Interpress News Service

Large Landowners Jeopardise Indigenous Revival in Brazil

31 May 2017 - 7:50pm

Representatives of indigenous peoples in Brazil, who gather every year in April at the Free Land Camp on the Esplanade of the Ministries in Brasilia, in a protest against the legislators who undermine their rights to land, health and education. The National Congress is seen in the background. Credit: José Cruz/Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The attack with guns and machetes that left at least 10 Gamela indigenous people wounded, in the northeastern state of Maranhão, highlighted the growing threats against the resurgence and survival of native people in Brazil.

On Apr. 30, dozens of armed men attacked indigenous people who were occupying an estate in the municipality of Viana, which they claim as their ancestral land. Two of the injured suffered deep cuts on their hands.
The uneven battle was reminiscent of the massacres that decimated Brazil’s native population over the course of five centuries. But it was merely the most brutal part of an offensive unleashed on multiple fronts by large landowners, who consider the amount of land granted to indigenous people excessive.

“This is the worst moment in terms of government indigenous policy since the (1964-1985) military dictatorship,” said Marcio Santilli, a founding member of the non-governmental Social-Environmental Institute (ISA) and former president (1995-1996) of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government indigenous rights agency.
The government of President Michel Temer, in office since May 2016, is behind “an unprecedented setback in the entire system of protection of the environment, native peoples and farm workers,” the ISA and 59 other non-governmental organisations complained in an “open letter” released on May 9.

The offensive has included a 55 per cent cut in FUNAI’s budget this year, the appointment of an army general, Franklimberg de Freitas, as head of the agency, and legislative measures that seek to revoke the indigenous right to the lands where they have traditionally lived, recognised in Brazil’s constitution.

A constitutional amendment, under discussion since 2000, aims to transfer from the executive to the legislative branches the authority to make the final decision regarding the demarcation of indigenous lands.

Approval of the amendment would block the process of demarcation of native land promoted by the 1988 constitution, since Congress is traditionally conservative and is currently dominated by the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (APF), vehemently opposed to assigning more land to indigenous people.

The multi-party block, also known as the rural caucus, is comprised of 257 lawmakers – half of the lower chamber – and 16 senators – one-fifth of the Senate – according to the Inter-union Department of Parliamentary Advisory.

“President Temer, who is very unpopular, is hostage to the Congress and vulnerable to the pressures of the parliamentarians,” Santilli told IPS, to explain his concern with respect to the initiatives set forth by the current administration, whose term ends the first day of 2019.

Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio was legal coordinator of the APF until February, when he was appointed to head the ministry that is currently responsible for indigenous policy, as FUNAI answers to the Justice Ministry.
The president of the APF, lawmaker Nilson Leitão, as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on FUNAI and Land Reform, is calling for the prosecution of dozens of leaders of non-government organisations (NGO), anthropologists, public prosecutors and government officials for alleged fraud in the demarcation of indigenous lands.

“It is a paradox that he intends to criminalise those who want to comply with the constitution” by ensuring indigenous access to lands that were traditionally theirs, Santilli remarked.

“We are all defending the constitution, from different

A Guaraní family who live precariously on lands not yet demarcated, under the constant threat of expulsion, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, near the border with Paraguay. The largest indigenous population in Brazil is concentrated in this area, where large landowners have taken possession of native lands, leading to the highest number of murders and suicides of indigenous people. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

viewpoints,” said Leitão, explaining that the parliamentary commission examined several cases and concluded in a 3,385-page report that there are proven illegalities that must be prosecuted.

“There was an improper use of public resources,” the legislator told IPS. “Some NGOs even bought firearms for indigenous people, and in some demarcations the indigenous people did not even want the entire area that was allocated to them.”

His report attacks several NGOs that “received huge sums of money from abroad” and encouraged “invasions of rural properties” claimed as indigenous lands, ignoring the legal property claims of the owners.

“The method of demarcation has defects, everything that has been done lately is being questioned by the justice system,” Leitão said. Also, in his opinion, FUNAI was weakened when it was “taken over by officials with a biased ideology.”

But his main criticism is that the land is “the only focus of FUNAI and indigenous people,” while they ignore issues such as “taking care of the health and education” of native peoples.

As a consequence, the rural bloc lawmaker said that “in the last 10 years the death rate among indigenous people rose 168 percent, not due to war or violent conflicts, but because of diseases,” and 40 per cent of the deaths were of children under five.

It has nothing to do with a shortage of land, he argued, pointing out that there were 817,963 indigenous people – 0.4 per cent of the total population – in Brazil according to the 2010 census, occupying 117 million hectares, or 13.7 per cent of the national territory. In 2010 the population was just over 190 million people, compared to today’s 211 million, according to current projections.

Minimising the importance of the land issue is in the interest of the rural bloc, in permanent conflict with the contenders for land, whether indigenous people or peasant farmers demanding to be settled on land under the government’s land reform programme.

But all experts consider land the key factor for the survival of native peoples.

The current rural bloc offensive, which is favoured by their majority in Congress, threatens to put an end to the indigenous resurgence promoted by Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985 and the constitution approved three years later.

The indigenous population stood at just 294,131 in 1991, when the first official census to incorporate that ethnic identification was carried out. By 2000 the number had more than doubled, to 734,127, and in 2010 it had reached 817,963.

This increase responded to the demarcation of over 80 per cent of the 480 areas already recognised as belonging to indigenous people in Brazil since 1988. There are still 224 areas to be officially demarcated, half of them already identified and the rest still in process.

“The population growth will continue to be reflected in the 2020 census, despite the escalation of violence,” predicted Cleber Buzatto, executive secretary of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic Church organisation.

Many native groups are involved in a revival of their identities and are trying to recover their ancestral lands. This is the case of the Gamela people, who occupied estates seeking to demarcate their territory themselves, in the face of the slow pace of the government’s action, as part of an initiative that triggered the violent reaction by large local landowners, said Buzatto.

The indigenous population, despite the adversities, continue to mobilise for their constitutional rights.

Currently there are 252 native peoples, speaking 150 different languages, of the 1,200 that were spoken when the Portuguese colonialists arrived in 1500, according to ISA. The largest groups are the Guaraní, Tikuna, Terena and Yanomami.

The Free Land Camp, an annual demonstration held in Brasilia, drew nearly 4,000 indigenous people Apr. 24-28, to protest against “violence, setbacks and threats by the Brazilian state,” and defend their rights guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties.

“There is a series of ongoing threats and actions that are related to, and that reinforce, each other,” with a rural bloc representative in the Justice Ministry, and attempts to modify the constitution to invade indigenous lands, disqualify the demarcation system and ensure impunity for the aggressors, said Buzatto.

These actions also affect the environment and human rights, fomenting resistance movements.

Criticism of the positions taken by the Brazilian government, particularly with respect to indigenous questions, were expressed in the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it subjected the country to the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on May 5. “That is something that gives us hope,” said the secretary of CIMI.

Related Articles

Why international financial crises?

31 May 2017 - 12:25pm

Am underlying cause of international financial crises has been the ascendance, transformation and hegemony of the financial sector over the past three to four decades. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 31 2017 (IPS)

International currency and financial crises have become more frequent since the 1990s, and with good reason. But the contributory factors are neither simple nor straightforward. Such financial crises have, in turn, contributed to more frequent economic difficulties for the economies affected, as evident following the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession still evident almost a decade later.

Why international coordination?
Why is global co-ordination so necessary? There are two main reasons. One big problem before the Second World War was the contractionary macroeconomic consequences of the ‘gold standard’.

In 1944, before the end of the Second World War, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened the United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs – better known as the Bretton Woods Conference – even before the UN itself was set up the following year in San Francisco. After almost a month, the conference established the framework for the post-war international monetary and financial system, including the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), or World Bank.

To be sure, the Bretton Woods system reflected sometimes poor compromises made among the negotiating government representatives. Nevertheless, it served post-war reconstruction and early post-colonial development reasonably well until 1971.

In September of that year, the Nixon Administration in the US – burdened with mounting inflation and unsustainable budget deficits, partly due to the costly Vietnam War – unilaterally withdrew from its core commitment to ensure full US dollar convertibility to gold at the agreed rate. Thus, the unilateral US action did not involve a transition from the Bretton Woods system to any coherent, internationally agreed alternative.

Birth of a ‘non-system’
The pre-1971 post-Second World War period has often been referred to as a Golden Age, a period of rapid reconstruction, growth and employment expansion after the devastation of the Second World War. It was also a period of development and structural transformation in many developing countries.

All this came to an end when coordination and multilateralism collapsed following President Nixon’s decision to renege on 1944 US commitments at Bretton Woods which became the basis for the post-war international monetary system.

The leading international monetary economist of the post-war period, Robert Triffin, described the post-1971 arrangements as amounting to a ‘non-system’. Now, with the international monetary system essentially the cumulative outcome of various, sometimes contradictory and ad hoc responses to new challenges, the need for coordination is all the more urgent.

A strong case for co-ordination has long been made by the United Nations. For example, soon after the global financial crisis exploded in late 2008, the 2009 mid-year update of the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects showed how better coordinated and more equitable fiscal stimuli would have benefited all parties – developed countries, developing countries, transition economies and, most of all, the least developed countries.

Anarchy and fragility

Since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971, a small handful of currencies – especially the US dollar, the international favourite by far – have been held by others as reserve currencies. This has allowed the issuers of these currencies – especially the US – to run massive trade deficits, contributing to unsustainable global imbalances in savings and consumption.

A second underlying cause of international financial crises has been the ascendance, transformation and hegemony of the financial sector – termed ‘financialization’ – over the past three to four decades. Partly as a consequence, many decision-makers are now often more concerned with short-term financial indicators than other key economic indicators, often presuming that the former reflect the latter despite the lack of such evidence.

A third factor has been growing ‘financial fragility’, partly due to the global financial ‘non-system’ in place since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Referring to this ‘non-system’ as an international financial ‘architecture’ is really insulting to architects. The lack of coherence and coordination has been exacerbated by financial deregulation, liberalization and globalization over the past three decades.

Finance calling the shots

The growing and spreading subordination of the real economy to finance in recent decades is a fundamental part of the problem. While finance is indeed a very important, if not an essential hand-maiden for the functioning of the real economy, the subordination of the real economy to finance has transformed macro-financial dynamics, with unproductive, contractionary, even dangerous consequences.

So, to address the root causes of crises, much better, including more appropriate regulation of the financial system is needed to ensure consistently counter-cyclical macro-financial institutions, instruments and policies, and to subordinate the financial sector to the real economy.

The 2008 financial crisis has catalyzed many debates on these issues – some old, some new – for instance, between Keynesian/Minskyian economists and their opponents; between Anglo-American and continental European worldviews; and between the global North and South. Any sustainable solution will clearly require much better international cooperation and co-ordination.

Hence, almost a decade since the 2008 global financial crisis began, there is no shared political commitment to much needed international financial reforms. It took fifteen years from the beginning of the Great Depression, a world war and Roosevelt’s extraordinary leadership before the world was able to reform the international financial system in 1944. But sadly, there is no Roosevelt for our times.

A UN of the Future to Effectively Serve all Member States

31 May 2017 - 10:22am

In a letter to Permanent Representatives of 193 member states, the Secretary-General details his plan for a revitalization of the UN system.

By Secretary-General António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Through a series of recent global agreements on sustainable development, climate change, sustaining peace, disaster risk reduction, and financing for development, Member States have provided a broad vision of the future they want. I am committed to advancing meaningful reforms to adapt the United Nations to this complex world, so that it can effectively serve all of its Member States in achieving that future and managing shared challenges and opportunities along the way.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

As part of a broader effort to engage with Member States to strengthen the work of the United Nations, I wanted to provide you with a brief update of initiatives and reform processes under way to enhance our shared goal: making our Organization more effective and responsive to those we serve.

As many of you have stressed, there is a profound need for greater collaboration across the pillars of peace and security, development and human rights.

The Executive Committee, which I established in January, combines the expertise of senior managers and staff of many departments, field operations and duty stations, to provide strategic advice in a more holistic manner.

At that same time, I also decided to co-locate the regional desks of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs to enable greater coordination of our peace and security work. This initiative involves much more than the sharing of space. It is about pooling our perspectives more dynamically, to overcome silos and fragmentation and to generate improved policies and products.

In January, we strengthened whistle-blower protection to boost openness, transparency and fairness. Enhanced safeguards are now available for individuals who rep01i misconduct or cooperate with duly authorized audits or investigations.

I have directed an internal working group to examine how these efforts could be further expanded to cover consultants and individual contractors. The working group will submit its recommendations to me by 30 June 2017.

In March, based on the recommendations of a task force that I established in January, I launched a new strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system. This effort puts the rights and dignity of victims first; aims to end impunity for those guilty of crimes and abuses; and calls on us to share best practices and draw on the knowledge of external pa1tners such as civil society, local communities and experts.

In April, I submitted my proposals to the General Assembly for creating a new office of counter-terrorism to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General, who would serve as the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and Executive Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre.

To advance our commitment to equal rights and the empowerment of women, I asked my Senior Adviser on Policy to lead a Gender Parity Task Force to develop a strategy for the United Nations system. The first draft of the strategy was submitted to the Senior Management Group in April and I have consulted further with the United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination. We will consult with Member States and staff in the coming weeks. I plan to submit the final strategy to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

The Secretariat has also embarked on a process of comprehensive reforms on inter-linked tracks.

In January, I established an Internal Review Team (IRT), led by Mr. Tatmat Samuel, to study proposals for change in the peace and security architecture of the Secretariat. The Team is drawing on recent major reviews and consulting widely with experts across the world. l will review preliminary options in June and submit a detailed proposal to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

With respect to development, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review resolution provides us with a strong mandate to propose realignments to the United Nations development system so that it can support Member States in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I have asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead the review to develop a more cohesive and integrated system, with enhanced leadership at all levels, more effectiveness on the ground and greater accountability for results. A first report will be issued by June 2017 and a second towards the end of2017.

We need global responses to today’s challenges that address the root causes of conflict and integrate peace, sustainable development and human rights. To this end, my Senior Adviser on Policy is mapping the prevention capacities of the United Nations system with a view to creating a platform that enables us to make the best use of our many assets. This platform will not be a new structure, but rather a new and more effective way of working together to apply all of our tools in a timely way. My fo1thcoming report on Sustaining Peace represents an oppo11unity to engage with Member States on this idea. In the meantime, I attach my broad vision of prevention for your reflection.

Our efforts to implement this ambitious reform agenda rest on ensuring that we simplify procedures, decentralize decision-making and move towards ever greater transparency and accountability. The Chef de Cabinet is overseeing the management reform track. In April, I appointed an Internal Review Team on management reform, led by Ms. Alicia Barcena and Mr. Atul Khare.

Throughout this process, I am committed to continuing to engage in extensive consultations with Member States. To further this effort, my Chef de Cabinet, supported by the IRT on management reform, will hold informal brainstorming sessions with Member States. A list of questions will be circulated to facilitate these sessions. I also plan to hold a retreat in mid-July with Member States to informally consult on the initial findings of the IRT on management reform.

By the end of May, the IRT, with the assistance of departments, offices and operations in the field, will prepare an action plan for immediate measures that the Secretariat could undertake to streamline internal procedures and expedite decision-making. I will submit a detailed report on management reform to the General Assembly for consideration at its seventy-second session.

The work of the various reform tracks will be aligned within my Executive Office, under the guidance of the Chef de Cabinet. Just as the broad work of the United Nations must be more integrated, so must the reform workstreams link up and be mutually reinforcing.

Once again, I thank you for your ideas and inputs to further strengthen these essential efforts and advance our common goals. I count on the continued support of Member States and staff as we embark on this shared journey of reforming and renewing our United Nations.

THE VISION OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON PREVENTION

With profound gratitude and humility, I took up the helm of the UN system at a time of great aspirations as well as great challenges. While the universal and comprehensive agenda for sustainable development and sustaining peace pledged to “leave no one behind”, the goals of peaceful coexistence and development are at risk in many countries. The fundamental norms and values of the United Nations are being disregarded. Millions flee in search of safer, better lives, even as doors are closing in many places. Brutal and violent conflicts continue to rage in many corners of the world, taking countless lives and displacing millions more. For many others, sustainable development seems distant. Terrorism and violent extremism are affecting all regions of the world. Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and their destructive powers more intense.

How can the United Nations better help countries to avoid such crises and build resilient societies that can deliver on the promise to leave no one behind? How can we preserve the norms that safeguard humanity? How can we win back the trust of “we the peoples”?

By prevention, I mean doing everything we can to help countries to avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development. I mean rededicating ourselves to the UN Charter and the mandate of Agenda 2030 and ensuring that our assistance goes to those who need it the most. Prevention should permeate everything we do. It should cut across all pillars of the UN’s work, and unite us for more effective delivery.

Preventing human suffering and ensuring progress on the SDGs are primarily the responsibility of Member States. But the United Nations has a vital supp01ting role. We need to become much better at it, building trust with Member States and all stakeholders. see us doing this in four ways: A surge in preventive diplomacy; Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention; Strengthening partnerships; and Reforms to overcome fragmentation and consolidate our capacities to meet the prevention challenge.

Nobody is winning today’s wars. I appeal to all leaders, parties and those with influence to bring these burning conflicts to an end. I and my peace envoys are fully engaged in support of the national and regional actors. But wars can only be ended by the actions of the direct parties and their supporters to forge political solutions and tackle the root causes. Meanwhile, we must make conce1ted efforts to prevent new conflicts from flaring up. This means promptly identifying and responding to early signs of tension, using all tools available.

As part of our surge in preventive diplomacy, I am strengthening the UN’s mediation and facilitation capacity in the broadest terms, enhancing leadership, resources and partnerships. To make prevention effective, dialogue towards peace needs to be comprehensive. We thus need to pay attention to the local, national, regional and international levels. Accountability is a critical element in resolving conflict and addressing root causes to prevent conflict. I am ready to make greater use of my powers under the Charter, including with respect to early warning and good offices.

Integral to my view of prevention is inclusion and women’s empowerment in their fullest sense. We need more women at the table at all levels. This effort starts at home and I have taken steps to advance gender parity at the UN and in all our activities. We will further strengthen our support to integrate gender perspectives in mediation efforts, and we will be quickly expanding the pool of qualified women leaders to serve as my envoys or as mediation specialists.

Based on these parameters, I will appoint a High Level Advisory Group to provide recommendations on how to further enhance our work in mediation.

Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention

The best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis is to ensure they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development, including concerted climate action and management of mass migration. Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are an essential part of humanity’s universal blueprint for the future.

For all countries, addressing inequalities, strengthening institutions and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis. We need to invest more to help countries build strong and inclusive institutions and resilient communities. Our partnership with the World Bank and regional development banks will be critical. Development is the key to prevention. Far from diverting resources or attention away from development, an effective and broad focus on prevention will generate more investment and concerted efforts to achieve the SDGs.

For countries at particular risk of or recovering from conflict, the resolutions on Sustaining Peace and the Women, Peace and Security agenda provide additional tools adapted to their needs. The SDGs and Sustaining Peace are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Sustainable development underpins peace, and sustained peace enables sustainable development. Implementation of both agendas will ensure that stable societies prosper and fragile societies become resilient and can manage risks and shocks effectively.

Societies are more resilient when they uphold the full breadth of human rights of all, gender equality and women’s empowerment, the rile-of-law, inclusion and diversity as well as nurture their youth and children. These norms make for tolerant and vibrant societies where diversity is celebrated. Conversely, it is often the systematic undermining of these norms that point to risks of crisis. Sovereignty is strengthened when people, their dignity and rights are fully protected and respected. Working in support of Member States, our prevention work seeks to shore up national and local institutions and capacities to detect and avert looming crises, sustain peace and achieve sustainable development.

We must recognize that the UN is not the only actor, and in many cases not even the most important actor. The ultimate goal is not to expand our remit but to make a real difference for people, especially the most vulnerable. As the anchor of multilateral ism with universal membership, the UN has unparalleled capacity to convene and mobilize. The UN system is most impactful when truly enabling others.

This means building meaningful partnerships with the widest array of Governments, regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector, always being truthful to our mission as the guardian of the international norms that the Organization has generated over the past seven decades.

The most recent example of our resolve to strengthen our partnerships to prevent conflict and sustain peace was the signing of the Joint United Nations African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security on 19 April 2017.

We cannot meet the prevention challenge with the status quo. The UN needs to be much more united in its thinking and in its action, putting people at the centre of its work. People do not experience problems and crises in silos. They question why our support comes from so many different actors with different plans and messages, burdening their already limited systems and capacities.

We need to bring together the capacities of diverse actors in the Organization in support of people and countries in managing risks, building resilience against shocks and ave1ting outbreaks of crisis. This means the horizontal joining-up of all pillars of the UN’s work- peace and security, development, human rights- as well as vertical integration in each from prevention to conflict resolution, from peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development.

I have begun this with my own office and decision-making. The Executive Office has been restructured for better strategic analysis, coordination and planning across all pillars; and the Executive Committee of the Secretariat has been established and is meeting weekly for timely decision-making and action.

I have also set up an Internal Review Team to provide options on the peace and security architecture. My report on Sustaining Peace will be an opportunity to further elaborate the steps I have taken or propose. The architecture will be strengthened with the addition of the Office of Counter-Terrorism as proposed to the General Assembly, including to ensure that the work on preventing violent extremism is rooted in the Global CT Strategy.

Through the QCPR resolution, Member States have encouraged me to propose bold measures to reform the UN development system. Under the leadership of the DSG, this work is well underway so as to spell out the needed reforms by the end of this year as requested by the GA, with my first set of proposals in June 2017.

To underpin our ability to implement these reforms, I have also launched a process for significant management reform to streamline our processes and rules, especially on budget, human resources and procurement. The reforms require that the system becomes much more nimble, efficient and cost-effective. A crucial part of this work is my gender parity initiative, a new whistle-blower policy and my new approach to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse committed under the UN flag.

The outcome of these reforms will enable an integrated prevention platform. This is not a new entity or structure but an integrated way of thinking and acting, harnessing the diverse prevention tools and capacities across the system, at HQ and in the field, in support of Member States. It will build upon the Human Rights Up Front initiative, enhance our work on the ground, and strengthen the accountability of each actor to collective results.

It will be underpinned by a consolidated arrangement for financing prevention so that existing and new funding streams are most effectively utilized. Effective public outreach and communication will be crucial to our success as we go forward along this path. In an information saturated world of a continuously expanding media landscape, we will need to be much more innovative and strategic in telling our story.

In all of these endeavours, building trust with Member States, our staff and all stakeholders is crucial to success. This means I and other leaders in the system will actively reach out to consult, listen and bring in fresh ideas.

I have been humbled by the confidence placed in me by all Member States during the selection process. I wilI rely on the same confidence, the same trust to work together to steer our Organization through the reforms and reinstate prevention at the core of our everyday work.

Genetically Engineered Crops: Fake News Disappointments

31 May 2017 - 10:00am

Mahaletchumy Arujanan is Executive Director, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan
SELANGOR, Malaysia, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Fake news plaguing the progress of genetically engineered (GE) crops is nothing new since their first commercial cultivation 21 years ago. One of the most recent examples of fake news reports was churned out by  economist, Jomo Kwame Sundaram and his co-author Tan Zhai Gen, http://ipsnews.net/2017/05/genetically-engineered-disappointments.

The article lacks all the criteria of a valid, reliable, balanced, evidence-based and credible paper that should be expected from a university professor of economics and a biochemist.  A simple rebuttal to his article is –  there cannot be a disappointment when cultivation of GE crops increased from a mere 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016 and the number of farmers planting GE crops increased from a few thousands to 18 million during the same period. If the crops are disappointing why do all these farmers continue to grow GE crops if there are no benefits for them – to do so would, if he is correct, defy any rational, economic behaviour on the part of these farmers

Sundaram and Tan make a number of sweeping statements with  inaccuracies about lower yield gains with GE crops, higher usage of herbicides, decline in crop and biodiversity, rising pest resistance, carcinogenicity of glyphosate, and increase in corporate power. I urge critics  to visit farmers in Asia and Africa to understand their struggle and plight. These farmers toil on farms to ensure we have enough to eat, so let us not deprive them of the best tools to go about their jobs. While we cannot imagine our lives without technologies, why should we block beneficial technologies from reaching our farmers by spreading flawed arguments and inaccurate information? My challenge to all the critics of GE crops – try feeding your families with home-grown vegetables and crops, fight the pests and diseases yourself and see how long you can sustain us. Let me now dispel the claims made by the authors.

Trade monopoly and corporate power is a favourite emotional argument wielded often by critics. Would these critics support GE crops if they came from the public sector? If so, then Golden Rice, Bt cotton in China and Myanmar, Bt brinjal and GE potato in Bangladesh, and dozens of GE crops in the pipeline in India  (rice, wheat, okra, onion, groundnut, bamboo, tomato, apple, cucumber, sugarcane, cabbage, cauliflower, tea, coffee, corn, ginger, ragi, yam, castor, sunflower, black pepper, pea, soybean, papaya, cardamom, carrot, banana, tobacco, orange, pearl millet, potato and pulses), GE sugar cane in Indonesia and a whole list of other crops under development around the world should get their support. Can we expect this from the critics? Why are they demonising private  industry? If private sector GE crops are unacceptable, then why do they not  also boycott all the  pharmaceuticals or even cell phones that are, after all, produced and supplied by the same type of ‘corporate power’ businesses?

Sundaram and Tan mentioned lower yield gain of GE crops and made comparisons between North America and EU. This reflects their lack of understanding of agriculture, agronomy and agricultural economics – interesting given Sundaram is supposed to be an economist! Yields are affected by many factors – weather, soils, pest, disease and weed pressure, husbandry skills, use of inputs like fertiliser, pesticides and seed.  These vary by region, year and season. For example, GE corn used in the US has tended to deliver lower costs of production (mainly from the herbicide tolerant trait) and higher yields from the insect resistance technology (to corn borer and corn rootworm pests).  Obviously, these traits only benefit  farmers who suffer such pest problems  such pests do not affect all farms – the level of pest pressure varies by year and by region.  Farmers’ chose to use technologies like GE crops if they provide net economic benefits compared to the conventional alternative.  If the technology allows them to reduce pest damage, increase yields and get higher incomes for their families they will use the technology.  They don’t care if their yields are higher or lower than a farmer of the same crop on the other side of the world, as what matters to them is whether their yields will increase with GE crops compared to the conventional alternative on their farm location.  What the average yield at the country level compared to another region in a different part of the world is a pointless and spurious comparison.

The International Agency for Research in Cancer (ICAR), one arm of WHO declared glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015 and this has been used by many GE crop critics as a reason to attack the use of GE crops that are tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate. However, news reports fail to notice they put glyphosate in the same ‘carcinogen’ category as caffeine.  Furthermore, other WHO groups (International Programme on Chemical Safety, Core Assessment Group, Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality) and the WHO itself, the European Food Safety Authority, Environmental Protection Agency of the US, Health Canada, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, FAO and a number of other authoritative bodies and universities have dismissed ICAR’s claim and concluded that glyphosate poses no harm to humans, animals  or to our food supply but this consistent body of evidence has been  ignored by the GE critics.

Another overly simplistic argument used by the authors and other critics is the GE crop use has resulted in an increased usage of herbicides, therefore implying this is bad for the environment.  Well the subject is complex.  Firstly, evidence in peer reviewed studies, e.g. Graham Brookes shows that herbicide use with GE crops tolerant to glyphosate fell in the first ten years of widespread use.  Whilst it has subsequently increased, the amount used on GE herbicide tolerant crops has continued to be less than the amount used on the conventional alternative crop – in fact the rate of increase in herbicide use on conventional crop alternatives has increased at a faster rate than the rate of increased use on GE crops.  Secondly, the amount of herbicide applied to a crop is a poor measure of the associated environmental impact.  Using a better indicator of environmental impact – Cornell University’s Environmental Impact Quotient, Graham Brookes’s peer reviewed analysis shows that the widespread adoption of GE crops tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate have resulted in significant environmental improvements because glyphosate is a more environmentally benign herbicide than the herbicides it replaced and widely used on the alternative, conventional crops.

Farm biodiversity is also another complex area. Nevertheless, there has been a clear and significant reduction in the use of insecticides with GE crops containing insect resistant traits in corn, cotton and soybeans.  This has resulted in important environmental benefits, most notably the  increase in beneficial insect numbers that have  come back and , many scientists have reported increased number of beneficial insects in farms that grow GE crops. For example, in the Philippines, notable increase in fireflies, dragonflies, predatory insects that eat corn pests and parasitoids were reported by farmers who grow GE crops. This is due to insect-resistant corns that do not require heavy use of insecticides compared to non-GE corns that are sprayed with broad-spectrum insecticides.

I also challenge critics to answer how India emerged as the top global cotton producer after previously being a net cotton importer?; why the demand for insect resistant  cotton is increasing among Pakistani women farmers?; why Philippines increased its biotech crop area by 16% and the farmers are demanding for GE insect resistant eggplant?; Vietnam corn farmers are rapidly adopting  GE  corn after only 2 years since it was first approved for use; and Bangladesh is vigorously working on the development of GE crops such as Golden Rice, late blight resistant potatoes and insect resistant cotton after its success with insect resistant eggplant. If these GE crops are disappointments and failures, why are these farmers using them and wanting more of them?

Even the EU’s livestock industry will struggle without GE grains and oilseeds.  The EU exerts  influence over African and Asian politicians to ban GE crops, while at the same time it imports GE grains for its livestock to the tune of 34 million tonnes annually, making it the top importer of GE crops in the world.  Critics of GE crops are known to speak “for” farmers without any engagement with farmers. Fantasising an ideal agriculture practice and demonising modern biotechnology is futile unless these critics are able to suggest  better and viable alternatives.

Rest assured that crop biodiversity is not being lost.  Quite the opposite.  Breeders have never been as successful at incorporating genetic diversity from various sources into their modern varieties.  Hence, it should be no surprise that, at the end of the day, farmers are willing to trade in their “rich, diverse, traditional farmer knowledge” that has been low-yielding, in favour of higher yielding GE crops.

How to Produce More Food with Less Damage to Soil, Water, Forests

31 May 2017 - 8:29am

High-input, resource intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production, but at a high cost to the environment. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BRUSSELS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Massive agriculture intensification is contributing to increased deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and the level of greenhouse gas emission, the United Nations warns.

To achieve sustainable development we must transform current agriculture and food systems, including by supporting smallholders and family farmers, reducing pesticide and chemical use, and improving land conservation practices, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) director-general on May 30 said in Brussels addressing European lawmakers.

José Graziano da Silva stressed that while high-input and resource intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production, this has come at a high cost to the environment.

“Today, it is fundamental not only to increase production, but to do it in a way that does not damage the environment. Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet,” he said.

This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he added. “We have to move from input intense to knowledge intense production systems.” “Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet” - FAO chief

The Future of Food and Agriculture

Speaking to members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Graziano da Silva highlighted the findings of FAO’s report, The future of food and agriculture: trends and challenges.

Among the 15 trends described in the report, are the impacts of climate change, conflicts and migration.

The report also foresees 10 challenges for achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture worldwide.

The FAO chief focused on four main issues: climate change; the spread of trans-boundary pests and diseases; food loss and waste; and the importance of eradicating not only hunger, but also all forms of malnutrition in the world.

Climate Change

He underscored that no sector is more sensitive to climate change than agriculture – especially for smallholders and family farmers from developing countries – while at the same time, agriculture and food systems account for around 30 per cent of total greenhouse emissions.

“In agriculture, adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand. There is no trade-off between the two,” the FAO chief said, while pointing to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time building the resilience and to promote the adaptation of farmers to the impacts of climate change.

To this end, FAO supports countries through different initiatives and approaches, including climate-smart agriculture, agro-ecology and agro-forestry.

Trans-boundary Pests and Diseases

Globalisation, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems, have all played a part in dramatically increasingly the spread of trans-boundary pests and disease in recent years. These constitute a major threat to the livelihoods of farmers and the food security of millions of people.

For its part, the UN specialised agency supports countries to implement prevention and surveillance system. “Even in situations of conflict and protracted crises, we promote programmes of (livestock) vaccination, as we are currently doing is South Sudan and Somalia,” said Graziano da Silva.

“Today the world produces enough to feed the global population, but about one third of this food is either lost or wasted, while at the same time there is also a waste of natural resources such as land and water.”

The UN agency currently supports about 50 countries in the area of food losses and waste, including through the SAVE FOOD initiative, a unique partnership –with more than 850 members from industry, associations, research institutes and non-governmental organizations– that addresses these issues “across the entire value chain from field to fork,” Graziano da Silva told the European parliamentarians.

Citing estimates that indicate that nearly half of the European Union’s adult population are overweight, the FAO director-general noted how malnutrition affects both developed and developing countries.

“The way to combat this is to transform food systems, from production to consumption, and provide healthier diets to people,” he said and called on the parliamentarians as lawmakers to ensure that adequate policies, programmes and operational frameworks are anchored in appropriate legislation.

“Parliamentarians not only have the means to place nutrition at the highest level of the political and legislative agenda, they also can guarantee that programmes will have the necessary budgets for implementation.”

UAE in top 10 in IMD World Competitiveness Centre rankings 2017

31 May 2017 - 7:25am

By WAM
DUBAI, May 31 2017 (WAM)

The UAE jumped five positions to rank among the world’s top 10 most competitive economies for the first time in the annual rankings of the IMD World Competitiveness report 2017.

The UAE is the only Arab country to find a place among the super league of the global top 10 nations, as the reform announced by the UAE government at the beginning of 2015 seems to be paying off.

As the global progress towards the digital economy gains momentum, the UAE is leading the region’s digital transformation with a host of innovative programmes to enhance its networked readiness.

Commenting on the performance of this year, Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemi, Minister of State for International Cooperation Affairs and Chairperson of the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, said, “Every year, the UAE demonstrates to the whole world the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall development strategy adopted by the UAE government under the vision and guidance of its wise leadership, based on investing in human development, stimulating innovation, development and continuous modernisation.”

“We congratulate the UAE and its people on this feat, and thank all federal government agencies for their concerted efforts to support the UAE’s global competitiveness,” she said.

“The adoption of international standards and indicators to assess the performance and competitiveness of the federal and local government institutions, helps us to perform our mission of providing consultancy for the development of performance, and working with these institutions to transform proposals into plans, initiatives and strategies aimed at improving the global competitiveness of the state and achieving the UAE Vision 2021 to become one of the best countries in the world by the Golden Jubilee of the Union,” said Abdullah Nasser Lootah, Director-General of the Federal Authority for Competitiveness and Statistics.

Measly Earnings for Tamil Shoemakers

31 May 2017 - 6:22am

By Erik Larsson
STOCKHOLM, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Working fulltime in their own homes, putting their health at risk with the chemicals they use, to make the shoes sold in the West. Indian women endure poor working conditions and earn just over 40 dollars per month.

”These workers are always women. Often housed in small living areas together with their family. Their working day starts early in the morning and goes on late into the evening”, says Brinda Devi Kamaraj who is a coordinator for the Indian human rights organisation Cividep.

It’s usually the women’s job to sew details onto the upper part of each shoe. Their pay is one tenth of a dollar per shoe.

In global terms, the footwear industry manufactures around 24 billion shoes annually.

Many of the shoes sold in shops in Western Europe are made in Asia under questionable working conditions.

Manufacturing in India, even for the well-known brands of Ecco, Diechmann, Clarks and Eurosko, often sees parts of shoes produced in the workers home environment.

Arbetet Global meets Cividep representatives in Stockholm.  They are visiting Sweden to meet people from the footwear industry and trade unions.

”Women receive materials from go-betweens. In their own homes, they sit and sew on between 15 and 20 shoes per day”, says Brinda Devi Kamaraj who estimates that regular fulltime earnings are at just over 40 dollars per month.

Her responsibility is to keep in touch with the many homeworking women in the region around the city of Ambur in the South Indian state of Tamil Nada.

During the past few weeks though she has been travelling to several European countries together with Cividep’s General Secretary Gopinathan Kunhithayil Parakuni to inform of the working conditions of the shoemakers.

”Women receive materials from go-betweens. In their own homes, they sit and sew on between 15 and 20 shoes per day”, says Brinda Devi Kamaraj who estimates that regular fulltime earnings are at just over 40 dollars per month.
”Their situation has not been given the same attention as the workers in the textile industry, where companies have made certain improvements”, says Gopinathan Kunhithayil Parakuni.

By placing production inside people’s homes, the workers are not included in social insurance programs or workplace laws and regulation.

Gopinathan Kunhithayil Parakuni explains it also allows retail prices to be kept at low levels. As well as making child labour more common as the young children help their mothers to sew.

He estimates that in their region in South India there are around 10,000 homeworkers and in the whole of India the total is in the hundreds of thousands.

The full extent of the putting-out system is hard to assess. Companies are unwilling to release information on whom is contracted, which makes tracking the system more difficult. Also, unions in the export industries have less clout.

”Employers do all they can to discourage labour unions. They fear strikes.

In other industry, like railways, and in the public sector and the financial sector, unions are quite strong. But in export industries the situation is very different.

Another issue of contention for Cividep and the footwear industry is the working condition in the tanneries where leather is produced. For example, treating and dyeing hides involves large amounts of chrome.

”In this production a lot of chemicals are used and often there is no protective wear”.

The frequent resulting consequences have been developments of serious allergies as well as both lung and skin diseases.

”These chemicals also flush out into the water system and that affects the people that live near the tanneries, says Gopinathan Kunhithayil Parakuni.

In 2014 pressure group Fair Action conducted an investigation into the footwear industry in Sweden.

Their report revealed that none of the four largest shoe retailers took measures to follow up on working conditions in the, often Asian, tanneries.

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

The Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

31 May 2017 - 1:18am

Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

By Stephen O’Brien*
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The cruel conflict in Syria continues to tear families apart, inflicts brutal suffering on the innocent, and leaves them pleading for protection and justice. I readily acknowledge that there have been reports of a significant drop in violence in some areas of the country, but such steps forward continue to be counter-weighted by the reality of a conflict that continues to devastate the civilian population.

Stephen O’Brien

Just last week, 30 children and women were gravely injured in a heinous attack by ISIL on besieged neighbourhoods in Deir ez-Zor as they were lining up for water. In addition, more than a hundred civilians, many of them women and children, have fallen victim, in recent weeks, to the escalating counter-ISIL airstrikes, particularly in the north-eastern governorates of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

Millions more are in the line of fire, facing crushing poverty and alarming physical danger. Tens of thousands of children have been killed, and for those who have survived till today, the outlook remains bleak. Children have been forcibly detained, they have been tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.

Close to seven million children in Syria live in poverty. Nearly 1.75 million children remain out of school and another 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. 7,400 schools – one in three across the country – have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible. And even if the schools were intact, many would be unable to open, with almost one quarter of the country’s teaching personnel no longer at their posts.

Outside Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own; they have become stateless, abandoned by the world but for the generosity of neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Egypt.

How are these children meant to function as adults? What future do these children have – illiterate, orphaned, starved, traumatized and maimed? What future does a country have when its next generation is a lost generation? For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating.

Astana produced a promising step: a memorandum between the three guarantors – Iran, Russia and Turkey – on the creation of four de-escalation areas; a memorandum that stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that fighting must significantly decrease and unhindered humanitarian access be enabled to these four areas – areas which essentially encompass all of the besieged locations except for those in Damascus and Deir ez-Zor.

That said, too many agreements that could have saved lives and reduced suffering have failed in the past. Let me therefore be clear: this agreement simply has to succeed. We owe it to the 2.6 million people that we estimate to be in these four de-escalation areas.

We – the United Nations – stand ready to sit with all parties involved to make it a workable agreement – one that will make a tangible difference to civilians on the ground; one that facilitates the delivery of life-saving assistance based on the UN’s own needs assessments without constant interference, reduced beneficiary numbers, the removal of medical and other essential items out of spite, bureaucratic restrictions and procedural and physical roadblocks.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that – all over Syria – millions of people, in locations inside and outside the four de-escalation areas, continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives. We must not stand silent while violence flares up elsewhere in the country and parties continue to use starvation, fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as methods of war.

As you all know, in recent months, restricted access and increased attacks resulted in a number of so-called ‘surrender’ or ‘evacuation’ agreements in communities such as Al-Tal, Darraya, Moadamiyeh, Eastern Aleppo, Khan al-Shieh, Wadi Barada, and the four towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya. In the last few weeks, thousands more have been moved from the besieged neighbourhoods of Barzeh and Qaboun (Damascus) and the besieged Al Wa’er neighbourhood in Homs city to Idlib and Jarablus city in rural Aleppo.

These are evacuations that have followed years of intense airstrikes, shelling and sniping. The tactics are all too obvious: make life intolerable and make death likely; push people to choose between starvation and death or fleeing on green buses to locations that are just as unsafe.

There needs to be accountability for these actions; for these ‘starve and surrender tactics’ – a monstrous form of cruelty to impose upon a civilian population. We have seen this happen numerous times already – as I said, in Homs, Moadamiyeh, Al Waer, and elsewhere. In fact, Darayya and Zabadani are already devoid of their civilian population. And this may very well be the fate of hundreds of thousands more people still trapped in besieged locations across the country.

Evacuations are, however, only the beginning of a new set of challenges for both those who are forced to leave their homes, and host communities. Traveling mostly to Idleb and northern rural Aleppo, those displaced now find themselves in an increasingly precarious environment. The capacity in these areas to support additional displacement is reaching its limit.

In Idleb alone, there are over 900,000 displaced people, placing significant strain on local communities and resources. While the situation has quietened since the memorandum on de-escalation was signed, any increase in fighting – attacks by the Government of Syria, or fighting among groups inside of Idelb – would be catastrophic for these already stressed communities.

In fact, in many corners of the country, the protection space is shrinking, humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising – not due to insecurity or poor infrastructure, but by increasingly strict limitations by local authorities, non-State armed groups, as well as terrorist organizations, and the actions of some neighbouring countries.

I call on members of the Security Council to use their influence to see that these actors respect humanitarian principles and allow the unfettered delivery of aid. We are also greatly concerned at cross-border restrictions and regulatory impediments imposed on the NGO community operating in northern Syria and are troubled by increasing reports indicating that IDPs fleeing Raqqa Governorate are being kept for prolonged periods in screening camps and subjected to restrictions on their movement by the self-proclaimed Democratic Self-Administration in northeastern Syria.

We need to see a step-change in access to the increasingly dire situation in northeastern Syria. Rather than restrictions, we need an opening of space to respond. With some 100,000 people displaced due to fighting around Raqqa since April, access is needed now through every possible modality.

We need to see restrictions eased for those operating in the area. We need to see increased cross-border and cross-line access for humanitarian assistance into the area, including land access from Aleppo. I call on all with influence over the parties involved to act now. Further delays or restrictions will only result in the continued suffering and the death of civilians.

For cross-line inter-agency convoys, administrative delays on the part of the Syrian Government in the approval of facilitation letters and convoy plans continue to hamper our efforts. Every month, thousands of facilitation letters are readily signed for convoys headed to Government-controlled areas.

Yet, in cross-line areas, we have only been able to secure facilitation letters for seven convoys under the April/May access plan, allowing us to reach 266,750 people in need. This is out of a million people requested under the bi-monthly plan. And as a result, we are essentially down to one cross-line convoy per week to reach those who are most in need, with only one besieged location – namely Duma in eastern Ghouta – reached by road during the April/May period.

Compared to last year, when we deployed 50 cross-line convoys through May, today we stand at 18 cross-line convoys in 2017. In addition, the ICRC and the SARC also delivered three cross-line convoys without the UN, reaching 136,500 people in hard-to-reach areas during this period as well.

Moreover, the removal of life-saving medicines and medical supplies such as surgical kits, midwifery kits, and emergency kits has continued unabated, with nearly 100,000 medical supplies refused or removed from convoys since the beginning of the year. In addition, and as you all know, attacks on hospitals and other health facilities – as highlighted by the Secretary-General in the open debate last week on the Protection of Civilians – have become commonplace in Syria – about 20 per month between January and April this year, an average of one attack every 36 hours, turning Syrian hospitals into death traps.

These attacks and restrictions are not only violations of international law and Council resolutions, they are deliberate and cowardly acts aimed at those – the sick, the injured, the infirm, unborn children, the elderly, pregnant women, young children – who are least able to protect themselves and are most in need of care and assistance.

The denial and delay of access, particularly to those in besieged locations, is a political calculation and a military tactic; this much is clear in Syria. We may speak about the practical elements of delay and denial – facilitation letters, inspections, checkpoints – but these are simply the manifestation of a mindset and approach by the Government of Syria to use civilian suffering as a tactic of war.

We have seen that when political will exists, the humanitarian imperative to deliver based on assessed need is possible. Facilitation letters are signed, inspectors do not remove items, and checkpoints allow safe passage. I call on the Security Council to take all necessary steps to see that the will to place humanitarian aid delivery in its rightful position – outside of any military or political calculations and totally impartially – is restored.

The delivery of aid is not an ask, but is a demand and the law and its denial, refusal or frustration is and must be a red line not to be crossed. Denial and delays of assistance contravene resolutions of the Council and are against international humanitarian law. They must end. I call on this Council to act to see its resolutions implemented. Any prevarication will result in further death and suffering of civilians. Humanitarian relief cannot be viewed as an optional element to be occasionally provided. It must go where it is needed, when it is needed, not where it is allowed and when it is convenient.

As I have said numerous times before, we remain committed and ready to deliver aid – through all possible modalities – for people in desperate need, whoever and wherever they are. However, the bottom line is that the real extent of progress cannot be measured by ad hoc deliveries to besieged communities – once or twice, every so often.

The bottom line is that we have been wasting too much of our time literally begging for facilitation letters; too much time arguing at roadblocks, pleading that trucks can pass without the sniper taking the shot and medical items not be removed.

I do not come here today to seek favours. But let me say this. Calling for humanitarian actors to be allowed sustained access to all people in need throughout Syria is not a favour. Calling for an end to the removal of medical items off of convoys is not a favour. Calling for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure by all parties to the conflict is not a favour.

Seeking to prevent children from being buried under piles of rubble, in their basements, in their schools, is not a favour. Medicine for the sick and food for the starving are not favours. These are the common precepts, the bedrock, of our shared humanity and the foundations of international humanitarian law, and they must be an unflinching call to the fundamental decency of all people. I call on all those with influence over the parties to reinforce this message and act.

In closing, let me send my very best wishes to everyone observing the holy month of Ramadan. For Muslims in Syria, in the region and across the world it is a time for charity, for contemplation and community; a time for peace and forgiveness. Let us all sincerely hope for an end of violence for this period and beyond.

Let us all sincerely work towards achieving the objectives of the Astana memorandum, so that attacks and bureaucratic impositions are put to an end – once and for all – and the UN and its humanitarian partners can sustainably reach those hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind the current front lines.

(* From a statement before the UN Security Council on 30 May 2017)

Business Unusual: Valuing Water for a Sustainable Future

30 May 2017 - 6:02pm

Recurrent drought in Namibia, Southern Africa has undermined food security and farmers’ livelihoods. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Valuing water is more than simply assigning costs to a scare resource – it is an essential step for transforming water governance to meet the needs of a prosperous future.

This was a recurring view from participants at the first regional discussion on water organised in South Africa as part of the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) dialogues.“There is an opportunity to meet the immediate needs within the SDGs and then to organise for the 10-billion world - not just to survive but also be prosperous.” --Dhesigen Naidoo

The May 30 meeting was attended by more than 100 representatives from a range of sectors including water, agribusiness, utilities and community groups from across the region, as well as representatives from around the globe.

Dr Patrick Vincent Verkooijen, World Bank special advisor, said their research had shown that if “there is no change in the way we manage water, then (global) economic growth will drop by 6 percent.”

Global Water Partnership chairperson Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, a former Minister of Environment in Mongolia, stressed that the issue was not just about valuing water as a commodity but about water governance. “We have to recognise that water is valuable; it is not a free commodity. If we do business as usual then by 2025 the number of people who are affected by water scarcity will rise from 1.7 to 5 billion.”

This is the first of five regional discussions on valuing water initiated by the HLPW, which is made up of 11 sitting heads of state and government. The meetings will collate comments on draft principles of water ahead of an HLPW meeting in August.

CEO of the Water Research Commission, Dhesigen Naidoo, said the HLPW and its activities had “significantly” raised the global dialogue on water.

“But we must make sure we are having the right conversation. What is missing is the view of tomorrow. If we are simply talking about meeting the minimum requirements, then we are missing the opportunity to completely transform … in both our attitude to water and the way we manage water,” said Naidoo.

He noted that Africa would be the most populous continent in the world by 2050, with an expected 50 megacities.

“Only three of these 50 megacities exist at the moment. We can create water-wise cities right from the start,” he added.

This includes rethinking “how we use water, how we recycle water and what water we use”. For example, Naidoo questioned the efficacy of using quality potable water to flush toilets.

The costing of water was an ongoing issue, but participants also warned that the question of cost needed to be raised against the “point where price is an inhibitor to your basic right to water”.

The intersectional nature of water was stressed – hence the need for political engagement at the highest level.

Participants at the High Level Panel on Water in Johannesburg add their comments to the principles for water. Credit: Paula Fray/IPS

The May 30 discussion in Ekurhuleni near Johannesburg included ministers and deputy ministers from Water and Sanitation, Public Works and Energy.

“The vision and aspiration for water is the 17 SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and these make clear that the world must transform the way it manages it water – it needs political head engagement as well as other key public, private and civil society stakeholders,” said Verkooijen.

“Success for the HLPW can be only be determined when it motivates transformational action. Secondly, success is determined by whether it can support mobilisation and advocacy for transformational finance and implementation.”

Various initiatives are already in place, including developing principles on valuing water which were discussed in South Africa.

“Valuing water is not a new concept. The challenge is to explicitly value water in its competing uses. Proper valuation simply provides a clearer picture of the trade-offs involved,” said Verkooijen,

Faith Muthambi, South African Minister of Public Service and Administration – standing in place of Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – reminded participants that South Africa’s constitution declared access to water as a human right. “The right to clean water is therefore an obligation for government to ensure access for people.

“We want to see water priced for sustainability,” she said. “Water infrastructure is very important as a solution. We need partnerships to close the gap between water demand and supply by 2030.”

Her colleague, Deputy Minister of Energy Thembisile Majola, noted that the energy sector was a bulk user of water.  “How do we improve our technology so that they use less water?” she asked, stressing the symbiotic relationship “We use water to create energy and we need energy to get water to where it needs to go.”

Delegates at the conference came from 14 of the 15 SADC countries, with only Seychelles not represented.

Dr Kenneth Msibi, SADC Water Division, a transboundary water policy expert, said the SADC was trying to unlock the potential for water as a catalyst for development.

“We cannot move forward if we think of it as business as usual,” he stressed.

“Unless we value the water, our ecosystems are going to degrade and cost so much more,” said Dr Sanjaasuren.

“We’re living on a planet with a population size that is growing rapidly. We will have more and more water tensions,” said Naidoo.

“There is an opportunity to first organise to meet the immediate needs within the SDGs and then to organise for the 10-billion world – not just to survive but also be prosperous.”

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Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Geneva

30 May 2017 - 11:30am

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel.

But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of employees, are already on the warpath because of a proposed 7.5 percent reduction in their take-home pay triggering a strong backlash and public demonstrations—and perhaps leading to a possible work stoppage.

The proposed salary reductions in Geneva aren’t related to the impending US cuts to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets in New York.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” last week, blames the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which presides over salary structures, for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The staff federations include the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA)

The resolution says the ICSC has refused three times to meet with staff and explain the proposed cuts despite ongoing and serious questions about its data-handling and statistical analysis.

Ian Richards, President of CCISUA, told IPS the resolution was unprecedented and “shows how angry staff in Geneva are at the ICSC’s manipulation of its own methodology to cut pay in what unfortunately is one of the world’s most expensive cities where local salaries rose almost six percent in the last five years”.

“We’re under huge pressure from staff to get the work stoppages going,” he warned.

He said the decision to cut pay was taken by ICSC, but given its failure to provide convincing explanations to the heads of human resources of the organizations in Geneva, most organizations will not implement it for now.

“Those same organizations have also sent a team of statisticians to New York to go through the ICSC’s calculations. Unfortunately the UN secretariat has decided to break ranks, meaning staff in Geneva will be paid different salaries for the same work.”

Richards said pay cuts are also poor employment practices and are only taken by employers in crisis and after negotiating with staff unions.

“The fact that the ICSC increased pay in New York and Washington DC shows we aren’t there right now,” he added.

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

Geneva is the first UN duty station to be affected by the new rules, but there are 85 duty stations to follow. This summer, several European Union duty stations such as Paris, Vienna, Rome and Madrid, will be up before the ICSC.

According to the staff unions, New York salaries went up by 2.2 percent in February.

“This isn’t about a choice between a pay cut or preserving jobs in Geneva. Organizations did not factor in the pay cut while setting their budgets. Meanwhile Swiss salaries increased 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, the same period over which the ICSC is trying to cut ours,” says CCISUA.

There is also a widespread belief that Geneva was victimized first because UN member states aren’t happy at having to pay $1 billion on a new building, which they were strong-armed into paying for, and particularly with possible cost overruns.

Meanwhile, since Washington is the largest single contributor both to the UN’s regular and its peacekeeping budgets, a proposed 29 percent in US foreign assistance by the Trump administration is expected to have a heavy impact on the United Nations in New York.

Currently about 22 percent of the UN’s biennium regular budget of $5.4 billion comes from the US. So does 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of about $8 billion.

Asked about the impending cuts proposed in the US budget, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “We’re obviously studying the (US) budget, going through some of the numbers. I think, from where we stand and looking at the budget, as proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world”

He said the budgetary process in the US is what it is. “It is going through a legislative process. So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.”

“I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we’re obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor”.

Dujarric said that even before the proposed US cuts were announced, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has remained engaged in bringing out reforms in the UN system “ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it’s meant to deliver”.

He said Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat– over which he has authority– on limiting the amount of travel to necessary-travel only.

He has also asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to look at how the UN uses its air assets in peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.

“I think the Secretary General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he’s asked his managers to look at that. As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.”

But still, said Dujarric, the UN needs resources to deliver on its mandates laid out by the 193-member General Assembly.

On cuts, Richards said reducing the size of UN staff delegations is probably a good idea. “But at the end of the day, travel is only a small part of the regular, Trump-affected budget. Much travel is paid from extra-budgetary sources, such as projects and events that require travel,” he noted.

Reflecting on the situation in Geneva, Richards pointed that what was noteworthy is that the ICSC decided to remove mitigating measures that would have softened the impact of the cut just before it started working on Geneva.

“The ICSC has agreed to review its decision at its next meeting in July and we hope it will put things right. Many staff have told us they will return from their holidays if need be to take collective action”, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The ‘Water-Employment-Migration’ Explosive Nexus

30 May 2017 - 9:33am

An explosive nexus in the Mediterranean: Water-Employment-Migration. Credit: Global Water Partnership

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Water–everybody talks about it, warns against its growing scarcity, excessive waste, the impact of climate change, the frequent severe droughts and so on. Now, a global action network with over 3,000 partner organisations in 183 countries comes to unveil the dangerous nexus between water, employment and migration, in particular in the Mediterranean region.

The Water-Employment-Migration nexus triggers a multi-faceted crisis posing major socio-political, economic and environmental risks in several regions (Africa, Asia, Europe), with the Mediterranean being in the eye of the cyclone, warns in fact the Global Water Partnership (GWP).

The Mediterranean is not only among the most arid regions in the world–parts of the region face a persistent economic crisis, socio-political instability, conflicts and large-scale migratory movements, often under dramatic conditions, putting further stress on the available water resources, adds this global network, whose partners work to make water a top policy priority.

Moreover, a recent GWP-led Regional Roundtable in Tunis highlighted several pressing facts, such as the eagerness of 25 per cent of the youth population in the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) to migrate and seek for a better future away from home.
“25 per cent of the youth population in the Middle East and North of Africa are eager to migrate and seek for a better future away from home.”

Youth unemployment in the region is at a global high, and it is the main driver for both males and females to migrate, GWP informed, adding that female youth is in an even more disadvantaged position suffering the triple burden of gender, age and skills mismatch.

Alarming Facts

No wonder. The leading United Nations agency in the fields of food and agriculture has recently revealed a set of alarming key facts about the dramatic water shortage in the region, specifically in the Middle East and North of Africa countries.

In fact, the Near East and North Africa fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world: they have decreased by two thirds during last 40 years and are expected to fall over 50 per cent by 2050, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported.

Should these facts not be enough, the specialised agency also informs that 90 per cent of the total land in the region lies within arid, semi/arid and dry sub/humid areas, while 45 per cent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion.

At the same time, agriculture in the region uses approximately 85 per cent of the total available freshwater, while over 60 per cent of water resources in the region flows from outside national and regional boundaries.

Add to all the above that fact that groundwater, which has become a significant source of water across the region, and which is the basis for the rapid growth of new agricultural economies in the Arabian Peninsula, is now also experiencing significant depletion, according to FAO.

“The considerable degradation of water quality is accelerating, along with competition for water between all sectors.”

The cause of higher temperatures, droughts, floods and soil degradation, climate change will impose a further threat to the region’s water resources and food security,” the UN agency warns, adding that the decrease in production that this situation is likely to cause, could contribute to increasing the region’s current dependence on cereal imports.

“Water Scarcity – One of the greatest challenges of our time – FAO. Credit: FAO

The Needed Linkages

Experts from 13 institutions and organisations across 10 countries gathered in GWP-led Regional Roundtable in Tunis last December to elaborate on the linkages among water insecurity, enduring unemployment and increasing migration in the Mediterranean, emphasising also on youth and gender challenges.

The Roundtable discussions made evident that education is strongly correlated with employment and the MENA youth do not have the skills desired for employers.

“Designing tailored training programs to bridge this gap can gradually help decrease the unemployment ratio in the region, and improve female employability. Such training and educational programs will be among areas of focus in the development of the regional program on Water-Employment-Migration.”

Furthermore, the need to assist national and regional authorities in setting the needed institutional and regulatory ground for related successful measures was pinpointed, according to GWP.

“Development of strategies and action plans and/or operational mainstreaming of related considerations in existing national processes should assist in addressing the root causes of unemployment and migration and effectively contribute to water security in the Mediterranean. Synergies should be sought with neighbouring regions/countries that are migration-origins (in Africa, Asia) as well as destination countries (in Europe).”

The GWP network provides knowledge and builds capacity to improve water management at all levels.

The Water We “Eat”

Meanwhile, FAO also informs that the ‘water we eat’ daily through the food we consume is much more than what we drink, FAO informs, while providing some examples: Did you know depending on the diet, we need 2 000 to 5 000 litres of water to produce the food consumed daily by one person?

“As the global population is estimated to reach 10 billion people by 2050, demand for food is expected to surge by more than 50 per cent. Evidence suggests that two-thirds of the world population could be living in water-stressed countries by 2025 if current consumption patterns continue.”

Agriculture is both a major cause and casualty of water scarcity. Farming accounts for almost 70 per cent of all water withdrawals, and up to 95 per cent in some developing countries, the UN specialised agency reports.

Water scarcity is expected to intensify as a result of climate change, it adds, while informing that it is predicted to bring about increased temperatures across the world in the range of 1.6°c to as much as 6°c by 2050.

“For each 1 degree of global warming, 7 per cent of the global population will see a decrease of 20 per cent or more in renewable water resources.

Last but not leas, the UN agency also informs that each year, one-third of world food production is either lost or wasted — that translates into a volume of agriculture water wasted equal to around three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

Africa Drives Global Action Against Mercury Use

30 May 2017 - 6:56am

Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria is keen on phasing out mercury-added products. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, May 30 2017 (IPS)

With a new international treaty, an increasing number of African countries are committing to phasing out mercury, a significant health and environmental hazard.

Research has shown that maternal exposure to mercury from contaminated fish can cause learning disabilities in developing babies. When inhaled, mercury vapor can also affect the central nervous system, impair mental capacity and, depending on levels of exposure, even lead to death."The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.” --Olubunmi Olusanya

“Despite the danger that mercury poses, it is still widely used, especially in Africa, and this is of great concern,” says Olubunmi Olusanya of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria.

He told IPS that “While Africa does not manufacture mercury added products, the continent is a leading importer of mercury. The ripple effect of using mercury is very costly in both human health and harm to the environment.”

It is within this context that the Zero Mercury Working Group recently held a series of meetings in Nairobi, Kenya to address phasing out of mercury.

The Zero Mercury Working Group is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries around the world, with several NGO members coming from African countries.

“Phasing out mercury will mean replacing mercury added products such as thermometers, thermostats and batteries with alternatives, but it also means reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining,” explains Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, International Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group.

According to the Zero Mercury Working Group, artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM)  is a complex global development issue. It uses and releases substantial amounts of mercury in mineral processing, usually in highly unsafe and environmentally hazardous conditions.

Haji Rehani, a Senior Programme Officer at the Agenda for Environment and Response Development in Tanzania, who works closely with artisanal and small scale gold mining communities, says, “This kind of mining is the largest demand sector for mercury globally.”

He says that mercury is used to bind the gold to form an amalgam, which helps separate it from the rock, sand and other materials. The amalgam is then heated to vaporize the mercury, exposing miners and contaminating the environment while leaving the gold behind.

“There is a need to engage as many stakeholders as possible from the miners all the way to governments,” he advises.

He told IPS that African governments have shown the greatest worldwide commitment to addressing mercury as a health hazard and to ultimately phase it out.

Rehani says that this commitment has been demonstrated through Africa’s active involvement in the adoption of the Minamata Convention on mercury in October 2013, when 128 countries signed on.

“This legally binding agreement was developed and adopted to protect human life and environment from mercury emissions. It has clear time-bound targets for phasing out the manufacture, export or import of a number of mercury added products specified in the Convention,” he expounds.

At the moment, 52 countries have ratified the Convention, marking a significant milestone since the Convention requires at least 50 countries to ratify in order for the treaty to enter into force.

The Convention will therefore come into effect in the next 90 days. This further reinforces the significance of the zero mercury conference, which provided a platform for cross-country knowledge sharing towards reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in all sectors.

Desiree Narvaez of the UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch explained the need for stakeholders to have a platform to address mercury as a global health and environment issue, noting that such platforms are essential for governments to understand the devastating impact of mercury use.

Of the 52 countries, Africa is ahead of every other continent with 19 countries ratifying the Convention.

Anne Lillian Nakafeero from Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Credt: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Zero Mercury Working Group has major ongoing intervention projects in, for instance, Nigeria and Mauritius, focusing on phasing out mercury added products by 2020 as stipulated in the Minamata Convention.

Other Zero Mercury projects are also in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania where the main focus has been reducing and eventually eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining.

These projects are also keen on protecting vulnerable populations, and specifically women and children.

Experts at the conference reiterated the fact that the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining continues to rise, especially in developing countries, mainly because it is considered simple and inexpensive – producing 20 to 30 percent of the world’s gold.

The Zero Mercury Working Group estimates that 15 million people in approximately 70 countries are employed in artisanal and small scale gold mining, with many exposed to mercury. Four to five million of them are vulnerable women and children.

As a result, there is a need for concerted efforts to protect such disadvantaged populations and for countries to ensure that their respective National Action Plans emphasize the protection of such vulnerable groups when implementing the Convention.

There was significant emphasis during the Nairobi conference on the need for governments to develop and implement the Convention, which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury.

A key stakeholder during the conference and indeed in global efforts to phase out mercury is the United Nations Environment Global Mercury Partnership (UN Environment).

Within the context of the Minamata Convention the focus of the UN Environment Global Mercury Partnership has shifted to support crucial areas of the treaty.

This includes banning  a number of listed mercury added products by 2020, with the exception of a Party registering an exemption.

Reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of mercury in small scale gold mining is expected to be done progressively, with the objective achieved in about 15 years.

The meeting brought together many government officials and stakeholders in a one-day forum held on the heels of the Zero Mercury conference to develop their own road maps for phasing out mercury under the Minamata Convention by 2020.

This included 35 delegates from 31 countries, representatives of seven United Nations and intergovernmental agencies, 15 NGOs and five other delegates from academics, private sector and consultants.

It emerged from the meetings and experience sharing that there is a great need for country-specific laws to explicitly outlaw the use of mercury in products and taking voluntary steps to significantly reduce mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining, since the treaty doesn’t specifically ban it.

For example, Uganda has signed the Minamata Convention and is in the process of developing a National Action Plan for reducing mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining. While this will take this East African nation a step closer towards phasing out mercury, there is no legislation in place outlawing the use of mercury.

“In this regard, stakeholders must embrace as many partnerships as possible. Mercury is a cross-cutting issue and one single entity cannot address this agenda. We need the government, Civil Society Organizations, miners and others as was demonstrated during the Zero Mercury conference,” said Anne Lillian Nakafeero from the National Environment Management Authority in Uganda.

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Forty-Five Years Since Stockholm, Twenty-Five Years Since the Earth Summit and Five Years Since Rio+20

30 May 2017 - 3:42am

The UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are projected onto UN headquarters. UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Felix Dodds
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Over the past five years, I have written with a number of co-authors the history of the sustainable development movement at the global level prior to the first UN Conference on Human Environment held in 1972 through the 1992 Earth Summit and Rio+20 to the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. I like to think of these books as the ‘Vienna Café Trilogy’ after the café in the basement of the United Nations headquarters in New York, where many deals are done over coffee. Also, with deference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts, this trilogy may also have future books.

In light of the anniversaries and the political landscape in which we currently find ourselves, I thought it would a good time to review where we are and the state of the discourse on sustainable development.

Writing these books did give me a broader perspective than that of living in the moment. The journey towards a planet which can sustain our consumption and production patterns has been a long one. At each advance, we have faced the reality that policy development in any particular area is impacted by global reality in other areas. After the first UN Conference on Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, the world had to deal with the impacts of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. This saw oil prices rise from US$3 per barrel to US$12 globally, rising even higher in the United States. This energy crisis due to the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo. This negatively impacted on the implementation of the Stockholm agreements.

“The roadmap that started in Stockholm, continued in Rio and Johannesburg and in Rio-20 must now become a reality. Our essential unity as peoples of the Earth must transcend the differences and difficulties which still divide us. You are called upon to rise to your historic responsibility as custodians of the planet in taking the decisions in the next year that will unite rich and poor, North, South, East and West, in a new global partnership to ensure our common future I ask you to work together to make it such for your time has come to make those changes.” - Maurice Strong in 2014
The 1992 Earth Summit, birthed Agenda 21 – a blueprint to take us through to the twenty-first century as well as securing the conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity and the Rio Declaration. The Declaration, consisted of a set of 27 principles to guide countries included the principle of ‘the polluter pays,’ which recently was effective in holding British Petroleum (BP) accountable in the Deep Horizon disaster and serves as a foundational principle of the climate change Green Fund.  These agreements also had a backdrop, this being the First Gulf War and the increase again in oil prices as well as the stabilization of Eastern Europe after the breakup of the former Soviet bloc.

Promises to fund the implementation of the Summit agreements were estimated at $625 billion a year, which included a transfer of $125 billion from developed to developing countries, failed to emerge. In fact, aid flows declined in the 1990s, which I view as the ‘lost decade’ in retrospect. The 1990s was a time when the world could have truly laid the foundations for a more fair, equitable and sustainable world than we know today.

The 2012 Rio+20 conference, presented as a failure by much of the media, was in fact vital in setting up what would be the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), finally agreed upon in September 2015. Without Rio+20, I am almost certain the agreement would have been closer to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) than what was agreed. The SDGs are different from the MDGs in a number of ways. First, they are universal and apply to all countries, while the MDGs applied to only developing countries. Second, they address the root causes of the problems we face as opposed to just addressing their symptoms. Third, they deal not just with sectors themselves, but also the interlinkages between sectors. For instance, you cannot effectively deal with water issues without recognizing that they are also relevant to issues involving food, energy, health, poverty, gender, biodiversity and climate. Finally, the MDGs address development, while the SDGs address sustainable development.

The SDGs, along with the Paris Agreement in December 2015, provide a very clear blueprint for sustainable development; but, as always, the real world has its own ideas on the implementation of these agreements.

The Brexit decision last year in the United Kingdom and the election of President Trump in the United States are already having an impact. There is no question that the implementation of policies on climate change have slowed in the United Kingdom, while almost stopping altogether in the United States. The difference between now and previous times is that in the area of energy the developments since the financial crisis of 2008 have advanced renewable energy investment. According to the HSBC review of ‘How Green were the Recovery Packages’ had seen large amounts of government funding going to green technology. Roughly 20% of the recovery package in the United States went to green technologies, with similar percentages in France and Germany. In China, this percentage was higher at 37%, and particularly high in South Korea at 79%. This investment means, in many places, renewable energy is now competitive with the fossil fuel industry and is exceeding the fossil fuel industry in job creation.

Around all of the SDGs, there has been an explosion of partnerships (nearly 3000) between governments, the UN, and stakeholders working together to create and deliver results on the ground. Many foundations have reorganized their funding around the SDGs. The SDG Funders Platform provides examples of this reorganization, and today national platforms of foundations exist in places such as Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, the United States, and the Arab Region. Furthermore, the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development have developed the SDG Compass to help companies reorganize and report on their implementation around the SDGs.

While the political climate in two key countries – the United Kingdom and the United States –may have shifted, there is a great deal of evidence to indicate that this shift will be a blip in the implementation of the 2015 SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement. Unlike previous global agreements, industry and the rest of society are integrating these commitments into their work. Leaders in the financial sector such as AVIVA are calling for requiring companies to produce environment, social and governance reports in addition to the traditional financial reports before being listed on the stock exchange. Why are they doing this? Because many of the SDGs are reflected in the top ten global risks in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Risk Report. They represent market failures, and the financial sector must be able to factor them into their investment decisions.

With all of this being said, obviously not everything is going well and there will certainly be countless challenges ahead. Nearly ten years since the financial crisis of 2008, many of the developed world’s economies are still experiencing sluggish growth. History has shown that there are financial crises of different varieties every ten years or so. The issue of banks being ‘too big to fail’ has gotten worse rather than better since 2008, and the Trump Administration in the United States may further exacerbate this issue by eliminating some of the regulations put in place through Dodd-Frank. The next financial crisis is just over the horizon, and I am worry about the resiliency of our political system and its ability to address it. How many of the people who caused the last crisis were ever prosecuted?

We are also in a period of massive change, with emerging technologies that will be greener and more accessible than ever before. Although, this will bring its own problems and governments will need to address them as they develop. The latest technologies, such as driverless cars, advancements in nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and more, will prove to be transformational for our society. So far, governments are not preparing their populations for the impact that these new technologies will have on employment and increasing inequality. These are real changes that, without preparation and government planning, will fuel people’s insecurity and their retreat from globalization as they assume their jobs will be more secure in a world built around higher walls…the higher the better.

In the same way that banks succeeded at privatizing the profits and socializing the losses as they led the global economy to the brink of collapse, my worry going forward is this: are we allowing the same to happen to the environment? Humanity has taken a huge leap over recent decades that has made us more interconnected than ever before – we need to behave as a global civilization as to not face catastrophic consequences.

The implementation of the SDGs and the Climate Agreement are the world’s best and perhaps last hope for creating a just, equitable and sustainable world.

Millions of Homes in Mexico Suffer from “Energy Poverty”

29 May 2017 - 2:23pm

A house with a solar panel in the municipality of Tula, in Hidalgo, a state adjacent to Mexico City. Non-conventional renewable sources are considered an instrument to combat energy poverty. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Energy poverty afflicts millions of homes in Mexico, with many social, economic and environmental impacts for the country.

These homes, located in both urban and rural areas in this Latin American country of 122 million people, have difficulty satisfying their needs for energy for cooking, lighting, heating and entertainment.

“Not only is it a problem of access, since the population needs other consumables, to cook, take a bath, for family entertainment. Access to energy is a key indicator of well-being and in this respect it is important to know how many families lack this service,” expert Boris Graizbord told IPS.“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation.“ -- Boris Graizbord

The academic from the Centre of Demographic, Urban and Environmental Studies at the public College of Mexico pointed out that some groups in small localities, even those who have their own incomes or remittances sent home by relatives in the United States, are unable to access natural gas or other energy sources.

The concept of energy poverty is new in Latin America, although it emerged in the 1990s in Britain, to describe the situation when a poor family spends more than10 percent of their income on energy.

But in countries such as Mexico the concept has been adapted to take into account cultural and social differences. Here the concept includes lack of access to energy, poor quality services, or energy inefficiency.

In a pioneering study, Graizbord and his colleague Roberto García, from the public College of the Northern Frontier, found that nearly 37 per cent of households –about 11 million homes– suffer from a shortage of energy in terms of “economic goods” such as thermal comfort, an efficient refrigerator or a gas or electric stove.

The study “Spatial characterisation of energy poverty in Mexico. An analysis at a subnational level,” published in 2016 in the magazine Economy, Society and Territory, found that the main factors behind the phenomenon are income level, the size of the town and of the house, and the educational level and gender of the head of the household.

This “represents a major social problem, due to the effect that the use of clean, affordable energy has on improving the quality of life and reducing poverty among the local population,” points out this study by Graizbord and García, who has worked on this issue in the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca present the highest average levels of energy poverty, as well as the highest overall poverty rates.

In Mexico, 46 per cent of the population lived in poverty in 2014, when the latest National Survey of Household Incomes and Expenditures was carried out – a rate that has likely increased since then, according to experts.

The Energy Ministry identifies the most important end uses in the residential sector as water heating, cooking, refrigerator, lighting, air conditioning/heat and entertainment.

In 2015, firewood produced 252,840 petajoules. The joule is the measuring unit for energy which equals one watt per second and estimates how much heat is necessary to carry out an activity. A petajoule represents one quadrillion (10^15) joules.

Gabriela Niño, climate change coordinator for the non-governmental organisation Polea, said there is a close link between energy poverty and its social and environmental impacts, such as the emission of polluting gases, soil degradation and deforestation.

“With biomass there is a big health risk, since people are exposed to local pollutants by burning biomass indoors,” she told IPS.

Since August 2014, Mexico has embarked on a major energy reform that opened up oil exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, distribution and sale of oil and its by-products to local and foreign private investment.

But the question remains whether these changes will result in a reduction of energy poverty, insofar as the government leaves important activities of the electricity sector in private hands, who are profit driven, and not focused on social objectives.

Also, the country has committed to the goals set by Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll), the programme to be implemented during the United Nations 2014-2024 Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.

This global initiative intends to guarantee universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement of global energy efficiency and increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Also, like the rest of the international community, it has adopted one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 7, which aims “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” as part of the 2030 Agenda.

Graizbord proposes a response in Mexico differentiated by region, given the variations, including climatic, in different parts of the country.

“We have to regionalise the response, which requires a different combination of inputs and expenses. If we invest in solar water heaters or in other renewable energy sources, we’ll reduce spending on gas, we’ll decrease the power distribution. Those scenarios are possible if there is a decentralisation of power generation,” he said.

For Niño, addressing energy poverty poses several challenges.

“We have to research, generate indicators, identify causes and possible solutions, on how energy is generated, how it is used,” she said.

In her opinion, “the democratisation of energy should also be promoted, the government should generate actions that respond to a public policy objective, focused on access to new technologies, such as solar panels, for people who are isolated from the grid or who are not able to produce their own power or meet their needs.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 97 per cent of the population has access to energy. This means that 23 million people still lack electricity, according to data from late 2016 of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Nevertheless, the IDB predicts that this will be the first developing region to achieve universal energy access.

In Mexico, more than two million people have no electricity. According to the IDB, the countries in the region with the largest proportion of the population lacking energy access are Haiti – where only 40 percent have electricity – Honduras, Peru, and Mexico.

Meanwhile, leading the region in terms of greatest access are Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile, in that order.

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Growing Unemployed Youth in Africa a Time Bomb, But…

29 May 2017 - 12:25pm

A panel discussion on Africa-Asia partnerships featuring AFDB Group President Akinwumi Adesina, Benin President Patrice Talon, Vice President of Cote d'Ivoire Daniel Kablan Duncan and Hellen Hai of Made in Africa Initiative. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
AHMEDABAD, India, May 29 2017 (IPS)

There are nearly 420 million young Africans between the ages of 15 and 35 today. And it is estimated that within ten years, Africa will be home to one-fifth of all young people worldwide.

These millions of young people could be a source of ingenuity and engines of productivity that could ignite a new age of inclusive prosperity.“If we don’t change the labour composition of agriculture in Africa, in the next twenty years, there will be no farmers.” --AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina

But there are no guarantees. Although the continent has shown consistent economic growth in the last decade, it has failed in creating the number of quality jobs needed to absorb the 10-12 million young people entering the labour market each year.

And this, according to AfDB Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke, is a time bomb waiting to explode.

“While the youth population is Africa’s asset, it can also easily become a liability, and this is the whole question about demographic dividends,” observes Blanke. “Let us be clear, it is only the existence of opportunity and the young person’s belief that they can access that opportunity that prevents pessimism and political unrest…inaction is not an option, young people without opportunity, and more importantly without belief in their leaders’ ability to provide opportunity are a certain source of civil unrest and we are seeing it every day.”

‘Transforming Agriculture for wealth creation in Africa’ was therefore the major theme of the 52nd AfDB Annual Meetings held in Ahmedabad, India from 22-26 May 2017.

Experts here agreed that transforming Africa’s agriculture requires a business approach that would incentivize youth who still see farming as way of life for the poor. As a result of this scenario, the average age of farmers in Africa is 60, and Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB Group President, fears that “If we don’t change the labour composition of agriculture in Africa, in the next twenty years, there will be no farmers.”

To get youth involved, Adesina believes, “We need to change the mindset about agriculture—agriculture is not a social sector, agriculture is not a way of life, it is a business.”

But the how question is crucial, and he points to finance among other incentives. “There are opportunities for youth but certain things have to be put in place to realize them, such as financing…our young people are doing amazing things with ICT—they are providing weather index insurance, extension services and a host of other things.”

For its part, the Bank has provided a roadmap for the growth of agriculture in Africa with a plan to inject nearly 2.4 billion dollars every year for 10 years to build roads, irrigation infrastructure and storage facilities to attract high-value investors.

With this kind of investment, AfDB wants to transform Agriculture into a money-making business for those involved, highlighting that Africa should position itself to benefit from the growth of agricultural food markets which are set to grow to a trillion-dollar business portfolio by 2030.

The figure is huge and appetising. But certain steps have to be taken, and one of those steps is closing the infrastructure gap.

According to Thomas Silberhorn, Germany Parliamentary State Secretary, “It is important to close the infrastructure gap on the African continent, not just somehow, but in the spirit of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, by building sustainable infrastructure especially in the energy sector,” he said, adding that it was for this reason that his government was advocating for more support to the African Renewable Initiative of the African Union whose secretariat is hosted at the African Development Bank.

While ICT is usually seen as a sure way of getting youth involved, there is another door to young people’s hearts which agricultural policy makers and implementers have not paid attention to—the film industry.  In Africa, the movie industry is dominated by young people and is emerging as an important contributor to gross domestic product and employment in countries like Nigeria.

However, the entertainment industry–especially the film industry—too often offers unflattering narratives of agriculture and the rural life, showing that real economic opportunities are only found in big cities. Such negative portrayal perpetuates the perception that agriculture is simply a way of surviving for the poor.

To tap into the power and influence of the movie industry, and change these perceptions by projecting agriculture as a profitable and viable economic sector, AfDB brought together Nollywood (Nigerian) and Bollywood (Indian) film makers to this year’s annual meetings to chart the way forward on how to market agriculture as a lucrative business through movies.

Nigerian filmmakers Omoni Oboli and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde represented Nollywood while Rajendrakumar Mohan Raney, a director and producer, and Rekha Rana, Indian and international award-winning actress, represented Bollywood.

Oboli and Omotola pledged to do everything in their power to tell the African agricultural transformation story and change the negative perceptions, especially among young people.

“We have learnt a lot about agriculture and are ready to change the state of affairs through filmmaking,” said Oboli during the Indian Cultural Night and AfDB Impact Awards ceremony where she was a guest presenter alongside BBC’s Lerato Mbele.

As Adesina noted, with 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated land, “What Africa does with agriculture is not only important for Africa: it will shape the future of food in the world.”

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Investing in Peace

29 May 2017 - 10:02am

By Robert D.Watkins
May 29 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The United Nations Charter was a visionary document, calling on all nations “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. Though we speak often of this enduring commitment to building peaceful and stable societies, it is the world’s peacekeepers who understand this dedication best. It is by their perseverance, their commitment, and at times, their sacrifice, that we can help turn chaos into stability, and stability into prosperity. This year, as we celebrate International Peacekeepers Day, let us take a moment to remember the invaluable contribution peacekeepers have made to peace around the globe, and the many lives that have been made better by their service. This is an opportunity to reflect on peacekeepers’ successes, their strengths, but also to consider the ways in which peacekeeping can improve and evolve. The nature of war is always changing, and so our approach to peace and to peacekeeping must change along with it.

Source: codebluecampaign

Bangladesh has long been a lead contributor to peacekeeping. Today, more than 96,000 uniformed personnel from 124 countries serve under the blue flag, alongside more than 15,000 international and national civilian staff and nearly 1,600 United Nations Volunteers. Among them are 6,918 men and women from Bangladesh, which currently contributes the fourth most peacekeepers of any country in the world. The United Nations is grateful to the people of Bangladesh for such an impressive contribution. Bangladeshis are now serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, South Sudan, Darfur, Western Sahara, Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Haiti, Somalia, Cyprus and Liberia. It is in countries like these that peacekeepers continue to have a transformative impact well beyond their numbers.

We only need look to the past to see what this transformation looks like. Sierra Leone is a country where the legacy of a successful peacekeeping mission can still be felt and experienced. Bangladesh contributed the largest number of peacekeepers to the Sierra Leone mission, whose members served with competence and dignity. UN peacekeepers were responsible for supervising the disarmament of more than 75,000 combatants in Sierra Leone, of which at least 7,000 were child soldiers. Sierra Leone’s decision to declare Bangla an honourary second language was an unprecedented act of gratitude which cemented a unique bond between peoples. Wherever they went, Bangladeshi peacekeepers brought with them a sense of stability and normalcy, and when they left, Bangladeshi peacekeepers were sorely missed. They left the communities they entered better off than when they found them, and even left little tokens of Bangladesh behind, as demonstrated by Sierra Leone’s enduring fondness for Bangladeshi mishti.

But let us think, for a moment, of the mindset of the average peacekeeper, and of the courage they possess in choosing to serve. It is the courage to leave the safety of their families or their communities, often for the first time, and be ready to risk their lives to promote a more peaceful world. It is the courage to venture to an unknown and potentially dangerous region, where they may not speak the language or share a common culture, to help protect people they may never meet. Whether they hail from Rajshahi or Sylhet, Chittagong or Barisal, the choice to don the blue helmet is never easy.

Research has shown that countries in conflict that come to host a UN peacekeeping mission reduce their chances of relapsing into conflict by over 50 percent. And yet, despite this notable rate of success, today’s global peacekeeping budget is still less than one half of one percent of the world’s total military spending. The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, acknowledges that there is a growing, urgent need to increase funding for peacekeeping internationally, to ensure peacekeepers have the resources they need to be effective and safe. But the commitment must go beyond the financial. In meeting the UN Secretary General’s call to invest in peacekeeping, we must also consider a wider approach, one which aims not only to resolve conflicts when they start, but to strengthen political institutions and prevent new conflicts from emerging. Human rights and community-focused initiatives build peace at the grassroots level, making the most of the over 15,000 civilian peacekeepers who serve without a uniform. Bangladesh can contribute more female peacekeepers to this effort, as women in peacekeeping roles bring necessary skills and an important perspective to missions.

But while many of these improvements are applicable in the field, others start at home. Improvements to military mental health services, for instance, greatly improve conditions for Bangladeshi peacekeepers. Training programmes to improve the skills and capacity of Bangladeshi peacekeepers could increase their effectiveness once abroad. Finally, we must remember that peacekeepers are most effective when their government and military command uphold the same respect for transparency, human rights and the rule of law at home that they are expected to promote abroad.

In closing, over one million men and women have served under the UN flag with pride, distinction and courage since the first United Nations deployment in 1948. We pay tribute to over 3,500 peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the service of peace over the past 69 years, to the 211 Bangladeshis who were injured in the line of duty, and to the 132 Bangladeshis who made the ultimate sacrifice. This past year, Bangladesh lost a further two dedicated peacekeepers, and eight more were injured in the service of a more peaceful future. These fallen peacekeepers are:

Snk. Md Abul Bashar, EME, who died in a vehicular accident while serving in Mali.

Snk. Md Abdur Rahim, BIR, who was killed by unidentified assailants while serving in the Central African Republic.

The United Nations thanks these peacekeepers for their sacrifice, and sends its deepest condolences to their families.

The memories of these fallen peacekeepers are best preserved by redoubling our efforts to ensure peacekeeping meets the highest ethical and professional standards. We have done this before in countries like Sierra Leone – we shall do so again. This is done by recognising that high standards are not to be adhered to temporarily, or selectively, but internalised. It is through an active commitment to protecting human rights and ending all forms of persecution, both at home and abroad, that we step closer to the ideal set by the United Nations Charter 72 years ago.

The writer is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Valuing Water Beyond the Money

29 May 2017 - 7:29am

The catchment area of the Katse Dam in Lesotho, which flows into South Africa. Credit: Campbell Easton/IPS

By Paula Fray
JOHANNESBURG, May 29 2017 (IPS)

Amid the worst drought in a century, South Africans are kick-starting a global consultative process to agree on the values of water in a bid to ensure more equitable use of the finite resource.

On May 30, ministers, officials, civil society, business and local regional organisations will gather outside Johannesburg, South Africa, as part of a high-level consultation on water called the “Valuing Water Initiative”.“The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.” --Herschelle Milford

The High Level Panel on Water – first convened by the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and then UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon – consists of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser, to provide the leadership required to “champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The HLPW’s core focus is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, as well as to contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.

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.

The South African consultation takes place on May 30, followed by consultations in Mexico, Senegal, Tajikistan and Bangladesh ahead of a global presentation at the Stockholm World Water Week in August 2017.

Global Water Partnership’s (GWP) executive secretary Rudolph Cleveringa explained that, as the first in a series of consultations, the South Africa meeting was expected to “set the tone and pace”.

“South Africa is extremely committed to the water agenda. South Africa went from an Apartheid policy-driven water policy to a human rights approach. We are very keen to see the country lead not only from a South Africa view but also from a southern Africa perspective,” said Cleveringa.

When she presented her budget speech to South Africa’s Parliament on May 26, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – acknowledging her participation on the HLPW –  said “water knows no boundaries and water can be a social, security and economic catalyst, both nationally and internationally”

Announcing that South Africa, in partnership with GWP and working together with the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW), was hosting the regional consultations, Mokonyane said the initiative would “support countries to enhance job creation through investments in water infrastructure and industrialisation”.

On the table will be the draft principles that note “making all the values of water explicit gives recognition and a voice to dimensions that are easily overlooked. 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.”

The meeting takes place as the Western Cape province of South Africa has been declared a disaster area as a result of the drought which has seen dam levels drop to crisis levels. The City recently said its feeder dam levels were at 20.7 percent, with only 10.7 percent left for consumption.

According to the minister, it is the “worst drought in the last 100 years and the severest for the Western Cape in the last 104 years.

“This drought has not only affected South Africa, but also the rest of the world because of global warming, climate change,” she said, adding that it would take at least two to three years for the Western Cape to recover.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille said the city would increase emergency water schemes in the coming months with programmes such as drilling boreholes and exploring desalinisation.

In a recent speech, De Lille emphasised the need for public-private partnerships.

“We need to be innovative and diversify our financing mechanisms and these efforts will require partnership with the private sector,” De Lille was quoted as saying.

The city council has introduced Level 4 restrictions – one level below emergency level.

Western Cape-based Surplus People Project CEO Herschelle Milford, whose organisation works to support agrarian transformation, said that the city had blamed migration as a reason for the water crisis in Cape Town.

“However, the biggest consumers of water is industry, then agriculture and then households,” she noted. This called for dialogue on how water could be shared equitably among all its users, noted Milford.

“The water crisis is a discussion point in the context of large-scale commercial farmers using irrigation with limited recourse amongst land and agrarian activists,” said Milford.

Water was much more than simply about access: “The distribution of water has always been a point of advocacy in relation to the land transformation debate. [There can be] no land reform without water reform.”

Cleveringa said the discussions were being generated from very high international dialogues to discussions at the local level. To this end, the draft principles offer a range of perspectives on how water can be valued.

Not only will the South African dialogue include a host of ministers but regional input will be provided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, as well as various organisations such as Dr Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair of the Global Water Partnership; and Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank.

SADC head of water Phera Ramoeli said water valuation was a critical component of water resources management as it allowed “policy and planning across all the developmental spectrum”.

“The SADC region has 15 Shared Watercourses which accounts for over 70 percent of all the available renewable water resources in the region. If they are properly managed and adequately funded they will ensure the continued availability of these resources for the current and future generations for the various needs and uses that water is put to,” he said, noting that water was present in a large number of value chains including agro-processing, mineral processing, pharmaceuticals, energy production, even health.

“Valuing water is important as it will ensure that water resources management, development, conservation and monitoring receives an appropriate share of the national budget,” he added.

The water principles being discussed also emphasise the collaborative process to build water champions and ownership at all levels that allows users to meet all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We are moving away from valuing water in its fiscal interpretation only. We’re not just looking at it in terms of how much does water cost but going beyond this utilitarian approach. The Bellagio principles demonstrate that there is more than just a utilitarian approach to water and we hope that these consultations will draw out those discussions,” said Cleveringa.

“The value of water is basically about making choices,” he said, adding that this called for “not just a cross-sectoral approach but also all of society input into valuing water”.

It is in this discussion that the high level panels aim to provide leadership to champion a “comprehensive, inclusive, and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

The dialogues need to generate an open debate on the values of water as well as get regional input to the Bellagio principles.

Over half of the consultations are happening in non-OECD settings that are being led by the global South.

“This sets the right tone for buy-in at multiple levels,” said Cleveringa.

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Alert Over Lethal Virus Affecting Popular Tilapia Fish

29 May 2017 - 2:14am

Though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 29 2017 (IPS)

A highly contagious disease is spreading among farmed and wild tilapia, one of the world’s most important fish for human consumption, the United Nations warns, adding that though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition.

The outbreak should be treated with concern and countries importing tilapias should take appropriate risk-management measures – intensifying diagnostics testing, enforcing health certificates, deploying quarantine measures and developing contingency plans – according to a Special Alert released on 26 May by the Global Information and Early Warnings System (GIEWS) of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) has now been confirmed in five countries on three continents: Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand. “Though not a human health risk, Tilapia Lake Virus has large potential impact on global food security and nutrition” - FAO

While the pathogen poses no public health concern, it can decimate infected populations. In 2015, world tilapia production, from both aquaculture and capture, amounted to 6.4 million tonnes, with an estimated value of USD 9.8 billion, and worldwide trade was valued at USD1.8 billion. The fish is a mainstay of global food security and nutrition, GIEWS said.

“Tilapia producing countries need to be vigilant, and should follow aquatic animal-health code protocols of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) when trading tilapia. They should initiate an active surveillance programme to determine the presence or absence of TiLV, the geographic extent of the infection and identify risk factors that may help contain it.”

Countries are encouraged also to launch public information campaigns to advise aquaculturists – many of them smallholders – of TiLV’s clinical signs and the economic and social risks it poses and the need to flag large-scale mortalities to biosecurity authorities, FAO adds.

According to the UN specialised organisation, currently, actively TiLV surveillance is being conducted in China, India, Indonesia and it is planned to start in the Philippines. In Israel, an epidemiological retrospective survey is expected to determine factors influencing low survival rates and overall mortalities including relative importance of TiLV.

Tilapia. Credit: FAO

It is not currently known whether the disease can be transmitted via frozen tilapia products, but “it is likely that TiLV may have a wider distribution than is known today and its threat to tilapia farming at the global level is significant,” GIEWS said in its alert.

FAO informs that it will continue to monitor TiLV, work with governments and development partners and search for resources that can be explored in order to assist member countries to deal with TiLV, as requested and as necessary.

The Disease

“There are many knowledge gaps linked to TiLV,” said the UN agency, adding that more research is required to determine whether TiLV is carried by non-tilapine species and other organisms such as piscivorous birds and mammals, and whether it can be transmitted through frozen tilapia products.

“The disease shows highly variable mortality, with outbreaks in Thailand triggering the deaths of up to 90 per cent of stocks. Infected fish often show loss of appetite, slow movements, dermal lesions and ulcers, ocular abnormalities, and opacity of lens. As a reliable diagnostic test for TiLV is available, it should be applied to rule out TiLV as the causal agent of unexplained mortalities.”

TiLV belongs to the Orthomyxoviridae family of viruses, which is also the same family to which the Infectious Salmon Anaemia virus belongs, which wrought great damage on the salmon farming industry, FAO explains.

In May 2017, The Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) released a TiLV Disease Advisory and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) released a Disease Card. The WorldFish Center also released a Factsheet: TiLV: what to know and do, this month.

The Importance of Tilapia

Tilapias are the second most important aquaculture species in volume terms-providing food, jobs and domestic and export earnings for millions of people, including many smallholders, FAO informs.

Their affordable price, omnivorous diet, tolerance to high-density farming methods and usually strong resistance to disease makes them an important protein source, especially in developing countries and for poorer consumers.

China, Indonesia and Egypt are the three leading aquaculture producers of tilapia, a fish deemed to have great potential for expansion in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN agency reports.

Brazil Drives New School Feeding Model in the Region

28 May 2017 - 8:46pm

A farmer picks lettuce in Santa María de Jetibá, a hilly farming municipality that is the main supplier of agricultural products for school meals in the city of Vitoria, 90 km away along a winding highway. It is home to the largest Pomeranian community in Brazil and possibly in the world. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
VITORIA, Brazil, May 29 2017 (IPS)

“I am going back to Panama with many ideas,” said Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with the Panamanian Education Ministry, after getting to know the school feeding system in the city of Vitoria, in central-eastern Brazil.

She said she was impressed with how organised it is, the resources available to each school and “the role of played by nutritionists, in direct contact with the lunchrooms, training the cooks in hygiene and nutrition, educating everyone while fulfilling a key educational function.”

Montenegro and 22 other visitors from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean met with Brazilian representatives in the city of Vitoria, for a tour through schools and centres of production and distribution of food that supply the municipal schools.

The May 16-18 technical visit was organised by the Strengthening School Feeding Programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean programme implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as part of a cooperation agreement signed with the Brazilian government in 2008.“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control.” -- Marcos Rodrigues

The aim was a first-hand look at the implementation in Vitoria of the Brazilian National School Feeding Programme (PNAE), which has become a model replicated in a number of countries around the world. The programme serves 43 million students in public preschools and primary schools, which are municipal, and secondary schools, which are the responsibility of the states.

The PNAE was first launched in 1955. But the significant impact it has had in terms of food security, nutrition and social participation has been seen since a 2009 law established that at least 30 percent of the funds received by each school had to be devoted to buying food produced by local family farms.

“This decentralisation favours local producers and students gain in better-quality, fresh food at a lower cost. It promotes cooperatives and stimulates the local economy, through small-scale farming, while benefiting the environment by reducing transportation time,” said Najla Veloso, the regional project coordinator for FAO.

“In most of the municipalities, the suppliers are parents of the students,” which help forge closer ties between local families and the schools and improves the quality of the food. All of this constitutes an important help for keeping people in rural areas,” Veloso told IPS.

Students eat lunch in the Alberto Martinelli Municipal Preschool in the city of Vitoria. A good part of their food comes from local family farms, like in the rest of the public schools in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Buying local could rekindle the ancestral agricultural knowledge of the Ngäbe and Buglé people, who live in western Panama, said Montenegro. Since 1997, the two ethnic groups have shared an indigenous county with a population of about 155,000.

“They provide 80 per cent of the food for four schools, but they have not been able to expand, because of the system of purchases by tendering process, and are almost limited to producing for their own consumption,” lamented the Panamanian nutritionist. More school purchases could “rescue their traditional methods of harvesting and preserving their typical products,” she said.

The technical visits organised by FAO “show successful experiences for building knowledge in other countries, stimulating innovation,” said Veloso.

A new generation of school feeding programmes is emerging in the region, combining healthy nutrition, public purchases, family agriculture and social integration.

Vitoria, the capital of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, was chosen to receive technicians and authorities from 13 countries because of “its strong implementation of the PNAE, its organised team, and because it has been a pioneer in this area,” explained Veloso.

Before the new law went into effect in 2008, Vitoria already prioritised healthy food produced by small-scale local farmers, said Marcia Moreira Pinto, coordinator of the School Food and Nutrition Sector in the Municipal Secretariat of Education.

It also always surpassed the minimum proportion of purchases set for family agriculture, she said. In 2016, 34 per cent of the purchases were from small-scale farmers.

This aspect has only recently been recognised as key to food security.

Gilda Montenegro, a nutritionist with Panama’s Education Ministry who took part in a FAO-organised technical visit to get a first-hand look at the school feeding programme in Vitoria, Brazil, together with 22 other representatives of 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This integration between education and family agriculture benefits society as a whole, it’s fantastic. I will try to do it in my town,” said Mario Chang, director of education in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala.

“The visit gave me new ideas,” said Rosa Cascante, director of Equality Programmes in Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Education.

The challenge, she said, “will be to adapt Brazil’s local purchases system” to her country, where all supplies for public institutions go through the state National Production Council.

A campaign against the waste of food is an innovation created by students in the Eunice Pereira da Silveira Municipal Primary School. In 2015, the losses amounted to 50 kilos a week. This has been reduced to just seven or eight kilos, according to the school’s authorities.

Students are served three meals a day at the full-time school, whose 322 students attend from 7 am to 5 pm.

The campaign started with a few students under the guidance of teachers. They monitored the food wasted in the school kitchen, carried out surveys on nutrition, and talked with other students and the cooks to adapt the meals in order to make them tastier and reduce waste.

Besides cutting economic losses and boosting a healthier diet in schools, with more salads and lower fat, the campaign is helping to improve family habits, said 14-year-old Marcos Rodrigues, one of the campaign’s leaders.

The refrigerator of a public preschool and daycare centre in the city of Vitoria, full of locally-produced fruit and vegetables. In Brazil, the obligatory supply of at least 30 per cent of the food for school meals from family farms has improved nutrition among the students and has promoted local development. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“Families adopt our habits, even though we only eat dinner at home. Now we eat more vegetables at home. I used to be fat, but I lost weight doing sports and eating food with less calories, and today I have my health under control,” the teen-ager told IPS.

But it is “in the acceptance of healthy foods where we need more effort, in light of an international scenario of increasingly industrialised products which offer great convenience,” said Moreira Pinto.

Most of the fruits and vegetables served in schools in Vitoria come from Santa Maria de Jetibá, a hilly municipality 90 km away, populated by Pomeranians, a European ethnic group that used to occupy parts of Germany and Poland, who scattered at the end of World War II.

Pomeranian immigration to Brazil occurred mainly in the late 19th century, to Espírito Santo, where they maintained their rural customs and their language in a number of municipalities where there are big communities.

“Santa Maria is the most Pomeranian municipality in Brazil and perhaps in the world,” according to Mayor Hilario Roepke, due to both the number of inhabitants as well as the preservation of a culture that has disappeared or has changed a lot even in their native land.

“Of nearly 40,000 inhabitants, 72 per cent are still rural,” allowing the municipality to occupy first place in agricultural production in the state of Espírito Santo and eleventh in Brazil, and the second leading national producer of eggs: nine million a day, said the mayor.

The 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region (CAF) is the biggest supplier of food to schools.

“The school feeding programme in Vitoria´s metropolitan region is our main market,” said Maicon Koehler, an agricultural technician for CAF. Greater Vitoria has a total population of nearly two million.
With 102 municipal schools, the city buys nearly 20 tons of meat and 6.3 tons of beans a month to feed its almost 500,000 students, estimated the coordinator of the sector, who explained that the amounts of fruits and vegetables vary, depending on the season.

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Axis of Good and Evil

28 May 2017 - 3:45am

By Munir Akram
May 28 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

On his first foreign foray, President Donald Trump, apart from asking the 50-odd Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh to act against `Islamist terrorism`, proposed a new alliance between the US, Arab-Muslim states and Israel to oppose Iran`s hegemonic expansion and support for `terrorism` while simultaneously promising a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Munir Akram

In his Riyadh speech, Trump called this a struggle between `good and evil`. Unfortunately, the proposed coalition would combine many members who are `good` with some who are `evil`.

Trump`s new plan reflects a radical turnaround from his expressed hostility to Islam and condemnation of Saudi Arabia and `radical Islamic terrorism` during the presidential campaign. However, despite the fanfare in Riyadh and Jerusalem, there are good reasons to be scepucal about this plan`s success.

Trump`s intensified opposition to Iran is in itself not surprising. Two main sources of his support base the Republican right and Israel were strongly opposed to Barack Obama`s engagement with Iran. They wanted the complete dismantling of Iran`s nuclear programme rather than the agreement negotiated to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to develop nuclear weapons for at least a decade.

Obama`s apparent assumption was that in the wake of the nuclear bargain, Iran would use its considerable influence to help in stabilising Iraq and Syria and the region. For its part, Iran expected the US, under Obama`s Democratic successor (Hillary Clinton), not only to legally abrogate the nuclear sanctions but also work to eliminate the unilateral US sanctions imposed on Tehran in the context of terrorism and missile testing. Trump`s victory upended these assumptions.

Under Trump, Iran is doubtful that the nuclear sanctions will be cancelled by the US Congress and rightly fears that other US sanctions may be intensified, as threatened by Trump and his advisers and members of the US Congress. Consequently, while continuing to fight the militant Islamic State (IS) group and Al Qaeda in the region, Tehran has held back its cooperation with the US and enhanced its military role in all of the region`s conflicts.While Trump has not renounced the nuclear deal, his administration is embarked on finding ways to intensify pressure on Iran. The aim, at the minimum, is to secure a halt to Iran`s missile testing, a more accommodative stance on Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and termination of support to Hezbollah and Hamas. To challenge Iran, Washington has now aligned itself completely with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

For Riyadh, the return of its prodigal patron is heaven-sent. Angered by Obama`s `betrayal`, and fearful of Iran`s rising power, Saudi Arabia had hastily announced the formation of a 41-nation `Islamic alliance` last year. Given Iran`s explicit exclusion, the response to the `alliance` was lukewarm from most Muslim countries. The most notable development was the appointment of Pakistan`s respected ex-army chief to head the military alliance.

With the revival of the traditional US-Saudi alliance, as illustrated in the $110 billion in arms deals and $350bn in business contracts signed during Trump`s trip, the Saudis have less need now for the `Islamic Alliance` against Iran although it would be a useful appendage to the renewed partnership with the US.

It is safe to presume that tensions in the Levant and the Gulf are likely to escalate in the wake of the new `co-relation of forces` unleashed during Trump`s trip. However, it will not be easy, even for the powerful coalition that is being formed, to reverse Iran`s dominant position in the region.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi`s government in Baghdad depends on the Iranian-trained Shia militias to do most of the fighting against IS, and restrain the Sunni tribes and Kurdish ambitions. Similarly, Syria`s Assad could not survive without the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shia militias.

In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have proved resilient. Hezbollah, despite its preoccupation with fighting for Assad, possesses the missile capabilities to do serious damage to Israel from southern Lebanon and Syria. Iran also retains influence with Hamas, the only credible Palestinian resistance to Israel.

Finally, Iran`s capacity for retaliation under pressure cannot be underestimated. It can, among other things: foment trouble in the Gulf, especiallyBahrain, destabilise Afghanistan and provoke sectarian strife in Pakistan.

Trump himself affirmed in Jerusalem that Arab cooperation in an anti-Iran coalition will be available only if a political settlement can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians. The 2002 Saudi peace plan was mentioned as a basis for a settlement. This appears highly unlikely, given Israel`s virtual foreclosure of a two-state solution.

Trump has raised expectations which are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Those Arab and Muslim states which were invited to Riyadh for the Arab Islamic American summit would do well to carefully review the pros and cons of joining the anti-Iran coalition.

As has been noted critically in the Pakistani press, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not able to speak at the Riyadh summit, nor to meet President Trump, while the leaders of lesser countries were accorded that privilege. This may represent a deliberate snub, probably administered by the Americans rather than the Saudis, or merely an organisational mishap. In any case, this diplomatic snub or snafu may be a blessing in disguise since it provides Pakistan with even greater justification to review its position on the anti-Iran coalition.

Since the early days, Pakistan has taken the consistent position that it will not take sides or participate in conflicts between Muslim states. Thus, it adopted a neutral stance during the Iran-Iraq war and participated in a six-nation Islamic heads of state committee to end the war. Such neutrality did not detract from Pakistan`s traditional commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the holy places.

This practised paradigm provides a sound guide for Pakistan`s policy in the current context.

Of course, Pakistan`s neutrality should be reciprocated by Iran in the context of Pakistan`s challenges with Afghanistan and India.

Finally, Pakistan should expect to be pressed by the US to fall in line with its regional strategy not only in the Gulf but especially in Afghanistan and South Asia. This is another reason for Pakistan to determine its policies after due consideration of the entire spectrum of its strategic interests. The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan.

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