `psychology` to be associated with madness; it is, therefore, a taboo subject in many households. Irrespective of what socioeconomic rung one hails from, it is typical for a person to remain quiet about their mental illness for fear of being ostracised.

Instead of trying to comprehend the cause of their children`s depression or anxlety, many Pakistani parents simply tell their offspring to seek divine help. It is imperative that our society understands that mental illness is a medical condition and should be treated as such; it should provide the same amount of medical support as it does in the case of a physical illness.

When their children break a bone, or are found to have a tumour, parents immedi-ately take them to a doctor to ensure their speedy recovery. The same level of attention should be given to psychological disorders, instead of being quick to label a depressed person as either not being religious enough or being under the influ-ence of blacl( magic.

Studies reveal that almost 34 per cent of Pakistanis, and 20pc of the global population, suffer from depression, which has shown to increase the risk of heart disease, negatively affect one`s relationships, encourage drug addictions, increase suicidal thoughts, etc. Research by The National Alliance on Medical Illness in the US shows that half of all chronic mental illnesses start around the age of 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24. What this shows is that recognising signs of mental illness in adolescents is of utmost importance and can only begin when we, collectively as a society, begin to cast aside our socially inherited biases and start to take this issue more seriously.

Perhaps our government ought to take a leaf out of India`s book and start taking nation-wide steps to acknowledge, and meaningfully tackle, mental illness. It is an issue that is covertly seeping into the very fibres of the fabric that makes Pakistan, and relinquishing it to the realms of shadows only exacerbates the situation.

The writer is a human rights lawyer.


This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

“Devastating Consequences” for Women, Girls as U.S. Defunds UN Agency

5 April 2017 - 6:38pm

Mothers and babies wait for health screening at a US funded health clinic in Uganda. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

The U.S. has withdrawn all of its funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that works on family planning and reproductive health in over 150 countries.

The decision is based on what the UNFPA says is an erroneous claim that it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation (in China).”

The claim was made by the U.S. State Department in a letter on Monday announcing the cuts, but has been described repeatedly as baseless, by those who know the UNFPA’s work.

According to the UNFPA, it does not promote abortions and instead “accords the highest priority to voluntary family planning to prevent unintended pregnancies to eliminate recourse to abortion.”

In a statement released in response to the funding cuts, the UNFPA said that “we have always valued the United States as a trusted partner and leader in helping to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

The U.S. is one of the largest contributors to UNFPA having provided over $75 million in 2015 alone, the third highest contribution from a government after the United Kingdom and Sweden. The U.S. is also the second largest funder of UNFPA’s humanitarian operations. Like other UN agencies, UNFPA is funded by governments voluntarily.

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organization working on sexual and reproductive rights.

International Women’s Health Coalition’s Director of Advocacy and Policy Shannon Kowalski told IPS that the cuts will have “devastating consequences” for girls and women around the world.

“UNFPA has played a critical role in getting services to the most marginalised women…now their lives and health are at stake because of this,” Kowalski told IPS. 

She noted that the UN agency’s frontline work in crisis situations will be most affected, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to women who have been targeted by the Islamic State (IS) or other groups in the Middle Eastern region. 

According to the UN Foundation, the elimination of U.S. support threatens UNFPA’s ability to reach an estimated 48,000 women with safe childbirth in Syria and 55 women’s centers providing support for over 15,000 women and girl survivors of gender-based violence in Iraq, including one dedicated to more than 700 Yazidi sexual violence survivors.

Around the world, the UNFPA says that US funding in 2016 helped it to save the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth, prevent 947,000 unintended pregnancies, ensure 1,251 fistula surgeries and prevent 295,000 unsafe abortions.

Executive Director of UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project Seema Jalan told IPS that the U.S. government is also the primary funder of the only maternity ward for Syrian women in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.   

“Pregnant Syrian women will have absolutely nowhere to go to deliver their babies,” she stated. 

Kowalski highlighted the larger implications of the U.S.’ decision, stating: “It will send a clear message that the world doesn’t care about responding to women in the most marginalized situations and in many respects, it will indulge in extremists that are looking to capitalize on this marginalization and abandonment of women.” 

This is not the first time that the UNFPA has experienced such cuts from the U.S. government. President George W. Bush previously withdrew $34 million from the agency between 2002 to 2008, similarly citing the agency’s involvement in coercive policies in China. 

Though UNFPA does work in China, both Kowalski and Jalan told IPS that the accusation is baseless and is simply an “excuse” to stop funding an organisation working on sexual and reproductive rights.  

“The Chinese government does still [violent women’s rights]… but because UNFPA is active in the country in supporting the implementation of voluntary sexual and reproductive health services, they link the two and say that UNFPA is directly supporting these coercive policies which is not true,” Kowalski stated. 

One such coercive policy is the East Asian Nation’s one child regulation which has been slowly phased out since 2015, a move that UNFPA helped the country make, Jalan said. 

“The main purpose of UNFPA in China has been to introduce the concept of quality of care and voluntary family planning that is rights-based,” Jalan told IPS. 

Jalan added that UNFPA in China did not even provide assistance to the Chinese government or its family planning agency in 2016, a claim that the State Department makes in its letter.  

However, due to the doubling in U.S. contributions since 2002 and the unprecedented humanitarian crises around the world, the global impacts of the recent decision is expected to be far greater than before. 

Kowalski urged Congress to revoke the Kemp-Kasten Amendment which was referenced to defund the UN agency.   

The amendment prohibits foreign aid to any organization, including U.S. organizations and multilateral organizations, that is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. It is similar to the recently reinstated global gag rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, which forbids foreign groups receiving U.S. assistance to provide information about abortion or abortion services. 

Already, numerous U.S. politicians from New York and California condemned the decision, stating: “President Trump’s hypocrisy has reached new heights with his decision to halt U.S. assistance to the United Nations Population Fund. The President just recently claimed to have ‘tremendous respect’ for women and honored their role around the world, and yet within a month he has issued a decision to cut off funding for the UNFPA…To cut off this funding is a cruel decision that will not only hurt women and their children, but will also further damage the leadership role of the United States around the globe. We call on the President to put women over politics and reverse this decision immediately.” 

Jalan said that this was an “important” start, but urged for a more bipartisan initiative to reverse the decision. 

“Funding for women and girl’s basic healthcare, assuring that a Syrian refugee pregnant woman can actually have a safe delivery and that her child can survive that delivery, someone who has survived sexual violence and can have access to care and support—we believe that that is a bipartisan issue,” she told IPS. 

Kowalski also stressed the need for the international community to step up and increase their support to help close UNFPA’s funding gap.

Upon the reintroduction of the global gag rule, several countries raised approximately $190 million to help fill imminent funding gaps including Sweden, Canada, and Finland who each pledged $21 million towards global access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

“Without UNFPA being able to provide these services, the consequences for women will be devastating,” Kowalski said. 

The funds allocated to UNFPA for the fiscal year 2017 are to be reverted to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support family planning, maternal and reproductive health operations in developing countries. 

The decision marks the first of the Trump administration’s promised cuts to the UN.  

Green Power: Wave of the Future

5 April 2017 - 11:20am

Sustainable energy. Credit: World Bank/Dana Smillie

By Françoise d’Estais, Angus McCrone & Ulf Moslener
PARIS/FRANKFURT/LONDON, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

The price of renewable energy — especially solar power — continues to tumble, and the result is more green power generating capacity for fewer dollars.

That’s the bottom line message from the latest figures on world investment in clean technologies.

In 2016, record levels of new renewable energy generating capacity were added worldwide even as investments fell 23 per cent from the year before.

The data are contained in the 11th annual Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment, a product of UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-energy, geothermal, small hydro and marine sources added 138.5 gigawatts to global power capacity in 2016, up almost 9 per centfrom the 127.5 gigawatts added the year before. The added generating capacity roughly equals that of the world’s 16 largest existing power producing facilities combined.

The proportion of electricity coming from renewables (excluding large hydro) is now 11.3 per cent, a significant jump from 10.3 per cent in 2015. Thanks to green tech, humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide were an estimated 1.7 gigatonnes less than they might have been had the same power been produced from fossil fuels.

And these impressive additions to the world’s generating capacity were made at a fraction of previous costs. Total investments of $241.6 billion (excluding large hydro), were down 23 per cent from 2015 and represented the lowest total dollar investment since 2013.

As noted, this was partly the result of falling costs: the average dollar expenditure required to add a megawatt from solar photovoltaics and wind turbines dropped by over 10 per cent.

The data also show public and private sector investors — who have invested a cumulative $2.5 trillion in renewables since 2004 — favor renewables over fossil fuels by a large margin. Investment in renewables capacity was roughly double the figure for fossil fuels; the corresponding new capacity from renewables excluding large hydro was equivalent to 55 per cent of all new power, the highest to date.

Solar and wind remain by far the most attractive renewable energy investment options.

New investment in solar totalled $113.7 billion, down 34 per cent from the record high in 2015. Solar capacity additions, however, rose to an all-time high of 75 gigawatts.

Wind made up $112.5 billion of investment globally, down 9 per cent; wind capacity additions fell to 54 gigawatts from the previous year’s high of 63 gigawatts.

The smaller sectors had mixed fortunes in terms of new investment. Biofuels fell 37 per cent to $2.2 billion, the lowest for at least 13 years; biomass and waste held steady at $6.8 billion and small hydro at $3.5 billion. Geothermal rallied 17 per cent to $2.7 billion. Marine edged down 7 per cent to $194 million.

In addition to reduced technology costs, the fall in investment also reflected a slowdown in China, Japan and some emerging markets, for a variety of reasons.

Renewable energy investment in developing countries fell 30 per cent to $117 billion, while that in developed economies dropped 14 per cent to $125 billion. China saw investment drop 32 per cent to $78.3 billion, breaking an 11-year rising trend.

Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Morocco all saw falls of 60 per cent or more, due to slower than expected growth in electricity demand, and delays to auctions and financings. Jordan was one of the few new markets to buck the trend, investment there rising 148 per cent to $1.2 billion.

The US saw commitments slip 10 per cent to $46.4 billion, as developers took their time to build out projects to benefit from the five-year extension of the tax credit system. Japan slumped 56 per cent to $14.4 billion.

Investment in renewables did not drop across the board, however. Europe enjoyed a 3 per cent increase to $59.8 billion, led by the UK ($24 billion) and Germany ($13.2 billion). Offshore wind ($25.9 billion) dominated Europe’s investment, up 53 per cent thanks to mega-arrays such as the 1.2 gigawatt Hornsea project in the North Sea, estimated to cost $5.7 billion. China also invested $4.1 billion in offshore wind, its highest figure to date.

And in India, the Ramanathapuram solar complex, billed as the world’s largest ever solar photovoltaicproject (648 megawatts), was constructed.

“The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?’,” says Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board at BNEF. “Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidised wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world – sometimes by a factor of two.”

“It’s a whole new world: even though investment is down, annual installations are still up; instead of having to subsidise renewables, now authorities may have to subsidise natural gas plants to help them provide grid reliability.”

Recent figures from the International Energy Agency cited the switch to renewables as a main reason for greenhouse gas emissions staying flat in 2016, for the third year running, even though output in the global economy rose by 3.1 per cent.

We need this trend to continue and accelerate. And this latest renewable energy investment trends report offers reason to hope that it will.

In the words of Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment: “Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less.

“This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all. ”

Partnership: key word to China’s foreign policy (I)

5 April 2017 - 8:49am

First of two parts

By THE EMBASSY OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
Apr 5 2017 (Manila Times)

As the world economy remains in the doldrums, regional turbulence intensifies and protectionism and isolationism rise against globalization, the international community has turned its eye on China, hoping for a bigger role from China for world stability and development. Some even expect China to play some kind of leadership role in the international system and global governance.


As the world’s second biggest economy and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China is willing to fulfill its due international responsibilities. China has made efforts and is becoming an anchor of world stability, an engine of global growth, a champion of peace and development and a new impetus for global governance. Yet, China never has the intention to lead the world. A globalized world, where countries are more closely interconnected than ever before, needs not a single hero but partners of cooperation who stick together in times of difficulty. This is why China has put forward the idea of building partnerships as the new direction for state-to-state relations, a proposal welcomed by most countries. By the end of 2016, China had set up partnerships with 97 countries and international organizations, which include big countries, neighboring countries as well as developing countries. Partnership has become an important feature and a highlight of China’s foreign policy.

In Chinese culture, unity means strength, while isolation means weakness. We believe an able fellow still needs the support of others and more hands make light work. These are the cultural origins of China’s pursuit of partnership.

Since the founding of the New China, we have been committed to a foreign policy of peace and we have developed friendly relations and cooperation with all countries on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence. These are the historical traditions of China’s pursuit of partnership.

New way for state-to-state interaction

We now live in a world with a degree of interdependence unseen before where peace, development and win-win cooperation form an irresistible trend of the times. Old thinking such as the balance of power, zero-sum games are hard to keep up. What we need is a new way for state-to-state interaction. This is the current background of China’s pursuit of partnership.

Different from conventional theories of international relations, the partnership China advocates has the following distinctive features.

First, pursue peace and cooperation. In the age of globalization, the strength of any individual country is limited. Only through cooperation can countries effectively handle the ever-increasing regional dangers and global challenges. The type of partnership which China proposes does not target an imagined enemy or any third party. It advocates a win-win approach instead of a zero-sum game approach to state-to-state relations, and stresses the importance of seeking common interests.

Second, treat each other as equals. Countries may differ in size, strength and wealth, but all are equal members of the international community. China advocates a partnership which follows the principle of equality of nations, respects all countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and respects each other’s core interests and major concerns. Such a partnership values people’s independent choice of social systems and development path of their countries and rejects power politics whereby the big, strong and rich bully the small, weak and poor.

Third, advocate openness and inclusiveness. The ocean is vast, as it admits all rivers. The partnership that China proposes conforms to the global trend of interdependence and the shared aspiration of all countries for friendly relations with others. It aims to draw on each other’s strengths through exchanges and mutual learning, seeks common progress despite differences and prevents isolation and exclusion created by small group politics.

Fourth, highlight benefits for all. In the world today, the winner-takes-all approach and seeking self-interest to the neglect of others is both obsolete and counterproductive. Those who want absolute security will only find themselves less secure. Those who only care about their own development will eventually run out of steam and lose space of progress. The partnership that China strives for aims to make the pie of common interests bigger through cooperation, so that more fruits of success and common development and prosperity can be shared.

Early this year, in his speech at the UN office in Geneva, President Xi Jinping said that China remains unchanged in its commitment to foster partnerships and will build a circle of friends across the world.

We will actively build partnerships with major countries to jointly promote world peace and development. Major countries have more resources and greater capabilities, therefore play a more vital and important role in the cause of world peace and development. History shows that the world is peaceful and prosperous only when major countries live in harmony and work in partnerships.

China-US relationship
As one of the most consequential bilateral relationships in the world, China-US relationship is always closely watched by the international community. In recent years, some people have been worried that China and the United States could fall into a “Thucydides Trap” which refers to potential conflicts between an established power and a rising power. Lately, there is another worry, i.e. the “Kindleberger Trap”. It says if the emerging power fails or refuses to shoulder due international obligation, the global system could plunge into greater chaos.

First of all, historical comparisons shouldn’t be so simplistic. Today, the future prospects of different countries are closely intertwined. As the interests of rising powers and established ones deeply converge, there will be no winner should a conflict break out between them. Moreover, in such a complex and multi-faceted world, no country can single-handedly provide all global public goods. The only right choice is international cooperation and the only right way is improved global governance.

China is ready to strengthen strategic communication with major partners like the United States, Russia and the EU, deepen cooperation in all fields, promote sustained, stable and healthy development of relations with them, play a bigger role in upholding global peace and security and contribute more to development and progress of humankind.

We will deepen partnerships with neighboring countries to promote overall prosperity and revitalization of Asia. As a Chinese saying goes, “A distant relative may not be as helpful as a close neighbor. “ We will continue to build friendship and partnership with our neighbors, foster an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood, and uphold the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. We are committed to working with neighboring countries as a reliable partner to keep Asia on a positive trajectory, advance regional cooperation and integration and build a balanced, stable, open and inclusive regional security framework, thus enabling Asia to play a bigger role on the world stage.

(To be continued tomorrow)

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Feast and Famine in Africa’s Dubai

4 April 2017 - 8:02pm

Djibouti’s strategic and commercial relevance at the junction of Africa, the Middle East and Indian Ocean is further bolstered by its increasing network of ports. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Apr 5 2017 (IPS)

As balmy night settles over Djibouti City, the arc lights come on at its growing network of ports as ships are offloaded 24 hours a day and trucks laden with cargo depart westwards into the Horn of Africa interior.

Not that long ago Djibouti was known for little more than French legionnaires, atrocious heat and its old railway line to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Nowadays, however, this tiny republic of only about 900,000 people on the Horn of Africa coast has big plans, including turning its capital into the Dubai of Africa.Befitting a crossroads nation, a heady melting pot culture exists: cafés brewing coffee in the traditional Ethiopian style, Yemeni restaurants serving the specialty poisson Yemenite, and haggling at open-air markets in rapid-fire Somali.

Since gaining independence from France in 1977, Djibouti has steadily carved out a regional role through its strategic and commercial relevance at the junction of Africa and the Middle East, and at the confluence of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, overlooking a passage of water used by 30 percent of the world’s shipping transiting from and to the Suez Canal.

“It’s a weird place, really,” says an Addis Ababa-based foreign diplomat. “Djibouti’s also important strategically. I don’t know why more isn’t reported about it.”

Recently-acquired Chinese investment totaling more than 12 billion dollars is funding the building of six new ports, two new airports, a railway, and what is being touted as the biggest and most dynamic free trade zone in Africa, potentially giving the capital, Djibouti City, an edge over its rivals.

“About 2 million African customers travel to Dubai each year,” says Dawit Gebre-ab, with the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority overseeing the city’s commercial infrastructure development. “We know what is on their shopping lists, and they could be coming here instead.”

Helping secure such ambitions is the fact that Djibouti is viewed as offering some of the most prime military real-estate in the world, both to counter piracy threatening that key shipping lane—since peaking in 2011, when 151 vessels were attacked and 25 hijacked, piracy has steeply declined—and to shore up regional stability.

Another foreign diplomat referred to Djibouti as “an oasis in a bad neighbourhood”.

In 2014, the US military agreed a 10-year extension to its presence—with an option to extend for another 10 years—centered on Camp Lemonnier, its African headquarters.

US president Barack Obama described the camp as “extraordinarily important not only to our work throughout the Horn of Africa but throughout the region.”

A similar perspective happens to be held by China, also. In addition to its Djibouti investments, having invested huge amounts in the rest of East Africa—especially in neighboring Ethiopia, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and 90 percent of whose imports come through Djibouti—it wants to secure those interests and others throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

On a beach in Tadjoura locals play a traditional Afar game—Djibouti’s population consists mainly of ethnic Somali and Afar—on the sand. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Furthermore, ever thirsty for crude oil, China wants to shield its heavy dependence on imports from the Middle East that south of Djibouti pass from the Gulf of Aden into the Indian Ocean and then on to the South China Sea.

In 2016 China finalized plans for a new base in Obock, a small port a couple of hours by ferry from Djibouti City northward across the Gulf of Tadjoura. About 10,000 Chinese personal will occupy the base once complete.

Foreign military already stationed in Djibouti—including from France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Japan—number around 25,000, according to some estimates.

But behind all the construction cranes, flashy hotels and military camps, there still exists a very different side to Djibouti.

Every morning in the small town of Tadjoura, about 40km west of Obock along the coastline, local Djiboutians queue to collect their daily quota of baguettes—a scene repeated across the country.

Djibouti’s former existence as colonial French Somaliland has left an indelible Gallic stamp. Along with Somali, Afar and Arabic, French remains one of the main languages used.

Locals in Tadjoura, a small town across the Gulf of Tadjoura from Djibouti city, buying their daily baguettes, a legacy of French colonial rule. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A constant stream of Bonsoirs greet the visitor during an evening wander around Djibouti City’s so-called European quarter and its focal point: Place du 27 Juin 1977, a large square of whitewashed buildings and Moorish arcades named for the date of independence.

South of the quarter’s French-colonial-inspired architecture and orderly avenues and boulevards, lies the dustier and more ramshackle African quarter.

Here, befitting a crossroads nation, a heady melting pot culture exists: cafés brewing coffee in the traditional Ethiopian style, Yemeni restaurants serving the specialty poisson Yemenite, and haggling at open-air markets in rapid-fire Somali all adds to the surprising melting pot within this small capital city.

But whether that lively cultural mix can withstand the brash new modernizing development is a concern for some locals, proud of the country’s past and heterogeneous mix of traditions.

“My fear is not about cultural change, because we need that as this is an ultra-conservative society,” says an elegant Djiboutian professional in her early thirties, her hair covered in the Muslim style, and a cigarette clasped in her slender fingers as the sun dips behind the original old port in the distance.

“It is more about the effects on our customs, such as traditional clothing, food and decorations that symbolize our identity.”

While Djibouti’s maritime commerce and government’s ambitions continue apace, for the average local Djiboutian everyday life remains unaffected by dreams of an African Dubai. Here a lady makes fresh juices on the street to slake the thirsts of sun-blasted pedestrians in Djibouti city’s African quarter. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Others are more outspoken in their criticism of Djibouti’s current strategic and economic upswing—a healthy 6 percent a year, and likely to surpass 7 percent amid the construction boom.

Some locals talk of a country run by a business-savvy dictatorship that has reaped profits from its superpower tenants while not doing enough to relieve widespread poverty; having signed an initial 10-year lease for the base, China will pay 20 million dollars per year in rent. The US pays 60 million dollars a year to lease Camp Lemonnier.

“The government only cares about how to collect the country’s wealth,” says a Djiboutian journalist previously arrested for reporting domestic issues. “They do not care about freedom of expression, human rights, justice and equal opportunities of people.”

Dreams of a Dubai-type future don’t appear to have much relevance for most local Djiboutians, 42 percent of whom live in extreme poverty, while up to 60 percent of the labor force are unemployed, according to current estimates.

“Now I can’t stay here,” says Mohammed, a marine engineer, who left Iraq after the 1991 war for Djibouti where he married a local woman. “My three children won’t be able to get good enough jobs. I’m hoping my brother in the US will be able to get us a green card.”

A 2014 US State Department human-rights report on the country cited the government’s restrictions on free speech and assembly; its use of excessive force, including torture; as well as the harassment and detention of government critics.

Even the hugely popular use of khat by locals is manipulated by government officials as a means of repression, critics claim. It’s alleged government affiliates facilitate its sale in the country as a money maker and means of keeping a potentially frustrated populace calm, while handing it when campaign season rolls around to win favor.

Meanwhile, ships endlessly glide to and from the ports, where cranes offload containers to waiting trucks late into the night under the arc lights.

In early 2017, the new Chinese-built 4-billion-dollar railway officially opened linking Djibouti to the Ethiopian interior—the original railway has lain abandoned for years—and which could eventually connect to other Chinese-built railways emerging across the African continent.

Djibouti’s location has always been its most precious resource—devoid of a single river or the likes of extractable minerals, it produces almost nothing.

Nevertheless, for nearly 150 years it has attracted armies, mercenaries, smugglers, gunrunners and traders: anyone and everyone concerned with the movement or control of merchandise. And that trend only seems set to increase.

“Ethiopia has a population 100 times larger than Djibouti’s but it only imports and exports six times as much,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority. “Imagine the day that demand matches Ethiopia’s population size.”

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Plastic No More… Also in Kenya

4 April 2017 - 12:19pm

Plastic bags are also a major contributor to the 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the sea every year. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 4 2017 (IPS)

Good news: Kenya has just joined the commitment of other 10 countries to address major plastic pollution by decreeing a ban on the use, manufacture and import of all plastic bags, to take effect in six months.

The Kenyan decision comes three weeks after the UN declared “war on plastic” through its new UN Clean Seas initiative, launched on at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali (February 22-24, 2017).

The initiative’s campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

“Kenya is taking decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty,” Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment Programme (UNEP) commented on the Nairobi government’s decision.

“Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems – both on land and at sea – and this decision is a major breakthrough in our global effort to turn the tide on plastic.”

Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, the UN informed, adding that long identified as a major cause of environmental damage and health problems, they kill birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food, damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.

More Plastic Than Fish

According to UNEP, plastic bags are the number one challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems and healthcare is limited.

They also contribute to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. At current rates by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, wreaking havoc on marine fisheries, wildlife and tourism.

Biodegradable Plastics Are Not the Answer to Reducing Marine Litter. Credit: UNEP


Kenya, who on March 15 announced its decision to ban plastic bags, is now the 11th country to take action in support of the UNEP’s campaign. Also in Africa, Rwanda and Morocco have already banned plastic bags and other countries are set to announce measures in the coming weeks.

At that Bali Summit, Indonesia committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year, and Costa Rica announced measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.

Canada added micro-beads (tiny particles of plastic) to its list of toxic substances, and New Zealand, the UK and the US announced bans on micro-beads in cosmetics.

According to estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.

Sweden’s Strong Push

Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s deputy prime minister and climate minister told IPS in an interview that the world is going “in the totally wrong direction,” when it comes to achieving the goal of sustainable oceans and life below water.

“If you look at the trends right now, you see more and more overfishing, we are seeing more and more pollution, plastic litter coming into our oceans, and we’re also seeing all the stress that the ocean is under due to climate change, acidification of the water, but also the warming and sea level rises.

Together with Fiji, Sweden is convening a major UN Ocean Conference on 5-9 June this year.

The new Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is one of the most advanced marine vessels sailing today. Credit: FAO


The Conference aims to bring together governments, the private sector and civil society organisations to create a more coordinated approach to sustaining oceans. It will look at the key role that oceans play in climate change but also other issues such as the alarming prospect that there will be more plastic in our seas than fish by the year 2050.

“There’s 3 billion people around the world that are primarily dependent on marine resources for their survival and so they depend on what the ocean can produce, so it’s about food security, it’s also about livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people that depend on small scale fisheries mostly in developing countries,” Lövin explained.

She also noted that rich countries need to work together with developing countries to address these issues, because the demand for fish in rich countries has put a strain on the global fish stocks that developing countries rely on.

“Rich countries … have been over-fishing with industrial methods for decades and now when they European oceans are being emptied more or less we have depleted our resources and then we import and we fish (over long distances in) developing countries’ waters.”

“We need to make sure that fish as a resource is conserved and protected for future generations.”

Norway-FAO Advanced Oceanic Research

In line with these efforts, Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, said at the Bali Summit: “Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. Our oceans cannot wait any longer.”

On Mach 24, Norway and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a brand new, state-of-the-art marine studies vessel, among the most advanced of its kind — and the only research ship on the globe that flies the UN flag.

Its mission: to investigate some of the planet’s least-explored oceans, using cutting-edge technology and sophisticated equipment to help developing countries assemble scientific data critical to sustainable fisheries management and study how a changing climate is affecting our oceans.

The new Dr. Fridtjof Nansen vessel —the 3rd ship to bear that name during an on-going 40-year partnership between FAO and Norway— houses seven different laboratories packed with high tech gadgetry.

As the only research ship on the planet flying the UN flag, the Dr. Fridtjof Nansen is able to sail freely across different jurisdictional boundaries, unfettered in its pursuit of natural resource challenges that transcend borders.

Speaking at the ship’s naming ceremony in Oslo, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg stressed that both science and international collaboration will be key to implementing the 2030 Development Agenda.

“Norway, with our long coastline and ocean culture, understands the importance of SDG14, with its goal of protecting our oceans. We know this can not be done by any one country on its own. It requires us all to do our part, and Norwegian-FAO cooperation on the Nansen is an example of collaborating with developing countries to achieve this,” she said.

“This new vessel allows us to improve research and activities where marine observations are extremely limited, and better understand the impacts of climate change on aquatic ecosystems and our oceans” said for his part FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva

“This is crucial to enable developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially regarding small-scale fisheries.”

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Catastrophic Antibiotic Threat from Food

4 April 2017 - 8:31am

Antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, but they are also believed by many farmers to promote growth. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 4 2017 (IPS)

The greatly excessive use of antibiotics in food production in recent decades has made many bacteria more resistant to antibiotics. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that antibiotic use in animal husbandry, poultry farming and aquaculture in the US is over four times USDA recommended levels. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has estimated that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the USA are used on animals.

Cheap antibiotics prone to abuse
Antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, but they are also believed by many farmers to promote growth. As prices of antibiotics remain attractively low, they offer the prospect of higher earnings from greater output at low cost. Hence, there is little or no market incentive to reduce excessive, if not indiscriminate use, and hence abuse of antibiotics. Thus, such efforts to increase farmer incomes and profitability exacerbate the likelihood and risk of antibiotic resistance.

The widespread use of antibiotics through food chains is thus becoming catastrophic. A review by the FAO explains how antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals are infecting humans, through direct contact with animals or indirect transmission through the food we eat. Earlier, the spread of bacteria was popularly associated with international travel, but the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food is now proving to be far more formidable.

‘Recycling’ antibiotics

Ecologically minded activists have long been promoting agricultural recycling, often citing traditional agricultural practices. But adding antibiotics to animal feed has made this a threat to public health. The feed typically contains many drugs, including some only used by humans as antibiotics of last resort.

Much of the antibiotics given to livestock and poultry passes un-degraded through their urine and faeces, directly affecting food from aquaculture. Thus, waste from pigpens flowing into fishponds exposes fish and shrimps to the high doses of antibiotics that livestock get, on top of the antibiotics added to the pond water to prevent or address aquatic diseases. Antibiotic resistant bacteria from this environment then passes to humans who consume such food.

While restrictions have already been widely placed on the use of hormones and steroids to promote growth, the excessive use of antibiotics by farmers has only gained attention in recent years, while a huge reservoir of resistant bacteria was emerging and spreading.

In November 2015, scientists discovered a gene in China that can enable many types of bacteria to become more antibiotic resistant. The gene has since been found in patients, food and animals from more than twenty countries. More worryingly, these bacteria can resist the last line of effective antibiotics available.

Catastrophic threat
A British government report estimates that about 700,000 people worldwide currently die annually due to antibiotic-resistant infections. If current trends continue, this mortality rate will rise to ten million yearly by mid-century, i.e., in just over three decades.

In the near future, antibiotics will become less effective in treating infections as bacteria mutate to become more resistant. Many more people will die of currently antibiotics-curable diseases. New antibiotics may delay this trend, but no new class of antibiotics has been discovered since the 1980s.

In line with the WHO’s global action plan, member nations have pledged to draw up national action plans against antibiotics resistance, as part of a broader effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The lack of effective national surveillance and supervision of antibiotics use in animal products masks the severity of the threat.

Sadly, in most developing countries, the rising threat posed by the exponential growth of dangers due to excessive antibiotic use is mainly of concern to the authorities when it threatens export prospects. As with improper and excessive pesticide use, the abuse of antibiotics is mainly of concern when it affects national reputations abroad and related export earnings, with scant attention given to the threats posed to domestic consumers.

Climate Change Solutions Can’t Wait for U.S. Leadership

3 April 2017 - 8:02pm

President of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr. Warren Smith says the bank is giving high priority to addressing the fallout from climate change in the region. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Apr 4 2017 (IPS)

From tourism-dependent nations like Barbados to those rich with natural resources like Guyana, climate change poses one of the biggest challenges for the countries of the Caribbean.

Nearly all of these countries are vulnerable to natural events like hurricanes.“Why is this such a big deal? The Caribbean is facing a climate crisis, which we need to tackle now - with urgency.” --Dr. Warren Smith

Not surprisingly, the climate change threat facing the countries of the Caribbean has not gone unnoticed by the region’s premier financial institution, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

“We are giving high priority to redressing the fallout from climate change,” the bank’s president Dr. Warren Smith told journalists at a press conference here recently.

“This is an inescapable reality, and we have made it our business to put in place the financial resources necessary to redress the effects of sea-level rise and more dangerous hurricanes.”

CDB has also tapped new funding for renewable energy and for energy efficiency.

For the first time, the bank has accessed a 33-million-dollar credit facility from Agence Française de Développement (AFD) to support sustainable infrastructure projects in select Caribbean countries and a 3 million euro grant to finance feasibility studies for projects eligible for financing under the credit facility.

“At least 50 percent of those funds will be used for climate adaptation and mitigation projects,” Smith explained.

“We persuaded the Government of Canada to provide financing for a CAD 5 million Canadian Support to the Energy Sector in the Caribbean Fund, which will be administered by the CDB. This money will help to build capacity in the energy sector over the period 2016 to 2019.”

In February, CBD also became an accredited partner institution of the Adaptation Fund, and in October 2016, the bank achieved the distinction of accreditation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

“Why is this such a big deal? The Caribbean is facing a climate crisis, which we need to tackle now – with urgency,” Smith said.

“The Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund have opened new gateways to much-needed grant and or low-cost financing to address climate change vulnerabilities in all of our borrowing member countries (BMCs).”

The financing options outlined by the CDB president would no doubt be welcome news to Caribbean countries in the wake of United States President Donald Trump’s recently proposed budget cuts for climate change funding.

The proposed 2018 federal budget would end programmes to lower domestic greenhouse gas emissions, slash diplomatic efforts to slow climate change and cut scientific missions to study the climate.

The budget would cut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding by 31 percent including ending Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan – the Obama administration’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

At the U.S. State Department, the budget proposal eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the president’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ climate change programmes by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.

The Green Climate Fund is the U.N. effort to help countries adapt to climate change or develop low-emission energy technologies, and the Global Climate Change Initiative is a kind of umbrella programme that paid for dozens of assistance programmess to other countries working on things such as clean energy.

The proposal would also cut big chunks out of climate-related programmes of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The USAID is the American agency through which the countries of the Caribbean get a lot of their funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

“We would be foolish to have taken a lead role in getting the world to move on climate, to put innovation at its core and then walk away from that agenda,” Dr Ernest Moniz said on CNN. “Some of the statements being made about the science, I might say by non-scientists, are really disturbing because the evidence is clearly there for taking prudent steps.

“I would not argue with the issue that different people in office may decide to take different pathways, different rates of change etc., but not the fundamental science,” added Moniz, who was instrumental in negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement.

Throughout his election campaign, Trump consistently threatened to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate deal.

Moniz, a nuclear physicist and former Secretary of Energy serving under President Obama, from May 2013 to January 2017, said he would wait and see how this develops, but said of the threat to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, “obviously, that would be a very bad idea” noting that every country in the world is now committed to a low-carbon future.

“There’s no going back. One of my friends in the industry would say ‘you can’t keep the waves off the beach’. We are going to a low carbon future.”

Since being sworn in as president in January, Trump’s administration has been sending somewhat mixed signals about climate change. While Trump himself has described climate change as a hoax, he also said he had an open mind toward efforts to control it.

Caribbean countries, meanwhile, are watching with keen interest the developments in the United States.

Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Milton Haughton said fisheries is one of the industries being impacted by climate change.

“Climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification and disaster risk management are major challenges facing the fisheries sector and the wider economies of our countries,” Haughton said ahead of a two-day meeting in Kingston to discuss measures for adaptation to climate change and disaster risk management in fisheries as well as the status of and recent trends in fisheries and aquaculture in the region.

“These issues continue to be high priorities for policy-makers and stakeholders because we need to improve capacity, information base and policy, and institutional arrangements to respond to these threats and protect our future.

“At this meeting, we will be discussing the USA-sponsored initiative to provide risk insurance for fishers, among other initiatives to improve and protect the fisheries sector and ensure food security,” Haughton added.

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El Salvador Passes Pathbreaking Law Banning Metal Mining

3 April 2017 - 7:04pm

César Augusto Jaco, a member of an environmental community network, takes part in one of the demonstrations in support of the new law that bans metal mining in El Salvador, on March 29, in front of parliament. The measure, the first of its kind in the world, responds to a lengthy struggle by environmentalists and local communities. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, has become the first country in the world to pass a law banning metal mining in all its forms, setting a precedent for other nations in the world to follow, according to activists and local residents.

“This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry,” Edgardo Mira, an environmental activist with the National Council Against Metal Mining, an umbrella group of local organisations, told IPS.

With 69 votes out of 84, the members of the single-chamber Legislative Assembly passed on March 29 the landmark law, whose 11 articles amount to a blanket ban on mining, whether underground or surface.

Dozens of jubilant activists gathered early that day outside parliament to demand the approval by the plenary session of the ban agreed the day before by the legislature’s Environment and Climate Change Committee.““This is historic; we are sending a signal to the world that countries can take a different path and say ‘no’ to the mining industry.” -- Edgardo Mira

“I have visited the old mines which were active last century, where you can clearly see the impacts, such as acid drainage in the rivers, which would happen in the rest of the country,” retiree César Augusto Jaco, from the populous neighborhood of Cuscatancingo in the capital, told IPS.

Holding a sign with a yellow background and an image of a skull in black, the 76-year-old member of the Network of Community Environmentalists of El Salvador, said outside parliament: “Mining is disastrous, there’s no way it’s not going to damage our water sources.”

The risk of damaging the country’s groundwater reserves has been one of the main reasons driving the struggle of activists against the extractive industry, which uses millions of litres of water to obtain gold.

El Salvador is one of the most environmentally vulnerable countries, according to international agencies.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Latin American Water Tribunal, the International Water Association and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) concur that the country is heading toward a situation of water stress, researcher, José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) researcher Andrés McKinley told IPS.

The law also prohibits the use of cyanide, mercury and other elements used in mining But it offers a two-year grace period to small-scale miners, so they can find another source of income.

Mira, from the National Council, estimated the number of artisanal miners at about 300, mostly in the San Sebastián mine in Santa Rosa de Lima, in the eastern department of La Unión.

Because the law is retroactive, it blocks all pending exploration permits.

The 2015 report “The Threat of Metal Mining in a Thirsty World,” written by McKinley and published by the UCA, documents the cases of countries where the activity has been restricted, but not banned outright.

Costa Rica, the report notes, passed a law in 2012 that banned open pit metal mining, while still allowing underground mining.

In 2002, the government of the province of Oriental Mindoro, in the Philippines, passed a 35-year moratorium on mining projects, and in 2011, the province of Zamboanga did the same with open-pit mining.

In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed the Pebble mine in the state of Alaska, to protect the largest habitat in the world of red or sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka).

Earlier, in 1989, the then president of Venezuela, Carlos Andrés Pérez, imposed a 50-year moratorium on all mining activity in the southern state of Amazonas. But that did not stop the expansion of illegal mining in that jungle region, while the current government reverted the measure de facto, allowing mining activity in the area.

“El Salvador is the first country in the world to evaluate the costs and benefits of the mining industry for the country and to exercise its right to say no,” McKinley told IPS.

The approval of the law was a product of many factors that combined to convince lawmakers to finally respond to the longstanding call from activists and local communities for a ban.

Among them, the pressure from environmentalist organisations that have struggled to that end for over a decade, and from the Catholic Church, which endorsed the popular demand.

On March 9, San Salvador’s archbishop, Luis Escobar Alas, led a march against metal mining to parliament, where they handed over a bill drawn up by the UCA, which formed the basis of the law that was finally adopted.

“The Catholic Church has enormous power in El Salvador, and its support for the struggle by local communities did not start this year, but in 2007, when it took a stance, at the Episcopal Conference, with its document Let’s Take Care of Everyone’s Home,” said McKinley.

The law is the culmination of years of struggle by environmental organisations and community leaders against, above all, the El Dorado mine in the central department of Cabañas, operated by the Pacific Rim company, now OceanaGold since it was acquired in 2013 by the Australian-Canadian corporation.

The company sued El Salvador for 250 million dollars in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), after the rightwing Salvadoran government of the time cancelled its exploration permit in 2008.

The two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front have maintained this de facto moratorium since 2009.

In October 2016, ICSID ruled in favour of El Salvador, and ordered the company to pay eight million dollars in legal expenses, which it has failed to do.

And in a new setback, the body ruled on March 28 that the corporation must also pay interest on the debt, at a monthly rate between two and five per cent, on back payments dating to October.

These rulings also contributed to generating a climate conducive to approval of the ban.

“We are celebrating the triumph of our struggle, and our celebration continues out there in the communities where the people have been fighting,” Rina Navarrete, the coordinator of the Friends of San Isidro Cabañas Association, told IPS.i

She added that the accomplishment was a vindication of the work by “the fallen martyrs in this struggle against the mining corporation” – a reference to Ramiro Rivera, Marcelo Rivera (not related) and Dora Alicia Sorto, environmentalists killed by hitmen between June and December 2009, in the town of Cabañas.

Navarrete, a single mother of two who lives in the municipality of Llano de la Hacienda, in Cabañas, has taken up the work of the late Marcelo Rivera.

The activists were shot presumably because of their opposition to the activities of Pacific Rim in that area, although this has not been confirmed by the legal authorities.

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World Bank Ignores Land Grabbing

3 April 2017 - 9:21am

Farmers in Ethiopia. Photo: WG Film.

By Linda Flood
STOCKHOLM, Apr 3 2017 (IPS/Arbetet Global)

Sales of huge land areas of Ethiopia, by the Ethiopian government, to foreign investors, have led to starvation and forced displacement. In his documentary Dead Donkeys Fear no Hyenas, Swedish film director Joakim Demmer exposes the consequences of land grabbing, and holds the World Bank complicit.

The chase for this Green Gold started over ten years ago. Just before the global  financial crisis, agricultural land areas in developing countries became a target for investment among global investors.

Joakim Demmer experienced at first hand at the Addis Abeba airport how emergency food supplies was being unloaded while local food produce was being loaded for export.

Joakim Demmer

”It was so odd. I started reading up on the subject and became aware of the extent foreign investors were striking deals all over the country.

Pursuing this land grabbing story took him to a local journalist covering environmental issues at an early stage, who directed his attention to the Gambela National Park. Together they discovered that investors Saudi Star Agricultural Development had begun the development of a rice farm.

In order to make the sale to investors, the Ethiopian government displaced the local population.

”Our thoughts were of how we could follow this over an extended time period, so we would return several times”

”My definition of land grabbing is when transnational companies seize public lands in developemnt countries without permission from local communities and without compensation. In Ethiopia this land grabbing is also done by force. People do not voluntarily move from their homes.”

Conditions for following the story were difficult. That is why the documentary was a full seven years in the making.

Women working on a rice farm in Ethiopia. Credit: WG Film

”Ethiopia is in reality a dictatorship even if there are elections. The governmental apparatus is everywhere. If four Ethiopians gather in one place, at least one of them will report to the secret police. So right from the start, we had to ask ourselves whether we could report this story without compromising the safety of others.”

During the documentary process, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were imprisoned in Ethiopia. Joakim Demmer continued to film, below the radar of the Ethiopian regime.

"The women are hit the hardest. Men can possibly seek jobs in the cities, which women can not"
Ethiopia is dependent on emergency food aid, which goes to approximately three million Ethiopians. The World Bank has supported the Ethipian development program ”Protection of Basic Services” PBS with billions of dollars. In his film, Joakim Demmer shows a measure of complicity on the side of the World Bank, supporting the mechanisms that promote land grabbing.

”In many parts of Ethipoia the development program has worked, but in several regions, the Ethiopian regime uses these available resources to displace people by restricting funding to new settlements only. New villages that serve as a kind of alibi for the Ethiopian government”.

The Saudi Star rice farm is part of the Midroc Glocal Group corporation, which is owned by the Saudi Mohammed Al-Amoudi. The Swedish subsidiary Midroc Europe was involved in developing the farm for a few years.

”I have tried to get in touch with them, but they do not want to discuss their clients”, Joakim Demmer adds.

After the opening of the film, there has been official comment from Midroc Europe that challenges the accusation of land-grabbing. In an interview with the news journal ”Omvärlden”, managing director of Midroc Europe Roger Wikström considers the relations with local inhabitants as collaborative and refutes the way the documentary portrays their activities and its consequences.

Demmer replies with the situation for the Anuk ethnic minority. ”The World Bank were informed of the situation at an early stage but chose to disregard it. Eventually an internal inquiry was launched, but it ignored testimony from the local inhabitants”

In the documentary, testimony of violence, rapes and betrayal come from several witnesses. Local Anuks were manipulated with lavish but unfulfilled promises. Demmer explains that the local inhabitants now are not just dependent on food aid, but furthermore that their cultural identity is dying as they no longer have access to the lands of their history.

”The women are hit the hardest. Men can possibly seek jobs in the cities, which women can not”.

Translation: Ravi Dar

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

Brazilian Capoeira Heals Wounds in the DRC

3 April 2017 - 8:46am

Capoeira for peace in DRC. Credit: Stefano Toscano

By Fabíola Ortiz
RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

On the earthen floor, to the sound of a single-string percussion instrument called a Berimbau, Congolese children stand in a circle practicing rhythmic movements with their arms and feet and chanting.

They are doing Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that merges the practice of sports, acrobatics, music and popular culture.This Afro-Brazilian cultural practice, simultaneously a fight and a dance, functions as an affirmation of mutual respect between communities.

It was started in Brazil by the descendants of African slaves, and in 2014 Capoeira was recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This Afro-Brazilian cultural practice, simultaneously a fight and a dance, functions as an affirmation of mutual respect between communities and individuals promoting social integration and the memory of resistance.

Capoeira has been used as a powerful tool to help demobilized children and adolescents from armed groups and victims of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With the practice comes self-confidence, emotional strengthening, community-building, overcoming gender differences, and reducing inequalities.

Independent Brazilian journalist Fabíola Ortiz and photographer/videomaker Flavio Forner intend to visit in loco how Capoeira is being used with Congolese children in North Kivu.

Both media professionals recently launched an in-depth reporting project that aims to report on the benefits of this martial art to heal trauma. The duo plan to immerse themselves in the universe of Brazilian Capoeira in the DRC.

Forner and Ortiz are dedicated to the coverage of development and human rights. They believe in the role of independent in-depth journalism to promote public debate, encourage change and keep the UN Sustainable Development Goals on the global agenda.

Capoeira for peace in DRC. Credit: Stefano Toscano

“There is a need for groundbreaking and innovative storytelling approaches to report on conflict and trauma. Information has a powerful role in defusing tension, reducing conflicts, and contributing to the healing process of traumatic events,” said Ortiz.

Independent journalism may act as unifier in a polarized society and has a pivotal role in conflict prevention, management and resolution, they believe.

Capoeira in North Kivu

Twice a week, girls at the Heal Africa hospital in central Goma, North Kivu’s capital, are taught Capoeira. Boys at the Transit and Guidance Centre (CTO) run by the Concerted Action for Disadvantaged Young People and Children (CAJED) also learn this martial art. The CTO is a place for helping the reintegration into society of child victims of violence and who have been demobilized from armed gangs.

This centre for vulnerable children directs its efforts towards demobilizing, supporting and reintegrating children into their families. Partnering with UNICEF since 2003, CAJED has hosted more than 11,000 children removed from armed groups of the DRC.

Since August 2014, around 40 children join Capoeira classes on a weekly basis. With the support of UNICEF, the Brazilian Embassy in Kinshasa, AMADE-Mondiale and HSH Princess Caroline of Monaco, this initiative led by a Brazilian Master Flavio Saudade introduces children to the practice.

In a war-torn country with ethnic roots and embedded with commercial interests, it is crucial to rebuild community ties and restore a culture of peace.

“Capoeira is a social technology developed in Brazil from a cultural tradition of African origin. Its use in conflict zones to reduce violence is a recent phenomenon with encouraging results,” stressed the Brazilian Ambassador to the D.R.C Paulo Uchôa Ribeiro when the initiative started in 2014.

So far, the initiative has benefitted around 3,000 children, according to Flavio Saudade, a Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF and a Capoeira master.

“We are trying to address a serious problem: the forced child recruitment. Today I see that Capoeira has a great mission, the one of building a society free of so many violence. We hear testimonies from children who went through forced military trainings and were obliged to kill their parents and commit grave crimes,” said Saudade.

Instead of carrying an AK-47 rifle, Congolese children are now taught how to play a Berimbau. “How many lives we might save when we teach them how to play an instrument rather than shooting a weapon,” he said.

Political Instability

The conflict in the DRC officially ended in 2002 with a peace agreement, but this war-torn country with 77 million people in Central Africa still struggles to heal the wounds from armed clashes that perpetuate to the present day. Around six million people lost their lives. The current fighting continues to be characterized by violence and brutality against civilians, causing waves of internally displaced persons. The conflict generated a mass exodus of 1.7 million people.

Despite being one of the richest countries with diamond, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc, the DRC is among the world’s least developed nations. Its abundant land, water, biodiversity and minerals have fueled longstanding tensions. The legacy of years of atrocities, instability and widespread violence resulted in more than half of its population living below the poverty line.

The instability in the country has awaken recently with Joseph Kabila’s presidential mandate that came to an end last December 2016, after 17 years in power. Kabila was to lead a transitional government until elections due to be held by the end of this year. However, the opposition has accused the government of undermining efforts to offer a peaceful exit.

The discontentment arose in the face of the failure of political negotiations that was mediated by the Catholic Church in the DRC.

Last March 31, the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations mission in the DRC for another year but reduced the number of troops. In a resolution unanimously adopted, the 15-member body decided to keep the UN Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) until March 2018.

*To learn more about the independent in-depth reporting project led by the Brazilian journalist Fabíola Ortiz and the photographer Flavio Forner, visit their website: www.capoeiracongo.com. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.

 

A Transformational Moment in Nuclear & International Affairs?

3 April 2017 - 2:21am

Credit: UN Photo

By John Burroughs
NEW YORK, Apr 3 2017 (IPS)

Is a paradigm shift now underway on nuclear weapons at the United Nations? That was the question posed as about 130 nations gathered this past week to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination. The treaty would prohibit development, possession and use of nuclear weapons, but would not contain detailed provisions relating to verified dismantlement of nuclear arsenals and governance of a world free of nuclear arms.

This is the first multilateral negotiation on nuclear weapons since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was adopted in 1996. It is also the first ever such negotiation relating to the global elimination of nuclear arms, despite the fact that the first UN General Assembly resolution, in 1946, called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

The hope of the nations leading the negotiations, including Costa Rica, whose ambassador, Elayne Whyte, is president of the negotiating conference, is that the second session, to be held from June 15 to July 7, will succeed in adopting a treaty. The idea is to strike while the iron is hot.

What makes the initiative at first hard to grasp is that it involves countries whose acquisition of nuclear weapons is already barred by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and by regional nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties.

The nuclear-armed states (United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel) are not participating, nor are almost all states in military alliances with the United States. The aim, nonetheless, is to set a global standard stigmatizing nuclear arms and laying the foundation for their universal and permanent elimination.

The initiative grew out of three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear explosions organized by the governments of Norway, Austria, and Mexico, in 2013 and 2014. The straightforward message is that the consequences of use of nuclear weapons are morally unacceptable and also incompatible with international humanitarian law barring the use of weapons causing unnecessary suffering and indiscriminate harm.

Therefore, nuclear weapons should be explicitly prohibited by treaty, as have other weapons including biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines, and cluster munitions. The initiative also builds upon the regional nuclear weapon free zone treaties, to which most of the negotiating states belong.

The Trump Administration has carried forward the Obama Administration’s policy of opposing the negotiations. An alarming related development is that Christopher Ford, a former US Special Representative for Nonproliferation now serving on the National Security Council, has stated that the administration is reviewing “whether or not the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is in fact a realistic objective, especially in the near to medium term.” Ford, a lawyer, knows very well that the United States is legally bound by Article VI of the NPT to pursue in good faith negotiations on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.

A common objection made by U.S. allies is that a nuclear ban treaty will undermine the NPT. Participating states reply: How? We are negotiating an effective measure relating to nuclear disarmament as Article VI requires of all NPT states parties.

The first week of negotiations revealed a broad convergence in favor of a relatively simple prohibition treaty. Only a few countries advocated negotiation in this forum of a comprehensive convention addressing all aspects of nuclear disarmament. Many other countries see negotiation of a comprehensive convention as a step to be taken later, when at least some nuclear-armed states are ready to participate.

There remain significant issues to be resolved concerning the provisions of a prohibition treaty, including issues relating to threat of use of nuclear arms and to testing. My organization, the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), advocates for inclusion of a prohibition of threat of use.

In our view, that would confirm and specify existing international law and, as Chile and South Africa also said, help to delegitimize nuclear deterrence. An opposing view is that the illegality of threat of use would be implicit in the prohibitions of possession and use and is already adequately covered by the UN Charter.

IALANA also calls for the treaty to prohibit design and testing of nuclear weapons, capturing a whole suite of activities from computer simulations to explosive testing. The treaty will help set the template for future disarmament agreements, and therefore should be reasonably comprehensive.

Many governments support the inclusion of a prohibition of at least testing. Some governments maintain, however, that it is captured by the prohibition of development and note that explosive testing is banned by the yet to enter into force CTBT.

A knotty issue is how to handle possible later participation in the treaty by nuclear-armed states. The basic options are to require that they denuclearize prior to joining the treaty, or to provide that they may join the treaty if they have accepted a time-bound obligation verifiably to eliminate their arsenal. Participation by nuclear-armed states in a ban treaty in the near term is entirely theoretical, and may not happen even when they do decide to eliminate their arsenals. Still, negotiators want to make it clear that all states are welcome and encouraged to join the treaty.

The initiative and the negotiations have been marked by close cooperation between governments and civil society, notably the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Civil society was given ample opportunity to comment throughout the first week.

Such cooperation has never before occurred in the nuclear sphere. Also noteworthy is that the negotiations are taking place in a UN process over the opposition of the permanent five members of the Security Council, perhaps a harbinger of democratization of the United Nations.

Diplomats and civil society organizations involved in the negotiations are clearly energized, even passionate, and determined to work constructively. If all goes well, members of a ban treaty, working together with civil society, will become a potent collective actor that will transform nuclear and international affairs for the better.

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