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Climate Change Brings Migration from the Dry Corridor to Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast

1 August 2017 - 3:20am

Peasant farmers on a farm in the town of Sébaco, in the northern Nicaraguan department of Matagalpa, part of the Dry Corridor of Central America, where this year rains have been generous, after years of drought. Credit: Wilmer López/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MATAGALPA, Nicaragua, Aug 1 2017 (IPS)

If the impact of drought and poverty in the municipalities of the so-called Dry Corridor in Nicaragua continues pushing the agricultural frontier towards the Caribbean coast, by the year 2050 this area will have lost all its forests and nature reserves, experts predict.

Denis Meléndez, facilitator of the National Board for Risk Management, told IPS that annually between 70,000 and 75,000 hectares of forests are lost in Nicaragua’s northern region and along the Caribbean coast, according to research carried out by this non-governmental organisation that monitors the government’s environmental record.

This phenomenon, he explained, occurs mainly due to the impact of climate change in the Dry Corridor, a vast area that comprises 37 municipalities in central and northern Nicaragua, which begins in the west, at the border with Honduras, and ends in the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega, bordering the eastern North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN).“They are peasant farmers who are unaware that most of the land in the Caribbean is most suitable for forestry,and they cut the trees, burn the grasslands, plant crops and breed livestock, destroying the ecosystem.” -- Denis Meléndez

The Dry Corridor in Central America is an arid strip of lowlands that runs along the Pacific coast through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

In this Central American eco-region, which is home to 10.5 million people, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the cyclical droughts have been aggravated by climate change and the gradual devastation of natural resources by the local populations.

In Nicaragua, it encompasses areas near the RACCN, a territory of over 33,000 square kilometres, with a population mostly belonging to the indigenous Miskito people, and which has the biggest forest reserve in Nicaragua and Central America: Bosawas.

From these generally dry territories, said Meléndez, there has been an invasion of farmers to the RACCN – many of them mestizos or people of mixed-race heritage, who the native inhabitants pejoratively refer to as “colonists“ – fleeing the rigours of climate change, who have settled in indigenous areas in this Caribbean region.

“They are peasant farmers who are unaware that most of the land in the Caribbean is most suitable for forestry,and they cut the trees, burn the grasslands, plant crops and breed livestock, destroying the ecosystem,“ Meléndez complained.

He said that if the loss of forests continues at the current pace, by 2050 the Dry Corridor will reach all the way to the Caribbean coast.

IPS visited several rural towns in the northern department of Matagalpa, where four of the 37 municipalities of the Corridor are located: San Isidro, Terrabona, Ciudad Darío and Sébaco.

In Sébaco, the rains have been generous since the rainy season started in May, which made the farmers forget the hardships of the past years.

There is green everywhere, and enthusiasm in the agricultural areas, which between 2013 and early 2016 suffered loss after loss in their crops due to the drought.

“The weather has been nice this year, it had been a long time since we enjoyed this rainwater which is a blessing from God,” 67-year-old Arístides Silva told IPS.

Silva and other farmers in Sébaco and neighbouring localities do not like to talk about the displacement towards other communities near the Caribbean coast, “to avoid conflicts.“

A good winter or rainy season this year in the tropical areas in northern Nicaragua curbed migration towards the neighbouring Northern Caribbean Region by farmers who use the slash-and-burn method, devastating to the forests. Credit: Wilmer López/IPS

“I know two or three families who have gone to the coast to work, but because the landowners want them because we know how to make the land produce. We don’t go there to invade other people’s land,“ said Agenor Sánchez, who grows vegetables in Sébaco, on land leased from a relative.

But like Meléndez, human rights, social and environmental organisations emphasise the magnitude of the displacement of people from the Dry Corridor to Caribbean coastal areas since 2005.

Ecologist Jaime Incer Barquero, a former environment minister, told IPS that this is not a new problem. “For 40 years I have been warning about the ecological disaster of the Dry Corridor and the Caribbean, but the authorities haven’t paid attention to me,“ he complained.

The scientist pointed out that the shifting of the agricultural frontier from the Dry Corridor to the Caribbean forest and its coastal ecosystems threatens the sources of water that supply over 300,000 indigenous people in the area, because when the trees in the forest are cut, water is not absorbed by the soil, leading to runoff and landslides.

“There are thousands of ‘colonists’ devastating the biosphere reserve in Bosawas, which is the last big lung in Central America, and it is endangered,”

Abdel García, climate change officer at the non-governmental Humboldt Centre, told IPS that during the nearly four years of drought that affected the country, the risk of environmental devastation extended beyond the Dry Corridor towards the Caribbean.

He believes the expansion of the Dry Corridor farming practices towards the Caribbean region is a serious problem, since the soil along the coast is less productive and cannot withstand the traditional crops grown in the Corridor.

While the soils of the Corridor stay fertile for up to 20 years, in the Caribbean the soil, which is more suited to forestry, is sometimes fertile for just two or three years.

That drives farmers to encroach on the forest in order to keep planting, using their traditional slash-and-burn method.

According to García, the expansion of the Corridor would impact on the Caribbean coastal ecosystems and put pressure on protected areas, such as Bosawas.

The environmentalist said the Caribbean region is already facing environmental problems similar to those in the Corridor, such as changes in rainfall regimes, an increase in winds, and the penetration of sea water in coastal areas that used to be covered by dense pine forests or mangroves that have been cut down over the last 10 years.

The climate monitoring carried out by the Humboldt Centre, one of the most reputable institutions and the most proactive in overseeing and defending the environment in the country, found that the average rainfall in the Corridor fell from 1,000 to 1,400 millimetres per square metre to half that in 2015.

The migration of farmers from the Corridor, where about 500,000 people live, towards the Caribbean is also having on impact on human rights, since the Caribbean regions are by law state-protected territories, and the encroachment by outsiders has led to abuse and violence between indigenous people and ‘colonists’.

María Luisa Acosta, head of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, has denounced this violence before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In her view, the growing number of outsiders moving into the Caribbean region is part of a business involving major interests, promoted and supported by government agencies to exploit the natural resources in the indigenous lands along the Caribbean with impunity.

For its part, the government officially denies that there is conflict generated by the influx of outsiders in the RACCN, but is taking measures to reinforce food security in the Dry Corridor, in an attempt to curb migration towards the Caribbean.

Of Nicaragua’s population of 6.2 million people, 29.6 per cent live in poverty and 8.3 per cent in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank’s latest update, from April.

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It’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. What Do We Need to Do Now?

31 July 2017 - 3:11pm

Owing to demographic drivers, countries are going to become more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious -- William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organisation for Migration. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS​

By William Lacy Swing
GENEVA, Switzerland, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

It is believed that millions are currently victims of trafficking in persons around the world. It is almost impossible to think about each one of those numbers as individual human beings and it can feel like an insurmountable problem. But it isn’t. And on this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons we must believe that not only can we make a dent but that we can make significant inroads into eliminating it.

At the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s Migration Agency I head, we deal with trafficking in persons on a daily basis. We know that trafficking involves more than kidnapping and selling of persons, people forced into jobs against their will, and victims forced to give away a kidney or other vital organs. Trafficking in persons can occur ever so subtly as in cases of employment pathways, where workers are charged for recruitment and placement fees, have their wages withheld, or cannot leave their employers and thus are put into vulnerable situations where they are further exploited and become trafficked. Migrants travelling on regular or irregular migration routes around the globe are highly vulnerable to these kinds of abuses. Many who start their journeys by willingly placing themselves in the hands of smugglers can also become victims of trafficking along the way.

In addition to our and our partners’ hands-on work in providing protection and assistance to already some 90,000 victims of trafficking over the years, we are working tirelessly to collect and analyze global data on trafficking so that we can collectively improve and implement the best practices and inform policies and programmes to better address trafficking in persons.

For instance, since 2015, IOM has surveyed over 22,000 migrants on the journey on the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes. This is the largest-scale survey yet to explore migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation on the Mediterranean routes to Europe. Around 39% of individuals interviewed had a personal experience that indicates the presence of trafficking in persons or other exploitative practices along the route with many reporting direct experiences of abuse, exploitation and practices which can amount to trafficking in persons. Looking at just the Central route, a shocking 73% of those interviewed indicated this. With this research IOM is currently exploring which factors predict migrants’ vulnerability to human trafficking and exploitation on their journey.

It is also our goal to facilitate cross-border, trans-agency analysis and provide the counter-trafficking community with the information we need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of this complex issue. To this end, we will soon be launching the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative. Drawing on IOM’s and partners’ victim case data, this will be the first ever open access data platform for human trafficking data.

As we develop new knowledge and tools, it is critical that we share our findings and communicate with other global leaders. This September, in an effort to develop the “Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration,” governments will come together to discuss smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons and contemporary forms of slavery, including appropriate identification, protection and assistance to migrants and trafficking victims. This will be our chance to share our expertise learned from decades of research and practice in this field and to learn from others.

We are learning more, and understanding how to better respond to trafficking in persons, yet there are still many unanswered questions. What makes migrants susceptible to trafficking? What do we know about those being trafficked now? And how do we best stop it from occurring in the future?

We may not have all the answers yet, but we do know that we must now accumulate the data and knowledge we have and make it transferrable so that we can all benefit from it. We do not know everyone who could be at risk but we do know we need to make migration safer, more orderly, and more regular to make migrants less vulnerable. We do not know the exact number of victims of trafficking, but we do know it’s far too many.

The fight against trafficking in persons requires us to strive for answers to our many questions. It requires us to better respond, with shared data, knowledge, and tools, and it requires us to respond together.

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Water is Precious, Fragile and Dangerous – It Can Sustain or Destroy

31 July 2017 - 10:56am

Credit: GWP

By IPS World Desk
ROME/DHAKA, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

Water is precious, fragile, and dangerous. It can sustain or destroy.

This very fact has been clearly stated in the Valuing Water Preamble and principles that have been on the table of the fifth round of meetings of the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), which took place in Bangladesh on 31 July.

The HLPW has been convened by both UN Secretary-General and World Bank Group President, to accelerate a change in the way governments, societies, and the private sector use and manage water.

Bangladesh has been chosen as one of the several countries to host a HLPW consultation meeting that aims at providing the leadership required championing a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services, reports the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which participated in the meeting.

GWP is a global action network with over 3,000 Partner organisations in 183 countries. The network has 86 Country Water Partnerships and 13 Regional Water Partnerships.

The purpose of the consultations is to obtain views from a wide array of country level stakeholders on the proposals from the HLPW on the Valuing Water Preamble and principles. As well, the Consultations aims to build awareness and examine the regional/country level relevance of global perspectives, and provide inputs, options and recommendations that will enhance resolutions from the HLPW.

The HLPW is aimed at developing a set of shared principles to motivate and encourage governments, business and civil society to consider water’s multiple values and to guide the transparent incorporation of these values into decision-making by policymakers, communities, and businesses.

Members of the HLPW are Heads of State from Australia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Jordan, Mauritius (co-chair), Mexico (co-chair), Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, and Tajikistan.

Water, More than a Substance

The Valuing Water Preamble include eight key values and facts:

Credit: GWP


1. Water is precious, fragile, and dangerous. It can sustain or destroy. Water in combination with land, air, and energy is the foundation of life, societies and economies.

Water is more than a substance. It carries multiple values and meanings. These are expressed in spiritual, cultural and emotional terms and found in the heritage of water language, norms and artefacts.

These reflect the deep perceptions, need for connections and participation of all of society.

Making water available for its many uses and users requires tools and institutions to transform it from a natural resource to one providing services and then to recover and return it safely back to nature.

Water and its sources must be respected, because if neglected it has the power to harm, divide or even destroy societies.

2. Making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that

This is more than a cost-benefit analysis and is necessary to make collective decisions and trade-offs. It is important to lead towards sustainable solutions that overcome inequalities and strengthen institutions and infrastructure.

3. The Valuing Water Initiative of the High Level Panel on Water is a collaborative process aimed at building champions and ownership at all levels. It presents a unique and mutually reinforcing opportunity to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Access to water services is necessary for equitable and inclusive human development.

This is why the United Nations has recognized universal access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Increasingly countries and communities have also recognized the rights of nature.

4. Water resources are finite and are under threat from multiple pressures.

History has been defined by people working together to manage water resources and deliver their services to growing populations.

Today, the world’s freshwater systems are facing a growing crisis, these challenges are compounded by extreme events, droughts and floods. Demands are growing from a rising population.

Water sources are threatened by overuse, pollution and climate change. Billions of people lack access to safe water and sanitation services. Water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities and the environment.

5. Valuing water means recognising and considering all the benefits provided by water that encompass economic, social and ecological dimensions.

It takes many forms appropriate to local circumstances and cultures. Safeguarding the poor, the vulnerable and the environment is required in all instances.

6. Valuing water can help balance the multiple uses and services provided by water and inform decisions about allocating water across uses and services to maximise well-being.

Allocation can take different forms, such as regulation and economic instruments that signal scarcity, avoid waste and promote conservation. Valuing water can make the cost of pollution and waste apparent and promote greater efficiency and better practices.

Any use of water relies on infrastructure, green or grey. Pricing is not synonymous with value but is one way of covering costs, reflecting part of the value of these uses, and ensuring adequate resources and finance for related infrastructure services.

7. Effective water management presents a transformative opportunity to convert risk to resilience, poverty to well-being, and degrading ecosystems to sustainable ones.

This requires finding ways to collaborate across sectors, communities and nations to manage water more effectively.

8. There is an urgent need for action at scale.

We live in a time of tremendous change and innovation, opening a world of possibilities: ending poverty, managing risks, boosting shared prosperity, and underpinning ecological, economic and social well-being.

Bellagio Principles on Valuing Water

The Bellagio Principles on Valuing Water set the following five main principles:

Recognise Water’s Multiple Values

Principle 1. Consider the multiple values to different stakeholders in all decisions affecting water.

There are deep interconnections between human needs, economic well-being, and spirituality and the viability of freshwater ecosystems that must be considered by all

Build Trust

Principle 2. Conduct all processes to reconcile values in ways that are equitable, transparent, and inclusive of multiple values.

Trade-offs will be inevitable, especially when water is scarce.

Inaction may also have costs that involve steeper trade-offs. These processes need to be adaptive in the face of local and global changes.

Protect the Sources

Principle 3. Value and protect all sources of water, including watersheds, rivers, aquifers and associated ecosystems for current and future generations.

There is growing scarcity of water. Protecting sources and controlling pollutants and other pressures are necessary for sustainable development.

Educate to Empower

Principle 4. Promote education and public awareness about the essential role of water and its intrinsic value.

This will facilitate better-informed decision-making and more sustainable water consumption patterns.

Invest and innovate

Principle 5. Increase investment in institutions, infrastructure, information and innovation to realize the full potential and values of water.

The complexity of the water challenges should spur concerted action, innovation, institutional strengthening and re-alignment. These should harness new ideas, tools and solutions while drawing on existing and indigenous knowledge and practices in ways that nurture the leaders of tomorrow.

The High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) held its previous meetings in South Africa on 30 May; in Tajikistan on 6 July; in Mexico on 24 July, and in Bangladesh on 31 July. Peru will be the venue for the sixth session to be held on 16 August.

The Global Water Partnership is set to plays an active role during the Stockholm World Water Week (27 August to 1 September). This year’s theme is “water and waste – reduce and reuse”.

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Has Disability Risen among the Elderly?

31 July 2017 - 10:10am

Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay.

By Veena S. Kulkarni, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (or RPD Act) is laudable in its intent and procedural detail, but mostly silent on disabilities among the elderly. Indeed, for this reason alone, it is arguable that its overarching goal—“The appropriate Government shall ensure that the persons with disabilities enjoy the right to equality, life with dignity and respect for his or her integrity equally with others” —is mere rhetoric, if not a pipe dream.

Disability is part of human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. Disability is neither purely medical nor purely social. Rather, it is an outcome of their interplay. Chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer) are associated with impairments that get aggravated by stigma, discrimination in access to educational and medical services, and job market. Higher disability rates among older people reflect an accumulation of health risks across a lifespan of disease, injury, and chronic illness (WHO and World Bank, 2011). The co-occurrence of NCDs and disabilities among them poses considerably higher risk of mortality, relative to those not suffering from either or one.

Raghav Gaiha

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship—including food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and inadequate access to healthcare. Poverty may increase the likelihood that a person with an existing health condition becomes disabled, for example, by an inaccessible environment or lack of access to appropriate health and rehabilitation services.

There is a bidirectional link between disability and poverty: disability may increase the risk of poverty, and poverty may increase the risk of disability. Households with a disabled member are more likely to experience material hardship.

Detailed evidence on disabilities and their correlates is particularly relevant as India’s elderly population (60 years or more) is growing three times faster than the population as a whole. Three demographic processes are at work: declining fertility rates, increasing longevity and large cohorts advancing to old age (Bloom et al. 2014). As both non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and disabilities tend to rise with age, often in tandem, the inadequacies of the present health systems, community networks and family support may magnify to render these support systems largely ineffective. If the costs in terms of productivity losses are added, the total cost burden of looking after the disabled elderly may be enormously higher in the near future.

Disability is usually measured by a set of items on self-reported limitations with severity of disability ranked by the number of positively answered items. Disabilities in activities of daily living (ADL) show dependence of an individual on others, with need for assistance in daily life. The activities of feeding, dressing, bathing or showering, walking 1 km, hearing, transferring from bed and chair, normal vision, and continence are central to self-care and are called basic ADLs.

A review of the evidence from the India Human Development Survey 2015 (IHDS) that tracks the same sample of individuals over the period 2005-2012, yields useful insights from a policy perspective. IHDS covers seven disabilities already defined.

At an all-India level, there was a very rapid rise in the prevalence of all disabilities among the elderly during 2005-2012, from 8.4% to over 36%.

The prevalence was much higher among the older elderly (i.e. >70 years) than among 60-70 years old. Besides, it shot up to over 50% among the former in 2012 as compared with 33% among the latter. So the more rapid the ageing of India’s population, the higher will be the prevalence of disabilities.

The disability prevalence was slightly higher among elderly females, but became considerably higher in 2012. From about 9.4% in 2005, it rose to nearly 40% in 2012. Thus lower survival prospects for elderly women are likely to reflect greater disability.

There was a reversal in the rural-urban disabilities, with a slightly larger prevalence in urban areas, but both rose substantially with a larger prevalence in rural areas (about 37% as compared with 35%). If we use caste as a predictor of socio-economic deprivation, we find that disabilities rose much faster among the SCs than in the General category, with the prevalence among the former rising from 6.9% to about 37%. Besides, each category (including OBCs, and STs) witnessed a sharp rise in disabilities.

There are two ways of examining the link between poverty and disabilities: one is to assess whether the prevalence of disability is higher among the poor, using the official poverty line, and another is to rely on a ranking based on assets. We prefer the latter, since income fluctuates more than assets. Distinguishing between the least wealthy (or the first wealth quartile) and the most wealthy (the fourth quartile), we find that while the prevalence of disabilities was about the same in both (about 9.7%), it rose at a much faster rate among the least wealthy, resulting in the highest prevalence (39.5%) in 2012. As there is a strong association between NCDs and disabilities (e.g. between diabetes and restricted mobility and vision impairment, heart disease and limited mobility, stroke and speech and mobility impairment), some of the risk factors associated with the former are also linked to the latter. These include smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary transition to consumption of energy-dense foods—high in salts, fats and sugars—and sedentary lifestyles. As the population ages, and the burden of NCDs rises, disabilities are likely to be far more pervasive. Compounded by lack of access to disability-related services (e.g. assistive devices such as wheelchair, hearing aid, specialised medical services, rehabilitation), and persistence of negative imagery and language, stereotypes, and stigma—with deep historic roots-leading to discrimination in education and employment—the temptation to offer simplistic but largely medical solutions must be resisted. In brief, a multidimensional strategy is needed that includes prevention of disabling barriers as well as prevention and treatment of underlying health conditions.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Guardian.

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UN Grants Special Consultative Status to the Geneva Centre

31 July 2017 - 8:56am

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Switzerland, Jul 31 2017 (Geneva Centre)

During its Coordination and Management Meeting held on 25 – 26 July 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution granting the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (the Geneva Centre) special consultative status.

The NGO Committee of ECOSOC reviewed the Geneva Centre’s candidacy for special consultative status during its session in New York held from 22 May to 23 May 2017. This session was attended by the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy.

After having heard the statement of the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director during the review session, the NGO Committee had adopted unanimously a recommendation to ECOSOC to grant special consultative status to the Geneva Centre.

The Committee has 19 rotating member states elected by the UN Economic and Social Council: Azerbaijan, Burundi, China, Cuba, Greece, Guinea, India, Iran, Israel, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Uruguay, the United States (US) and Venezuela. The enhanced status of the Geneva Centre became effective as of 26 July 2017 following ECOSOC’s approval of the recommendation of the NGO Committee.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim commented on the decision of the UN to grant the Centre special consultative status. Dr. Al Qassim said: “During the recent years, the Geneva Centre has undertaken major activities towards promoting a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different human rights narratives.

The decision to confer special consultative status with ECOSOC enables the Geneva Centre to act as an increasingly effective platform for dialogue between a broad variety of parties involved in the promotion and protection of human rights. Today is the beginning of a new chapter for the Geneva Centre.”

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy also praised the decision of the UN to grant special consultative status to the Geneva Centre.

Ambassador Jazairy said: “The recognition of the Centre’s international leadership in promoting and in advancing human rights – conferring upon its new consultative status – will enable the Centre to intensify its work and to offer its expertise to the UN community.”

In line with Resolution 1996/31 adopted during the 49th plenary meeting on 25 July 1996 by ECOSOC, the Geneva Centre will be able to designate spokespersons “to sit as observers at public meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies” as well as sessions at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Centre will also have the privilege of providing written statements and oral presentations during meetings arranged by ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council. Article 61 (c) of Resolution 1996/31 also stipulates that NGOs with special consultative status are required to submit reports every fourth year detailing “the support they have given to the work of the United Nations.”

The Geneva Centre is a think-thank devoted to the promotion of greater understanding of issues related to human rights between the Global North and the Global South. It pursues its mandate through the organization of panel debates at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), the publication of studies and the organization of training courses.

Discussions are related to: (1) the enhancement of equal citizenship rights through education; (2) the Great Convergence between Islam and Christianity and the promotion of equal citizenship rights; (3) the advancement of the status of women in the Arab world; (4) slavery, racism and prejudice; (5) Islamophobia and the implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18; (6) the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council: an alternative narrative from the South; (7) De-radicalization and the roll-back of extremist violence; (8) Muslims in Europe and (9) the Right to Development.

The Centre issues regular publications on the same subjects offering a depoliticized view of human rights issues – particularly from the viewpoints of the Global South and of the Arab region.

The Geneva Centre organizes training courses for journalists and lawyers from Arab countries. These courses are also open to diplomats wishing to know, beyond the political considerations underlying human rights debates in the Human Rights Council, the values that should guide the debates on this theme.

The activities of the Centre are pursued under the impulse of the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Al Qassim, who is also a managing director of a major private firm in Dubai, and the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Ambassador Idriss Jazairy who was previously the Ambassador of Algeria in many capitals, the Head of a UN specialized agency and President of many charities.

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Innovation in Bangladesh

31 July 2017 - 3:14am

By Shafinaz Hosain
Jul 31 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Innovation has been the dominant catchword in the last few decades. It usually happens with the development of a totally novel idea, or around the alteration of existing ones, and is sometimes enough to disrupt the whole system. However, pursuing innovative ideas is about balancing opportunities against risks. There is always a chance that innovation might not work out but there are also ways to address that.

SOURCE: BANGLA.YOURSTORY.COM

Taiwan, the tenth most innovative economy in the world, is also one of the world’s biggest semiconductor suppliers. In the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan was similar to Bangladesh in a lot of ways—dependent upon foreign aid for development. But that changed pretty quickly when Taiwan decided to pursue a strategy to build wealth through innovation.

The risk of an economic downturn was reduced with the privatisation of government organisations which made the system more efficient, and emphasis was put on education with a special focus on engineering and innovation. They also realised that being stagnant was never a choice as other countries would soon catch up and rival them with cheaper prices.

Bangladesh has yet to pursue a similar policy shift and remains stuck with a much smaller and sluggish economy. We lack understanding of what innovation means. Most of us consider it to be something in the line of a very sophisticated product that is unattainable. We do not think along the lines of a new market segment, value added services, or find a new way to an old business model. We simply do not want to cross boundaries.

This is partially because it is easier and cheaper to imitate. People innovate when they see that innovation will give them a competitive edge, and they will put in their resources only when they see that they will get a premium price for it.

Bangladesh with its 160 million people should have been a lucrative market for any investor. This sheer number of people represents a huge market, where people are interested in producing, buying and consuming innovative products. It calls for frugal, scalable, trustworthy and user-friendly innovation which clearly the manufacturers are unable to tap into.

Our market works best when we come together, when interactions between multiple stakeholders happen. Having a shorter innovation cycle, especially in agriculture, clearly requires multidimensional involvement from all the patrons in this effort. However, despite the advantages of a holistic approach, the firms still continue to shy away from interaction and we are left with a low level of innovation despite Bangladesh’s huge human capital resources.

Where we are at the moment is not the worst place to be nor do we need any revolution to turn things around. What we need is to look at the challenges that stop us from moving forward and find a way out. We only need a few of the firms to move away from the old, traditional practices and think about ways that will eventually put enough pressure on their competitors and the overall market will evolve to be more innovative.

One of the challenges faced by the private sector is their inability to make a marketable product. The reason behind this weakness is a lack of understanding of customer preferences due to little or no market research. Also, they do not have internal systems to track sales trends, engage customers through hotline numbers or e-brochures, test new promotional tactics, etc.—which are crucial to develop a good understanding of the ever-changing customer needs.

The private sector often misunderstands the very concept of innovation, believing that for an innovation to be successful, it needs to be dramatically different from other products in the market. Whereas, innovation simply is the added feature(s) that make a product different. At this point, private-sector firms need to shift their focus to creating an environment that nurtures innovation. So, efforts are also required to bring about changes to the strategic, managerial and resource related issues.

The inefficient innovation cycle cannot only be explained by the inactive participation of private sector; government research bodies play a role in stifling innovation as well. Despite having an allocated fund, research bodies inadequately address the problem mainly due to a lack of communication with the private sector. The solutions that they come up with don’t do much problem-solving for the customers as they do not coordinate with private sector before conducting research on a new product. So, the final product is not appropriate for commercial sale and thus that one prototype never sees the light of the day.

Some of our policies do not even support innovation; the heavy taxation on machinery components and spare parts import is one big challenge for agro machinery manufacturers. On the other hand, the duty on agro technology from India or China is much less; home-grown machineries thus cost way more than the imported ones. New companies do not want to enter the scene because of the difficulties of doing business in Bangladesh.

Academia also needs to come into the innovation cycle and work alongside the private sector in order to build trust among the target customers when it comes to local agro innovation. Instead of putting funds into their own research, the private sector can perhaps commit a bit of their time and money to the academia and counsel them on the market need. The academia in turn can take in as much market information as possible to come up with relevant technology.

With the academia, public and private sectors working together, the task of attaining a shorter innovation cycle will be much easier. For this to happen, communication needs to be given the highest emphasis at this point. When it comes to making a technology work, communication is the key for business success.

Shafinaz Hosain is a business graduate from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka, and is currently working as an associate for a USAID project.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post Innovation in Bangladesh appeared first on Inter Press Service.

`You Are Human, Mian Sahib`

31 July 2017 - 3:04am

By Abbas Nasir
Jul 31 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

As the PML-N licks its near-fatal wound it must also be asking whether it could rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the Supreme Court`s verdict against Nawaz Sharif, his children, son-in-law and one of his closest confidantes.

One of the first hints of Mr Sharif`s oncoming travails came in the news conference addressed by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on the eve of the Supreme Court judgement, where the then interior minister seemed keen to explain how he`d been completely sidelined in what he called the consultative process.

Quoting the Roman emperors` (and generals`) tradition of having slaves whisper `you are a mere mortal` or words to that effect in their ears during moments of glory in particular, Nisar Ali Khan said he was perhaps the only one telling Nawaz Sharif: `You are human, Mian Sahib` He said this must have led to his sidelining in the `consultative` process for the past several weeks as those having access to the then prime minister had blocked him out so he could not speak the truth to him which, according to Chaudhry Nisar, Nawaz Sharif himself appreciated.

One can disagree with Chaudhry Nisar all one wants, and I, for one, do across a range of issues.

But it must also be acknowledged that he has been a key lieutenant of the PML-N leader from the day in the late 1980s that Nawaz Sharif rebelled against Muhammad Khan Junejo and removed him from the party leadership at the behest of Gen Ziaul Haq.

Although Nisar Ali Khan was careful to reiterate a number of times that the prime minister was a decent man with whom he had no issues, he lashed out at those in the inner circle, including ministers, who had poisoned Nawaz Sharif`s ears against him.

While he refrained from naming the ministers or (any of the) others it was not difficult to speculate he may have been referring to the prime minister`s daughter who was after all responsible for giving direction to the PML-N social media team and some of the ministers whose stance didn`t sit well with Nisar Ali Khan as `this was not the PML-N`s language`.Nawaz Sharif had extremely poor counsel ever since the Panama Papers were leaked to journalists who started sifting through the mounds of data to find information that was relevant and useful to them.

When the journalists` organisation ICIJ reportedly contacted the Sharif family to get their version on the leaked information that they owned a number of flats in one of London`s most expensive residential areas, the family did not respond to the queries.

This lethargic, even lackadaisical, response could only have been rooted in either a sense of being indestructible or a total and complete lack ofunderstanding of the challenge the scandal could pose to Nawaz Sharif and his family.

The Sharifs did not seek proper legal counsel at that stage. Instead came two out-of-the-blue interviews by Nawaz Sharif`s elder son, who told anchors on Pakistani news TV channels that the flats were theirs and offered a long explanation of how them came to own them.

Watching the interviews (available online) a few times made me realise that these were not based on legal advice but merely a clumsy attempt to preempt the publication of the Panama Papers that were obtained by hacking the database of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Once the information became public and a huge international story, the ramifications started to be felt in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation and also parliament and offered himself for accountability.If he had stuck to doing just that perhaps it could have been better but, taken together, all the family`s statements often sounded contradictory. It appeared stories were being made up or new facts were emerging as they went along.

Even as the Supreme Court took up the petitions of notably Imran Khan, Sirajul Haq and Sheikh Rasheed there was no single defence team lined up to fight Nawaz Sharif`s corner. There was a musical chairs of sorts for defence lawyers.

Therefore, it was ironic that the court found a technicality to disqualify Mr Sharif from being a member of parliament and barred him from holding the office of prime minister.

The Sharifs` party may have been formed under the patronage of Zia and the Hameed Guls of this world, and their fortunes may have grown exponentially during the period the Sharif brothers were happy to play second fiddle to the military ruler. But they have built the PML-N into a formidable political machine today. The coming months will tell how formidable exactly.

Ifthey are able tohold the party togetherin one of its toughest hours and ensure a smooth passing of the baton to whosoever is going to be the interim prime minister till Shahbaz Sharif can win a National Assembly by-election possibly on the seat falling vacant with his elder brother`s disqualification and assume office, all will not be lost.

Of course, how his successor runs Punjab and whether he/she can have the same kind of stranglehold on the administrative machinery as Shahbaz Sharif did would dictate the future course of elections in that all-important province.

If the verdict is seen as something with a deeper meaning and other parties such as PTI and/or PML-Q are able to effect desertions from among PML-N legislators as a result then a totally different scenario could emerge. I am not a betting man. But I will say any rumours of the PMLN`s demise at this stage are highly exaggerated and premature.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Last Mile Connectivity to Bangladesh’s Impoverished North

31 July 2017 - 2:06am

The Dharala River of Kurigram District. It is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/3.0

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

Life for Bangladesh’s rural people, particularly in its remote north, is still miserable. Seasonal flooding, river erosion, and the low quality of rural infrastructure and lack of connectivity have made things harder for poor northerners.

Though the country has been elevated to the lower middle-income country club due to its overall income rise, largely because of growing remittance inflows, poverty is still widespread in rural areas.

The situation worsens when there is a natural disaster like cyclone, flooding, or landslides. Since April, Bangladesh has suffered flash floods, with millions of farmers losing their standing crops and fish in its haor (wetland ecosystem) region. Then came the monsoon floods with an even greater onslaught, leaving millions of people either marooned or displaced.

As the floodwater receded, people started falling ill with fever, malaria and pneumonia. It is a life of uncertainty and unpredictability.

According to an article carried by leading Bengali newspaper, Prothom Alo, in its July 18 issue, 57,000 families were affected by the April flash flood in the country’s Sunamganj district alone.

Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya told journalists on July 12 that around 650,000 people in the country’s 13 districts, mostly the northern ones, have become victims of the seasonal flooding. The districts are Sirajganj, Bogra, Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat, Jamalpur,Tangail, Faridpur Sylhet, Moulvibazar and Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s northern region is an impoverished one by all accounts, and the blame for this largely goes to climate change. Yet things are expected to change thanks to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s Climate Resilient Community Development (CRCD) Project.

As in other parts of Bangladesh, IFAD through its implementing partner, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) of the Bangladesh government, provides the ‘last mile connectivity’ to stimulate growth and commercialisation through market access, and increases resilience by diversifying incomes, and improving design and maintenance of infrastructure.

Bangladesh has eight administrative zones. Rangpur division, the main project site, is the poorest. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) quarterly data (April-June 2016) shows nationally 23.2 per cent and 12.9 per cent of the population live below the upper and extreme poverty lines, respectively. Rangpur division, Kurigram district, the main project district with nine sub-districts, is the poorest district of the country with 67.3 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

By other indicators such as the agricultural labour rate and education level of heads of families, which have a strong correlation with poverty, the whole Rangpur region, and Kurigram and Gaibandha districts in particular, are among the worst performers.

With a total budget of 94 million dollars, the project has a strong rural infrastructure focus, investing about 74 million dollars (80 percent of the project cost) in climate proven rural infrastructure (markets, roads and shelters).

The project also promotes capacity building and vocational training to diversify rural incomes (off-farm employment and entrepreneurship) thereby increasing resilience to shocks.

More importantly, it contributes significantly to increased disaster and flood preparedness through improved information quality and accessibility.

The project will be implemented in six districts –Gaibandha, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Jamalpur –with the main focus in the worst poverty-stricken districts – Jamalpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha.

The major parts of these districts are flood-prone because of the convergences of the Brahmaputra (Jamuna River) and Teesta rivers. Within the six districts, the project will implement development activities in 25 poorer and vulnerable upazilas (sub-districts).

The project infrastructure will be primarily built in 90 unions (councils), which are mostly char (shoal) and low-lying, and the worst poverty-stricken areas within the 25 upazilas (Sub-districts).

For local flood forecasting, 19 upazilas (174 councils) of Kurigram, Gaibandha and Jamalpur districts have been chosen as they are affected by monsoon floods of the Brahmaputra River.

Asked how the project idea was generated and what were the striking elements that IFAD agreed to support the programme, Philipp Baumgartne, an agricultural economist and Programme Officer (Asia and Pacific Region) at the Programme Management Department, told IPS that the area was selected given the high incidence of poverty and vulnerability of people.

“Recurring floods and riverbank erosions are among the main causes of poverty in the area,” he said.

Philipp said the project would run for six years and aims to reach over 300,000 households, or an equivalent of 1.5 million people.

With its own loan of 63.5 million dollars, Philipp said it would be the biggest IFAD project so far implemented in Bangladesh, while other projects partnering with the World Bank and Asia Development Bank have been beyond 100 million.

A quick analysis of the project papers shows a deep commitment of the government of Bangladesh and IFAD to reduce extreme poverty, as the project areas are some of the poorest and most vulnerable districts in the country.

Bangladesh is a country of 160 million people with the highest population density (more than 1,000 per square kilometre) in the world, excluding a few city states. It is striving hard to come out of mass poverty through strong economic growth.

The average GDP growth over the last two decades ranged between 5 and 6.5 percent and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 6.5 per cent. But growth has been uneven among regions as well as population groups. The economy depends on agriculture, which is about 16 per cent of total GDP but employs more than 50 per cent of workforce.

Over the last three decades, the country has achieved remarkable improvements in social indicators such as primary education and health care, girls’ education, access to safe water and sanitation, reduction in child mortality, higher of life expectancy. Still, there are discrepancies.

This project, Phillip said, seeks to help the country go further within the framework of Agenda 2030 or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it did in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to graduate out of poverty, permanently and with gender parity.

The post Last Mile Connectivity to Bangladesh’s Impoverished North appeared first on Inter Press Service.

US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazard

31 July 2017 - 1:16am

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced its decision to ban amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. The ban comes into effect July 2018.

“In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has done nothing to protect these vulnerable populations from exposure to amalgam’s mercury,” says a petition filed by Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), which has been vigorously campaigning for mercury-free dentistry, since its founding back in 1996.

In Norway and Sweden, dental amalgam is no longer in use, while it is being phased out in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In Mauritius and EU nations, it is banned from use on children. Denmark uses dental amalgam for only 5% of restorations and Germany for 10% of restorations.

In Bangladesh, it is to be phased out in 2018, and in India, there is a dental school requirement of eliminating amalgam in favour of alternatives.

In Nigeria, the government has printed and distributed consumer-information brochures while the government of Canada has recommended that all dentists stop its use in children and pregnant women — and those with kidney disorders.

Dental amalgam has been described as a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. And it is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.

In its petition, addressed to the FDA Commissioner, CDC says the United States – one of the only developed nation with no warnings or restrictions on the use of dental amalgam in children – is the outlier.

“Why are other countries protecting their children while the FDA lets American children be exposed to dental mercury? In order to catch up with other developed nations, the Commissioner must amend FDA’s mercury amalgam rule,” says the lengthy petition replete with facts and figures—and worthy of a research project.

The petition presents its case citing several sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

According to the Wall Street Journal last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, in a sweeping regulatory overhaul of Big Tobacco, has cracked down on tobacco companies, demanding that all cigarettes should have such low levels of nicotine so they no longer are considered addictive.

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, told IPS that with all the modern mercury-free dental fillings available today, it is inexcusable that FDA remains the world’s chief defender of implanting neurotoxic mercury in children’s mouths – mere centimeters from their developing brains.”

It’s time for FDA to catch up to the European Union and ban amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” he added.

Michael Bender, Director, Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, USA, told IPS: “During negotiations, the U.S. stated position was ‘to achieve the phase down, with the goal, the eventual phase out’ of dental amalgam. FDA should stop acting like a rogue agency and follow the US position.”

In its petition, CDC urges the Commissioner to take three key measures to stop amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers:

Firstly, issue a safety communication warning dentists, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Secondly, require manufacturers to distribute patient-labeling that includes warnings against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Thirdly, develop and implement a public information campaign (including FDA’s website, social media, press releases, and a press conference) to warn dentists, dental associations, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

The petition also says the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury requires nations to “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

The U.S. government signed and accepted the Minamata Convention on 6 November 2013. FDA’s official support for “change towards use of dental amalgam” and its rejection of “any change away from use of dental amalgam” in its 2009 dental amalgam rule is contrary to the Minamata Convention’s requirement that parties “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

FDA’s push for phasing up amalgam use has raised major concerns in the international community, says the petition.

The Convention enters into force – and becomes legally binding– on 16 August. On 18 May the 50thnation ratified, and with that threshold reached, the Convention enters into force in 90 days– namely, 16 August. Jamaica was the 71stnation to ratify the convention last week.

Asked for an FDA response, Stephanie Caccomo, Press Officer, Office of Media Affairs & Office of External Affairs, told IPS the FDA has neither promoted the use of dental amalgams nor supported an increase in their use.

FDA serves as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead representative to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and takes very seriously the Convention’s objective of protecting human health from the possible adverse health effects of mercury exposure, she added.

“The U.S. actively supported the Convention throughout its development and the FDA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of State on how the United States will implement the treaty obligations.”

She pointed out that the U.S. government is committed to complying with the Convention by taking at least two of the nine specific measures set forth in Part II of Annex A of the Convention with respect to dental amalgam.

Elaborating further, she said in an email message, that dental amalgam contains elemental mercury. It releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.

“FDA has reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the low levels of mercury vapor associated with dental amalgam fillings are a cause for concern. Based on this evidence, FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.”

The weight of credible scientific evidence reviewed by FDA does not establish an association between dental amalgam use and adverse health effects in the general population. Clinical studies in adults and children ages 6 and above have found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems, she noted.

“The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical data is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed. Pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist.”

However, the estimated amount of mercury in breast milk attributable to dental amalgam is low and falls well below general levels for oral intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, she added.

“Despite the limited clinical information, FDA concludes that the existing risk information supports a finding that infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

Some individuals have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or the other components of dental amalgam (such as silver, copper, or tin). Dental amalgam might cause these individuals to develop oral lesions or other contact reactions.

“If you are allergic to any of the metals in dental amalgam, you should not get amalgam fillings. You can discuss other treatment options with your dentist,” she advised.

To the extent there are any potential risks to health generally associated with the use of dental amalgam, FDA issued a final rule and related guidance document establishing special regulatory controls to mitigate any such risks.

“Moreover, while FDA does not believe additional action is warranted at this time, FDA continues to evaluate the literature on dental amalgam and any other new information it receives in light of the 2010 advisory panel recommendations and will take further action on dental amalgam as warranted,” Caccomo added.

Asked for a response to the FDA statement, Charlie Brown said: “Consumers for Dental Choice’s petition demands that FDA carry out its duty to provide American children the same protection from amalgam’s mercury that the European Union does over there.”

He pointed out that FDA admits repeatedly that no evidence exist that amalgam’s mercury is safe for young children, yet FDA will not stop being the world’s most stubborn defender of implanting mercury into children’s mouths (and bodies).

“FDA must now fish or cut bait. With our petition in its lap, FDA must choose between, on the one hand, doing its duty as a federal agency, and, on the other hand, keeping in place its four-decade-long program of putting profits for pro-mercury dentists ahead of lives of American children,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Consumers for Dental Choice says its campaign goal for Mercury-Free Dentistry is to phase out the use of amalgam, a 50% mercury product — worldwide. The recently concluded draft mercury treaty requires each signing nation to phase down its use of amalgam, and it provides a road map how.

“We aim to: educate consumers about the use of mercury in dentistry so they can make informed decisions; stop dental mercury pollution; protect consumers – especially vulnerable populations such as children and the unborn – from exposure to dental mercury; empower dental workers – dental assistants and hygienists – to protect themselves from mercury in the workplace; and promote access to mercury-free alternatives to amalgam.

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Banning Travel of Pedophiles Saves Children from Abuse

30 July 2017 - 3:26am

By Fr. Shay Cullen
Jul 30 2017 (Manila Times)

It was a normal day in the life of 13-year-old Jeremiah as he was leaving the schoolyard in Angeles City. He saw his classmates running to get candies and chocolates being handed out by an overweight, cheerful, balding Caucasian man. He sat outside his house, which was close to the school, handing out candies and the children flocked to get them. He invited some of the boys to inside his house and upstairs, where more candies and a television show await. He quickly made friends with them.

FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

In the following days, he did the same thing, until the boys felt comfortable in his house. Then he showed them videos of men and boys having sex. Jeremiah was embarrassed but Douglas Slade took him to his lap and the abuse happened. It was just one of several incidents of sexual abuse. Jeremiah became different. He was morose and depressed, psychologically damaged by the sexual abuse.

Jeremiah told his parents. They immediately filed charges against Douglas Slade and then the other boys came forward to say Slade had done similar acts of abuse to them. They filed charges in court.

The years passed, but none of the cases against the wealthy Slade prospered. There were rumors of corruption and bribery at all levels in the prosecution and the judiciary but inexplicably, despite the direct testimony of the victims and other witnesses, the judge dismissed the cases. In an interview with ITV, an undercover camera taped Slade admitting that his lawyer made payments to have the cases dismissed.

There is a thriving dark business in courtrooms to allow foreign child sex abusers or wealthy Filipinos go free for a price to abuse more children. That’s what Slade did: he felt protected and abused children again. What is also just as shocking is the level of corruption and absence of moral values among these judges who should protect children and bring their abusers to justice.

To be abused by people you trust is a terrible experience. Majority of cases of sexual abuse of children happens in the family. Thousands of children are sexually abused every day, one in every three girls and one in every six boys. That is a terrible statistic and a condemnation of human society. Only a fraction of the victims can ever tell the abuse happened.

Slade had been accused of child sexual abuse in the UK. He travelled to the Philippines where he set up a business and a house where he abused children and he got away with it because of corrupt officials. As a child abuse suspect, he should have been banned from leaving the UK. But no court order was handed down to stop him from fleeing.

After years of lobbying by Preda Foundation and good police work in the UK, Slade was extradited back to the UK and was put on trial for the child abuse he committed there. He was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in jail. The boys he abused in the Philippines received no justice and no recompense. Preda, with a pro-bono lawyer, sued Slade in the UK for compensation for the injuries they have suffered. That case is ongoing in London.

Pedophiles like Slade and many thousands of others from Australia convicted of child abuse will be banned from traveling abroad, thanks to a new law that will soon take effect. The United States is considering new legislation to ban citizens from traveling to North Korea. Also, many nations have passed laws that ban suspected neophyte jihadists from travelling to Syria to join a jihad.

They are only suspects, not convicted of any crime, so it is right and good to have a law to ban convicted pedophiles and sex offenders from travelling beyond the reach of police monitoring and surveillance service in their own countries.

Prevention is so much better than cure. There was a time in the Philippines when a child had to be abused first before any action can be taken. So if a child sex abuser took a child to a hotel room, the police would not go to rescue the child because there was no evidence of abuse. They would need an arrest warrant.

We lobbied for many years and had the child protection law, known as Republic Act 7610, passed. Under Section 6 of the law, it is a blatant crime for a non-relative of a child to be alone with him or her in a secluded area. That gives the police and social workers the right to move in to the hotel room or any secluded place and rescue the child and make an arrest.

Lobbying and campaigning in your community and with political leaders for the cancellation of the passports of pedophiles is one great campaign that will save thousands of children from abuse in the days and years to come. Let’s get to work and do it!

shaycullen@gmail.com
www.preda.org


This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Governance Wrapped in Scented Rubbish

30 July 2017 - 2:51am

By Neville de Silva
Jul 30 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The world might not think much of the inventive genius of Sri Lankans. But where else would you find politicians that can inflate their egos (besides other things) into unbelievable proportions with nothing more than hot air which can generate enough power to meet a temporary energy crisis caused by striking workers.

Certainly there are other countries in which politicians and officials have been caught with their hands in the till or demanding that the till be filled before a job is done. Many have had to pay the price for it just as their ‘clients’ have had to pay for services rendered. The problem however is that with each passing day as it were, bribery and corruption in this country spreads wider and deeper to the point that it has turned endemic like dengue or the still unresolved garbage crisis which the government recently promised will be solved soon.

But how soon is soon. As an ancient philosopher once said truth is this to me and that to thee. To the people of Meethotamulla and elsewhere piled up garbage brought death and destruction more than three months ago. To them and others facing similar plights in other areas “soon” would be in a relatively short time like a few months or so until a more settled solution is found.

But to promising politicians who pile hopes on top of the rubbish “soon” could mean when they find the time to get round to it, busy as they are trying to break up some strikes by a club-carrying “public” or trying to cover up dubious bond deals by hook or by crook (mainly crook). Fantasies are cynically concocted by leaders who only look to appease the people when the time comes to seek their vote, as would surely happen when the continuously-delayed local government elections are eventually held and politicians go round offering more counterfeit promises as bait.

No amount of preaching by the likes of Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva the other day at what is touted as the Sri Lanka Economic Summit 2017 is going to cure this malaise unless politicians like Dr de Silva examine their own conscience wherever that might be located.

Harsha de Silva lambasted not merely the private sector but the public too for pointing their fingers at others for failing to deal with bribery and corruption. Dr de Silva would do better to turn the spotlight inward at the political class of which he is unfortunately now a member. It was just the other day that I read in our sister morning daily of a prominent school near Borella which has solved its garbage problem while our elected and non-elected geniuses are still promising solutions to what has turned out to be a toxic national issue.

True, the school’s solution might be just one small step for the rubbish problem but it is a giant step for the school and one that our failing politicians should give a thought to if their thinking processes are in some form of working order. It appears that this school has worked out a novel scheme to get rid of its waste. The school staff has prepared a roster of students who are then assigned to collect the rubbish in the classroom when their turn comes. What do they do with it? Why take the rubbish home at the end of the day, listening to the nasty comments of bus crews and others who loathe to travel in the same vehicle with passengers and rubbish or passengers with rubbish.

One never knows of course where the carriers of this rubbish end up. But we do know of a school in a more affluent part of Colombo which dumps some of its rubbish on the community. They end up holding political office or important public positions usually messing up both. However novel and clever this latest rubbish clearing exercise appears to be, it represents a long followed cultural tradition that has been finely honed and crafted over the years by politicians and officialdom alike.

That is the practice of passing the buck like the school referred to has now done. It has passed on the problem to the students. A classic example of buck passing was witnessed after the Meethotamulla tragedy when no one seemed to take responsibility wholly or partly for what happened and each seemed to blame somebody else-from the previous government to the present lot.

When it comes to passing the buck it seems that not even the President is safe. Maybe we have misunderstood the functions of the Ministry of Disaster Management. Since it is to manage disaster it has little to do until a disaster happens and the world and half the garbage dump comes crashing down.

But Deputy Minister de Silva was not only talking of passing the buck but also the backsheesh though in most cases it is backsheesh plus like the GSP+ that is supposed to bring us continental largesse to turbo-boost out economy.

In language and tone that seemed unusually overcharged Harsha de Silva was to accuse the private sector of succumbing to the practice of oiling the palms of officials to get their jobs done. That might please his new boss and party chief who has just celebrated 40 years of parliamentary life but it surely tells only part of the story. The Harvard-educated de Silva is beginning to sound like Trump, lashing out with feckless arguments.

The deputy minister surely knows that it takes two to tango. Bribery, graft, santhosam or whatever you call it is not one-sided. Bribery involves both giver and taker. Sometimes it is given and taken and sometimes it is asked for/demanded and given. Castigating the private sector for giving bribes to get jobs done de Silva urged businesspeople and others to stop corrupting themselves.

Good advice if they themselves as politicians and others as high-ranking officials looked closely at the mirror each morning and said a prayer as a reminder to desist from bribery and corruption. What de Silva failed to do – judging by reports of his speech – is to ask himself where all this really started. Let him go back into the history of his own party and say truthfully whether in the early years of our independence there was public agitation against bribery and corruption. No, because there was little to speak of unlike today when it is rampant.

All this started with politicians taking bribes often through their wives as their private secretaries or family or friends given jobs under them. Have not some politicians been referred to as Mr 10% and later by an increased percentage as inflation began to eat into their assets. Why is it that today one has to pass the backsheesh to minor officials to get something done? It is because those lower down the pecking order have seen and heard that those at the top of the order not only engaged in high-scale graft and corruption but that this government has heaped more and more perks and privileges on the political class and the law makers.

If those at the top of the political ladder and wielders of power can fatten themselves at the expense of the public making money out of state tenders and projects, why should those at the bottom be left out of this equation?

That surely is the logic that drives those to whom money is given to get a job done. If the high and mighty can fleece the nation why cannot we who need it much more take a few rupees more is their argument. This is not to condone bribery and corruption. It is merely asking those in power to look reality in the face. When the crackdown on bribery-taking comes it falls on some policemen taking five hundred rupees or some gramasevaka niladhari pocketing thousand rupees.

But despite all the bribery and corruption that the present rulers spoke vehemently against at election time and threatened to cull the bribe takers and throw them in some hell hole remains empty rhetoric. They are unfulfilled promises like so many other pledges and unlikely to be fulfilled because the political class protects itself and only those from lower down who have managed to creep into it are likely to be sacrificed.

They cannot act against political opponents without exposing your own who are as tainted morally as your enemies. At the same conference Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy, the Central Bank Governor asked why Sri Lankan entrepreneurs are not investing in their own country while foreigners are doing so.

For all his economic erudition if Dr. Coomaraswamy fails to see why, then he is not likely to see at all. It is because they had so much faith in the promises and pledges of this yahapalanaya government.

But 2 ½ years have shown that this faith has rapidly dissipated. There is no consistency in policies, there is ambivalence and the need to burn incense at the feet of politicians and their henchmen. The claim it will eradicate nepotism and cronyism and replace it with a meritocracy is already hollow. What has happened at SriLankan Airlines and other institutions is proof that cronyism is very much alive. Transparency and accountability are as dead as a dodo.

Instead hate crimes and hate speech are on the increase with the saffronisation of politics and the loud mouthed Justice Minister who is also Minister of Buddha sasana unable to manage either with conviction.

In short Dr. Coomaraswamy, Sri Lankans seem to have a better grasp of the climate than foreigners. Even Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard seems fuller than this yahapalanaya government of fulfilled promises.

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

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A Green Energy Shift in Barbados, One Streetlight at a Time

28 July 2017 - 6:26pm

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

The ever-escalating and volatile price of oil, and the high cost of importation, have left Barbados and other island nations in the unenviable position of having the highest electricity prices in the world.

But a new shift towards renewables is driving down greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, buildings’ heating and cooling, and transport, and saving taxpayer money in the process.

In addition to changing out street lights and retrofitting the 13 government buildings, a project funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the European Union (EU) will also see the use of more electric vehicles in Barbados.

While the Barbados government leads the renewables drive, everyone on the island is catching on. In addition to the solar panels and water heaters which can be seen on government buildings, hospitals, police stations and bus shelters, thousands of private homes also have them installed. And desalinization plants are installing large photovoltaic arrays to help defray their own electricity costs.

“Of course, we must embrace the role of energy efficiency in this master plan because this is one of the low hanging fruits for Barbados in the transition to clean energy,” said the Head of the Green Economy and Resilience Section of the EU Peter Sturesson. “This will assist in the reduction of the fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions and by that, lowering the carbon footprint of the island.”

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African Migrant Women Face “Shocking Sexual Abuse” on Journey to Europe

28 July 2017 - 2:47pm

IOM staff Italy, meeting with a migrant. Credit: UN Migration Ageny (IOM) 2017

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

Up to 80 per cent of Nigerian migrant women and girls arriving on Europe’s shores in Italy could potentially be sex trafficking victims, spotlighting the horrific levels of abuse and violence migrants face along their arduous journeys for a better future, according to a UN study.

In its report, “Human Trafficking through the Central Mediterranean Route” (in Italian*), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) highlights the plight of those who have been assisted by the UN agency and calls for urgent action against the “market” which are supplied these victims was well as what is called is a “growing demand” for paid sexual services.

Trafficking is a transnational crime that devastates the lives of thousands of people and is the cause of untold suffering,” Federico Soda, the Director of the IOM Coordinating Office for the Mediterranean, said announcing the findings.

“This is a theme we have been working on for years, committing to protect, prevent and collaborate with the authorities dealing with organized crime.”

According to the UN agency, over the past three years, its office in Italy has witnesses an almost 600 per cent increase in the number of potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea. The upward trend has continued during the first six months of this year, with most victims arriving from Nigeria.

The data feeding the report was drawn from IOM operations in various parts of Italy, where staff met with potential victims of trafficking as soon as they reached the country, allowing the UN agency to develop a list of indicators that can help identify potential victims.

Described in the report, the indicators include gender (most sex trafficking victims are women); age (most victims age between 13-24 years); nationality (most are Nigerians); and psycho-physical wellness (victims are mostly silent and often “controlled” by other migrants who speak on their behalf or refuse to let them be interview by IOM).

When IOM staff identify a potential victim of trafficking, they explain to them that it is possible to access protection mechanisms and, with the victim’s consent, the staff inform the anti-trafficking helpline about the victim.

Also, if the person agrees, IOM staff provides assistance in communicating and filing a report to the investigating authorities.

“The report describes IOM’s activities in the face of this phenomenon: the difficulties in protecting victims and the main vulnerabilities identified among several cases of people who were assisted by [the agency],” said Carlotta Santarossa.

“We also wanted to tell some of the stories of people who have been assisted by IOM staff to highlight the true nature of this painful and hateful form of slavery.”

(*The English version of the report will be released shortly, according to IOM)

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No Access to Justice for Migrant Workers in South-East Asia

28 July 2017 - 2:08pm

Migrant workers, like these in northern Thailand, often work in high-risk sectors, such as construction. The ILO works to strengthen national occupational safety and health systems to improve protection of migrant workers. Credit: ILO/John Hulme

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

Access to justice is often out of reach for migrant workers in South-east Asia, the United Nations labour agency reported in a study that shows that non-governmental organisations are assisting more often than government officials or trade unions.

Migrant workers continue to face major obstacles to lodging and resolving complaints, the UN International Labour Organization‘s (ILO) finds in a new study on Access to justice for migrant workers in South-East Asia.

The results show that some progress has been achieved in increasing access to justice for migrant workers in recent years. Remedies awarded to migrants in the cases resolved by the Migrant Worker Resource Centres included 1.62 dollars million in compensation.

“Barriers to accessing formal assistance are one of the key reasons why migrant workers are vulnerable to labour rights violations during recruitment and employment,” said Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

The report found that while the estimated 20.2 million migrant workers originating from South-east Asia have equal access to labour rights and social protections in the countries in which they work, “they frequently experience unequal and discriminatory treatment in practice.”

Lack of written evidence, high cost of legal assistance, fear of retaliation and language barriers are among the challenges to accessing justice noted in the report, which has been released ahead of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, marked annually on 30 July.

The report authors argue that there is a substantial and largely unmet demand for fair and responsive remedies in the countries surveyed.

The study is based on complaint case data gathered by Migrant Worker Resource Centres from 2011 to 2015.

Detailed information on over 1,000 cases involving more than 7,000 women and men migrant workers was documented in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, establishing the largest regional dataset of migrant complaints compiled within South-East Asia, according to the UN labour agency.

“Migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation is exacerbated by the absence of fair, efficient and accessible means to resolve grievances when they occur, said Ben Harkins, Technical Officer for the ILO TRIANGLE in ASEAN programme and lead author of the report.

The report underlines the important link between the lack of effective channels for migrants to denounce abuses and cases of forced labour and human trafficking.

“Most migrant workers who are faced with situations of exploitation and abuse seek practical resolutions, such as disbursement of unpaid wages, deployment to destination countries and return of identification documents.”

“It is clear that these demands are not adequately met through enforcement of labour and human trafficking laws currently and that greater efforts are needed to ensure that migrant workers are provided with just remedies,” said Harkins.

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Millions of Women and Children for Sale for Sex, Slavery, Organs…

28 July 2017 - 1:49pm

Credit: UN in Armenia

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

It is happening now. Millions of humans are forced to flee armed conflicts, climate change, inequalities, and extreme poverty. They fall easy prey to traffickers lurking anyone who can be subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labour and even sell their skin and organs.

Just as tragically, 79 per cent of all detected trafficking victims are women and children, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

The drama is immense. Every year, millions of children, women and men fall into the hands of traffickers, lured by fake promises and deceit, the United Nations reports once more, this time ahead of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, marked every year on 30 July.

The “horrendous crime” is being committed now, while you are reading this article, and in public “salve markets”. See African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libya

Buying and selling migrants is a big business. In fact, human trafficking has become a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise, affecting nearly every country in the world, according to UNODC’s executive director Yury Fedotov.

Stolen

“Today, there are millions of people whose liberty, dignity and essential human rights have been stolen. They are coerced into sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced begging, stealing, online pornography, and even compelled to “sell” skin organs. “

Not for Sale. Credit: IOM Tunisia

This inhumane business is far from slowing down–from 2012-2014, more than 500 different trafficking flows were detected and countries in Western and Southern Europe detected victims of 137 different citizenships, according to UNODC. In short, “the crime of human trafficking is occurring almost everywhere.”

In terms of the different types of trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour are the most prominent, says the report, adding that trafficking can, however, have numerous other forms including: victims compelled to act as beggars, forced into sham marriages, benefit fraud, pornography production, organ removal, among others.

Many countries have criminalised most forms of trafficking as set out in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol. The number of countries doing this has increased from 33 in 2003 to 158 in 2016. Such an exponential increase is welcomed and it has helped to assist the victims and to prosecute the traffickers, said Fedotov.

“Unfortunately, the average number of convictions remains low. UNODC’s findings show that there is a close correlation between the length of time the trafficking law has been on the statute books and the conviction rate.”

What Is Human Trafficking All About

The UN defines human trafficking as a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally. This estimate also includes victims of human trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. While it is not known how many of these victims were trafficked, the estimate implies that currently, there are millions of trafficking in persons victims in the world.

“Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. Children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide, according to the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

Another important development is the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, which produced the groundbreaking New York Declaration. Of the nineteen commitments adopted by countries in the Declaration, three are dedicated to concrete action against the crimes of human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

Protect, Assist Trafficked Persons

This year, UNODC has chosen ‘act to protect and assist trafficked persons’ as the focus of the World Day.

This topic highlights one of the most pressing issues of our time — the large mixed migration movements of refugees and migrants.

The theme puts the spotlight on the significant impact of conflict and natural disasters, as well as the resultant, multiple risks of human trafficking that many people face.

And it addresses the key issue concerning trafficking responses: that most people are never identified as trafficking victims and therefore cannot access most of the assistance or protection provided.

Counter Trafficking in Persons Since the 90s

Meantime, the leading UN agency dealing with migrants reminds that it has been working to counter trafficking in persons since the mid-nineties.

“Our primary aims are to prevent trafficking in persons and to protect victims, in ordinary time and in crisis, while offering them support on their path to recovery, including through safe and sustainable (re)integration, return support to their home countries, or, in some circumstances, through third country resettlement, says the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Globally, it has so far assisted over 90,000 trafficked persons. “Ensuring freedom and a chance at a new life, IOM’s assistance includes safe accommodation, medical and psycho-social support, and assisted voluntary return and reintegration.”

For this, the UN agency works with governments, the private sector, civil society organisations, and other UN bodies “to protect victims of trafficking and associated forms of exploitation and abuse; to prevent such abuses from occurring; and to support the development and implementation of policies aimed at the prevention and prosecution of these crimes and the protection of victims.”

The agency’s approach is based on: respect for human rights; support for the physical, mental and social well-being of the individual and his or her community; and sustainability through capacity building and the facilitation of durable solutions for all beneficiaries.

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Migrants – The Increasingly Expensive Deadly Voyages

28 July 2017 - 12:35pm

Credit: IOM

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

They borrow huge amounts of money. They sell all their modest properties. They suffer brutalities on the hands of their own countries “security” forces to prevent them from fleeing wars, droughts, floods, lack of food, extreme poverty.

Thousands of them fall prey to human traffickers who take they money to load them on fragile boats in voyages toward death. And hundreds of survivors are bought and sold as slaves. See: African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libya.

Should all this not be enough, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has just reported that voyages through the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route and into the European Union now cost 5,000 dollars or more.


Credit: UNICEF

“With increased border controls, it has become harder to reach Europe,” noted Livia Styp-Rekowska, IOM’s Border Management Specialist in Vienna. “One constant, however, is the increase in sums demanded.”

Styp-Rekowska noted new data released on 25 July that shows “the cost of getting into Europe has increased significantly when compared to 2016, the routes have changed, and different countries of destination are being prioritized.”

People arriving from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan are charged the most, according to IOM.

Credit: IOM

The most popular destination up to June 2016 was overwhelmingly Germany, but migrants now seek to get to France, Sweden, Italy, Norway, Austria and Denmark as well, with Greece used as a popular transit country.

IOM has also reported that 112,018 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 23 July, with almost 85 per cent arriving in Italy and the remainder divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain. This compares with 250,586 arrivals across the region through 23 July 2016. See: Death Toll Rises in the Mediterranean Sea as EU Turns Its Back

Children Flee by Themselves

Meantime, Children Now More Than Half of the 65 Million Displaced and bear the blunt of inhumane abuses. In fact, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the same –25 July—reported that facing violence and trauma in Libya and other countries, thousands of children decided to flee by themselves, seeking to get away but not necessarily aiming for Europe.

A five year-old boy carries an empty water jerry in Al-hol camp in north-eastern Syria, hosting over 4,600 Iraqi refugees. Like most children there, he bears the brunt of carrying water for his family. Credit: UNICEF/Souliman

A new study of push-pull factors on child marriage showed that 75 per cent of children on the move decided to leave unaccompanied and that initially, they had no intention to come to Europe, UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe said.

“What was striking in the new findings was that there were far more push factors, pushing children away from home – conflicts or violence at home – than there were pull factors [that lure them to Europe], and this went against the current narrative,” Crowe said.

She noted that of the children who arrived in Libya, 63 per cent of young people left the country because of the generalised violence and trauma they suffered or witnessed, making them more willing to take terrifying sea journeys.

“As one young Gambian boy said, ‘if you have a lion behind your back and a sea in front of you, you take the sea,’” she added.

“Among girls interviewed, one in five left because of forced child marriage at home.”

For the first six months of the year, a total of 12,239 children had arrived to Italy, and 93 per cent were travelling alone – the majority of them teenage boys, according to UNICEF figures. In Greece, however, the majority of children were actually being sent on the voyage by their parents, or were accompanied by their parents.

UNICEF stressed that the study is important for policymakers to understand why the children are making the voyage and how best to help them once they arrive in Europe… If they arrive! See: A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglers

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Value of Water Is on the Rise

28 July 2017 - 7:49am

A woman carries a container of drinking water in the coastal area of Bangladesh. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

In the wake of recent water-related disasters in Bangladesh, including water-logging and floods that displaced thousands of families, a high-level consultation in the capital Dhaka on valuing water will look at ways to optimize water use and solutions to water-related problems facing South Asia.

While Bangladesh has been heavily affected, it is hardly alone in grappling with both chronic shortages and overabundance. According to the UN World Water Development Report, critical transboundary rivers such as the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra have come under severe pressure from industrial development, urbanization, population growth and environmental pollution. Freshwater - a finite resource - is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

In India, nearly two dozen cities face daily water shortages; in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, people wait in lines for hours to get drinking water from the city’s ancient stone waterspouts; in Pakistan, the Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if authorities didn’t take immediate action.

Regional cooperation will be a critical component in solving these interrelated problems. On July 31, ministers, senior and local government officials, businesses and representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development partners will attend the Fourth Consultation on Valuing Water to be held at the BRAC Center in Dhaka.

The consultation is being held as part of a high-level consultation on water called the ‘Valuing Water Initiative’.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 160 million people living within 57,000 square miles. Although it has made great strides against poverty in recent years, some 13 percent of Bangladeshis still lack safe water and 39 percent lack improved sanitation.

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

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

According to Global Water Partnership, an organiser of the Dhaka water event, Bangladesh is one of several countries to host a HLPW consultation meeting, which aims at providing the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation-related services.

Dr Khondaker Azharul Haq, President of Bangladesh Water Partnership (BWP), said that apart from its direct economic value, water has indirect value for environmental protection, religious, cultural and medicinal practices.

This non-economic value is very high because water is declining across the world day by day, both in quality and quantity, he said.

Even a moderate rainfall inundates the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, creating severe water-logging. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

As a lower riparian country, Bangladesh faces multiple water problems each year. The country must depend on the water of trans-boundary rivers, experiencing plenty of water during monsoon and scant water during the dry season.

During this monsoon season, Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong are facing severe water-logging and urban flooding due to the lack of proper storm water drainage systems.

While visiting a water-logged area in the capital last Wednesday, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Annisul Huq expressed frustration, wondering aloud to reporters, “Will any one of you please tell me what the solution to it is?”

During monsoon, water-logging is also a common phenomenon in Chittagong city. But this year, a vaster area of the city than usual has submerged due to heavy rainfall coupled with tidal surges.

Dr. Azharul Haq says the “nuisance value” of water is also going up, with a good deal of suffering stemming from these problems. “So water management should be more comprehensive to obtain the [full] potential value of water,” he said.

He added that the “nuisance value” of water, along with its economic and non-economic values, will be discussed at the July 31 event.

Experts have long warned that if the authorities here don’t take serious measures to address these issues soon, within a decade, every major thoroughfare in the capital Dhaka will be inundated and a majority of neighborhoods will end up underwater after heavy precipitation.

A 42-mm rainfall in ninety minutes is not unusual for monsoon season, but Dhaka will face far worse in the future due to expected global temperature increases.

“If the present trend of city governance continues, all city streets will be flooded during monsoon in a decade, intensifying the suffering of city dwellers, and people will be compelled to leave the city,” urban planner Dr. Maksudur Rahman told IPS last year.

He predicted that about 50-60 percent of the city will be inundated in ten years if it experiences even a moderate rainfall.

Dhaka is home to about 14 million people and is the centre of the country’s growth, but it has practically zero capacity to cope with moderate to heavy rains. On Sep. 1, 2015, for example, a total of 42 millimeters fell in an hour and a half, collapsing the city’s drainage system.

The HLPW’s Valuing Water Initiative is a collaborative process aimed at building champions and ownership at all levels, which presents a unique and mutually reinforcing opportunity to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Freshwater – a finite resource – is under particular pressure from population growth worldwide and other causes, compounding the challenges of extreme climate events like droughts and floods.

Water is essential for human health, food security, energy supplies, sustaining cities and the environment. Valuing water more appropriately can help balance the multiple uses and services provided by water and inform decisions about allocating water across uses and services to maximise well-being.

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

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

The HLPW consultation will also create awareness and discuss the regional or country level relevance of global perspectives.

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“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

28 July 2017 - 1:52am

Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean?

There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind.

In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent of its population is currently under 25 years old and this figure is only expected to rise.

With this change in demographics comes more working-age individuals and thus the potential to advance economic growth and sustainable development, known as the demographic dividend.

However, this will not happen on its own.

Investments are required in areas such as education and sexual and reproductive healthcare in order to provide youth with opportunities to prosper, major components of the globally adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) new acting executive director Natalia Kanem, who assumed her new role after the unexpected death of former executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, sat down with IPS to discuss the issues, challenges, and goals towards achieving the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Q: What is the demographic dividend and why is it so important?

A: The demographic dividend is the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependents in economic terms.

For many of the countries which dwell in poverty today, we are seeing this transition that was predicted to happen.

Through the success in healthcare and sanitation, society has been able to increase life expectancy—people are getting older so we are getting lower death rates.

At the same time, we are getting lower birth rates, which are happening in some of these countries, and that means the working-age population is going to have fewer mouths to feed, fewer shoes to put on the school-aged child’s feet.

Many things have to also happen at the same time—it’s not just simply lowering the birth rate.

You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training.

All of this is going to add up to much more societal progress, potential of young people fulfilled, and human rights being enjoyed.

Q: Where does this fit in and how does it inform UNFPA’s work under your leadership? Does it signal a paradigm shift?

A: We do feel that it is a paradigm shift, and what we are doing at UNFPA is making it accessible so that governments understand its relevance.

The mandate of UNFPA is to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and we feel that a woman’s choice is at the center of all of this.

Right now, as girls get married young and are having coerced sexual activity young, they are really not able to decide for themselves about how many children they want, when they want to have them, and how they would like to space them.

By giving women the choice to exercise their reproductive wishes and educating them—all of these things are going to ignite the potential of young people.

These people have potential, they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to contribute—so let’s make it easier for them, let’s not hide sexual and reproductive health information.

Not every method is going to work for every person, so we really look at human rights across the spectrum of choice.

We also have a lot of experts who have been very strategic in thinking through what really makes a difference, and we can say emphatically that investment in sexual and reproductive health way outweighs the costs—you at least double your money, and if you do the whole package, you can actually get 122 times the investment.

There is nothing on the planet that gives you that kind of payback.

Q: Why isn’t it enough to just equip youth with skills and jobs?

A: The young person exists in a societal environment like we all do, and girls tend to get left out of that picture.

In the past, when we were thinking of farmers, we didn’t realize that more than half of the farmers were women. So we were giving all of the agricultural resources to the wrong people.

And here we are saying the adolescent girl is half of the world and she also needs to be deliberately included.

The cards will be stacked against her if we don’t protect her so she doesn’t fall into the trap of sexual and reproductive dis-ease—so she’s pregnant before she wants to be, she is having her kids too close together, she is physically exhausted, and if she doesn’t finish her education, all of these things work together.

So that’s why we keep harping on this balance of all of these different elements.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent in the 50 odd years when they were investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

South Korea’s population pyramid went from looking like a triangle, where there wasn’t enough working age people to take care of those at the bottom, to where there were fewer children per family and greater ability to invest more into nutrition and education and all of the things families want for their children.

And it’s not just fewer families alone, because if you have fewer families but she doesn’t have an education, then it won’t work. You need the packaged deal.

We are ultimately talking about a social revolution which sees young people as an asset to their family, community, and country.

Q: How accepted is the correlation between growth and issues that may not be so obvious such as sexual and reproductive health or child marriage? Has there been pushback on that?

A: First of all, there was lack of recognition. It seems like the dots are very far apart until you paint the picture, but we have been explaining that better.

The regional report card atlas which we just launched earlier this month for the African Union Summit is very telling. We looked at those same parameters for every single African country, one of which was early marriage, and it varies so much.

In some countries, it can be up to 70 percent of girls getting married before the age of 17. In Rwanda it’s under 10 percent, and they have very good family planning which they’ve been working on for a while.

Uganda is a very good example of how pushback was transformed.

President Museveni came in as a strong proponent of big families and said that they need a big population in order to have more workers. But after a lot of discussion, he saw that Uganda already has a big population but it wasn’t enough.

So later, the President started advocating strongly for voluntary family planning services and services like midwives because again, the woman has to be sure that when she does get pregnant she and her baby are going to survive.

Uganda has now transformed its economy and is starting to see that demographic dividend boost.

Q: Where do the resources come from for countries to invest in youth?

A: Many countries are looking to invest their own resources in this proposition because the return on investment argument is highly persuasive.

We have also garnered the interest of development banks. The World Bank is working very closely with UNFPA on the Sahelian Women’s Economic Development and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) program. It’s only been active for a little while now but it is wildly successful because it looks at rural women in countries of the Sahel.

There is also a huge role for the private sector.

Government is very important because of policies and setting the tone and norms and laying down the expectations.

But the reality is that the private sector employs 90 percent of people in the developing world.

This coupling of the public government side and the private investment side is very crucial to ensure rights, freedoms, services, and accurate information—all of that together is needed for development and for this bonus that we call the demographic dividend.

Q: How are the recent funding cuts by the United States affecting UNFPA’s work? Is it hindering progress on the demographic dividend and/or the sustainable development goals?

A: First of all, I would like to say that UNFPA is moving forward.

We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls.

We are very focused on these three goals in our work with governments, civil society, private sector, and other actors in over 150 countries to honor the legacy of our late boss as well as those who preceded him.

There are still 214 million women who want family planning and don’t have modern contraception.

We have a funding gap that stands at about 700 million dollars from now to 2020, and we have been looking for additional funding because we need to reach more and more women and girls without cutting the programs we already have.

The United States’ defunding was such a disappointment in terms of our good standing in the world and our regret that the decision was based on an erroneous claim.

Ultimately, I think our regret on the decision is certainly monetary because we were using that money very effectively in humanitarian core operations.

But we also regret it because of the stature of the U.S. in the fight to make sure that there is gender equality as well as reproductive health and rights.

We are really looking forward to continuing a dialogue and hopefully keeping an open door because the U.S. and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been very good partners with UNFPA.

The time is now for young women to be protected from it being their fault that they got raped, for them feeling shame when they have been assaulted.

Let’s turn that around so that men and boys, women and girls live peacefully with the resources they want and need to survive and thrive.

No one of us can do it alone and I think that UNFPA is a good partner, and that we deserve to be supported.

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

The post “The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls appeared first on Inter Press Service.

UN Appoints Experts to DRC’s Kasai to Probe Harrowing Rights Abuses

27 July 2017 - 2:27pm

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appointed a team of three international experts yesterday to collect information and raise awareness about grave atrocities in the ongoing conflict in the remote Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Security Council observes a moment of silence in memory of two UN experts who were killed recently while monitoring the sanctions regime in the Kasaï Central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Credit: UN Photo

Central Kasai has been mired in a conflict between government forces and local militias called Kamuina Nsapu since August 2016. The conflict, which has escalated in recent months, garnered international attention when two U.N. experts in the region were killed in March 2017.

The conflict intensified in the run up to the elections of December 2016, when government security forces clashed with demonstrators who contested the president’s bid to stay in power beyond his term ending in 2016, and killed 50 people. Hundreds were jailed, and media outlets were banned.

Ever since, the situation has only become worse.

Newer armed groups like Bana Mura have emerged to fight the Congolese army and police. They have carried out brutal attacks against targeted civilians of Luba and Lulua ethnic groups, killing hundreds and burning villages. Small children have been gravely wounded from machete attacks, and pregnant women have been cut open.

Victims have speculated that members of the Congolese army have also been part of these horrific killings.

Today, as many as 3,300 people have died, and 1.3 million people have been displaced within the country. In Angola alone, more than 30,000 people have been registered as refugees as thousands more stream into the central African country every day. Some 42 mass graves have been documented by the Joint Human Rights Office.

The atrocities committed against civilians have put pressure on the UN, which adopted the UN Human Rights Council resolution on June 22, 2017.

In the resolution, the Council expressed its grave concerns about the recurrent violence and the “recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence, destruction of houses, schools, places of worship, and State infrastructure by local militias, as well as of mass graves.”

The Council puts the newly appointed team in charge of collecting information, determining facts and circumstances, and to forwarding “the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the conclusions of this investigation in order to establish the truth and to ensure that the perpetrators of deplorable crimes are all accountable to the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The team includes Bacre Ndiaye, a Senegal national, Luc Côté, a Canadian who has worked on human rights violations in the DRC, and Mauritania’s Fatimata M’Baye.

A comprehensive report with the findings will be presented in June 2018, at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

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