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Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Information

28 September 2017 - 8:53pm

The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

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Conservatives in America: Like Marranos in Medieval Spain

28 September 2017 - 11:14am

By Dennis Prager
Sep 28 2017 (Manila Times)

For those unfamiliar with the term, Marranos was the name given to Jews in medieval Spain and Portugal who secretly maintained their Judaism while living as Catholics in public, especially in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition.

Dennis Prager

There is, of course, no Spanish Inquisition in America today—no one is being tortured into confessing what they really believe, and no one is being burned at the stake. But there are millions of Marrano-like Americans: Americans who hold conservative views—especially those who hold conservative positions on social issues and those who voted for Donald Trump for president.

Millions of Americans who hold conservative and/or pro-Trump views rationally fear ostracism by their peers, public humiliation, ruined reputations, broken families, job loss and the inability to work in their field. Under these circumstances, they have decided that coming out as conservative or pro-Trump is not worth the persecution they would endure.

In terms of the percentage of the population effected, there is no parallel in American history. Coming out as a homosexual prior to the 1960s and 1970s, or publicly announcing oneself as a member of the Communist Party in the 1950s would have often led to similar dire consequences in one’s social, work and family life. But gays and Communist Party members comprised a tiny percentage of the American population. And communists supported true evil.

I wish I could share all the emails sent to me from professional musicians who play in some of the premier orchestras in America. They wrote to me following the nationally publicized attempts by left-wing members of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Monica city government to prevent me from conducting a Haydn symphony at the Walt Disney Concert Hall three weeks ago. These people publicly called on members of the orchestra to refuse to play and members of the public to refuse to attend.

These people wrote to encourage me and tell me how they are compelled to hide their conservative views—how, in effect, they live as Marranos.

A violist with one of the most prestigious orchestras in the country (I figured out which orchestra using the internet; she was even afraid to tell me wrote to me last week about how quiet she is about her conservatism. While she could not be fired for it, she said, she would be socially ostracized within the orchestra for which she has played for decades.

A middle-aged professional musician told me that he wears his hair very long in order to appear hippie-like and camouflage his conservative politics. He is no more likely to tell fellow musicians that he supports President Trump than a Marrano in medieval Spain would have been to go public with his Jewish beliefs.

One musician in Minnesota wrote to me: “I was a professional musician from the age of 17. I wanted you to know that I, too, lost my career because of my views. My choice, actually; I just could no longer take the abuse.”

I’m fortunate. As a radio talk-show host and columnist, I’m paid to express my opinions. As for my avocation of conducting orchestras, I’m lucky there, too. Because the permanent conductor of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra’s board remained principled, and because so many people support me and my values, the efforts to thwart me failed. The Disney hall, with 2,000-plus seats, was sold out—a first for a community orchestra in that venue.

Of course, American conservative Marranos don’t just live in the world of music. They are in every profession. We know about the high-profile cases, the conservatives whose careers have been ruined by saying the “wrong” thing, or supporting the “wrong” candidate or ballot proposition; we know about the conservative speakers who have been physically attacked and prevented from speaking on college campuses. But we don’t know about the millions who are just afraid to speak up, who remain silent in a business meeting or at a dinner party when someone casually expresses a view with which they strongly disagree. These Americans live in fear, legitimately so in many cases, that if they do speak out, there will be severe consequences—a job lost, a promotion not given or even a child who will no longer speak to them.

This is all new in our country.

Had anyone predicted that in America—the land more renowned than any other for liberty and free speech—the word “Marrano” would ever accurately characterize citizens, let alone close to half the voting population, that individual would have been regarded as a charlatan.

But given the intolerance and hatred on the left, and its dominance over almost every area of American life, that individual would have been a prophet.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Care for the elderly needs to be better targeted by the health system and social networks

28 September 2017 - 10:24am

Vani S. Kulkarni is a Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, U.S.; Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, U.K.

By Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
PHILADELPHIA and NEW DELHI, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

The National Health Policy (NHP), 2017 is unable to see the wood for the trees. Life and death questions are dealt with perfunctorily or simply overlooked. For example, it overlooks the rapid rise in the share of the old (60 years or more), and associated morbidities, especially sharply rising non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and disabilities. With rising age, numerous physiological changes occur and the risk of chronic diseases rises. The co-occurrence of chronic diseases and disability elevates the risk of mortality.

Another, more recent report, “Caring for Our Elders: Early Responses, India Ageing Report – 2017 (UNFPA)”, complements the NHP by focussing on the vulnerability of the aged to NCDs, recent policy initiatives and the role of non-governmental organisations in building self-help groups and other community networks. While all this is valuable, it fails to make a distinction between the aged in general and those suffering from chronic conditions. It matters as many suffering from chronic conditions and disabilities may find it harder to participate in such networks. Nor are the important questions of the impact of these networks and their replicability discussed except in a piece-meal manner.

The health system is ill-equipped to deal with surging NCDs; nor is the staff well trained to treat/advise the aged suffering from dementia or frailty, and for early diagnosis and management of conditions such as hypertension. The quality of medical care is abysmal, and hospitalisation costs are exorbitant and impoverishing. Health insurance covers a fraction of medical expenses incurred. However, many of these chronic conditions such as hypertension can be prevented or delayed by engaging in healthy behaviours. Physical activity and healthy diets can mitigate these conditions. Others could be managed effectively if detected early such as diabetes. Some of course can’t be treated but rendered less painful and debilitating through assistive devices such as stroke). Supportive families and community networks often make a significant difference.

Based on the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2015, among aged males and females (over 60 years)¸ the proportions of those suffering from NCDs nearly doubled during 2005-12, accounting for about a third of the respective populations in 2012. More females than males suffered from these diseases. The proportions were higher among those over 70, and these doubled in the age groups 60-70 years and over 70.

A vast majority of those with NCDs had access to medical advice and treatment and the proportion remained unchanged during 2005-12. As there is considerable heterogeneity in providers of medical help — from qualified doctors to faith healers and quacks — and a sharp deterioration in the quality of medical services, it is not surprising that the proportions suffering from NCDs have shot up despite high access. Access to government health insurance nearly doubled but remained low as barriers for the aged remain pervasive such as fulfilling eligibility criteria, slow reimbursement and a lack of awareness of procedures. In any case, the proportion of medical expenses covered was measly.

Loneliness and immunity
Loneliness is a perceived isolation that manifests in the distressing feeling that accompanies discrepancies between one’s desired and actual social relationships. The link between loneliness and mortality is mediated by unhealthy behaviours and morbidity. The fact that loneliness predicts health outcomes even if health behaviours are unchanged suggests that loneliness alters physiology at a more fundamental level. Research shows that loneliness increases vascular resistance and diminishes immunity.

We have used two proxies for loneliness: one is single-member households and the other is whether one is married or widowed. Snapping of the spousal bond in old age poses serious health risks. In 2005, old females with NCDs were twice as likely to live in single member households than the corresponding males. In 2012, while the females were two and a half times more likely to be living in single member households, the share of males rose more than moderately. In effect, old females with NCDs became much lonelier.

Whether related to or unrelated to loneliness, a high risk factor for NCDs is daily consumption of alcohol, especially local brews. Daily consumption of alcohol among the aged with NCDs rose more than twice over the period 2005-2012. Banning of liquor sales in a few States hasn’t helped because of strong resistance from vested interests including politicians and expansion of illicit sales.

Networking as support
Another measure is the proportion of those married and widowed. More females were married than males while the widowed were much higher among the females in 2005. Both male and female proportions of those married doubled in 2012 but the latter remained larger. While widowed males tripled, widowed females rose just under twice. However, children often play an important role in elderly support with the caveat that filial piety shows signs of diminishing. So if we look at households with 2-4 members, we find that the proportion of aged females with NCDs living in them was much higher than that of males in 2005, and both rose rapidly, especially the latter. So it is arguable that family support more than compensated for the sharp rise in loneliness. An important point is that today, ‘women are increasingly filling other roles, which provides them with greater security in older age. But these shifts also limit the capacity of women and families to provide care for older people who need it’.

That social networks are effective in providing support to the aged is far from axiomatic as there are questions of size of a network, whether it is proximal or non-proximal and whether there is social harmony. If social networks are instrumental in bonding together in periods of personal crises, this could compensate for a lack of family support, e.g. widows living alone, and help alleviate morbidity. We find that bonding rose sharply among both aged males and females suffering from NCDs during 2005-12.

The IHDS also provides data on inter-caste and village conflicts, with the proportion of those suffering from NCDs living in villages that experienced inter-caste or other conflicts more than doubling during 2005-2012. Lack of social harmony induces helplessness, disruption of medical supplies and network support.

The World Report on Ageing and Health 2015 (WHO) is emphatic about what is known as ageing in place, that is the ability of older people to live in their own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income or level of intrinsic capacity. Ageing in place can be further enhanced by creating age-friendly environments that enable mobility and allow them to engage in basic activities. This reinforces the case that solutions to those with chronic diseases lie within but also outside health systems.

From a policy perspective, health systems have to be configured to deal with not one NCD but multiple NCDs to manage them better. The impact of multi-morbidity on an old person’s capacity, health-care utilisation and the costs of care are significantly larger than the summed effects of each. Besides, the reconfigured medical system must be complemented by stronger family ties and social networks. This is not as Utopian as it may seem as examples of such complementarities abound.

This story was originally published by The Hindu, India

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To Be an Egyptian Migrant in Rome (And Also Make Great Pizza)

28 September 2017 - 8:45am

Credit: IOM/Ingy Mehanna. Contributor: Christine Beshay. International Organization for Migration

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

“I asked him: do you want to come with us to Greece? He said: ‘Why not?’ So my wife and myself packed up and drove to Athens to open our ‘trattoria’ there.”

Mario* (63) and his wife Concetta* (57) started telling their story while waiting for the chef to prepare three pizzas and one spaghetti carbonara for this table of four tourists coming from four different countries.

When Mario learnt that one of them—this journalist– was born in Cairo, he said, “Come with me,” and led him to the kitchen. “Here is our champion.”

The “champion” is Mahmoud*, a young Egyptian man (29) who had arrived in Italy seven years earlier and started working as a dishwasher at Mario and Concetta’s small trattoria in the Trastevere area in the heart of Rome.

“He was watching me cooking all the time. And he quickly learnt how to cook pizza, pasta and everything,” said Concetta.

“Yes, very quickly and very well,” added Mario, “so we began to relying on him when we had many clients over the weekends.”

Both Concetta, Mario, Mahmoud and this journalist are all back in Rome now. They called the journalist and met again. Having left Greece due to the financial crisis that struck the whole world around a decade ago, they have opened another trattoria. “We are now becoming old so we asked Mahmoud to run our little restaurant.”

Pizza al taglio at Trastevere in Rome. Credit: Shoebill2. Public Domain.


Mahmoud hired a young Egyptian migrant as a dishwasher and as a kitchen assistant. History might repeat itself again.

Mahmoud is just one of hundreds of young Egyptian migrants in Rome who work as chefs in typical Italian restaurants. Their pizza and pasta are much appreciated by local customers, who usually pay compliments to the owners and waiters for the tasty dishes.

“Journalist”* Ahmad

But, with very few exceptions, these Egyptian pizza-makers are not cooks–just migrants who reached Rome by sea with a tourist entry visa or as part of groups of migrants smuggled to Italy.

One of them, Ahmad* (36), tells IPS that he came to Rome around ten years ago as a correspondent for an Egyptian weekly magazine. “Actually I am not a journalist. By through friends, I managed to get a letter of accreditation from that publication to facilitate the more and more complex entry visa procedures.”

“I met some Egyptians who were working in restaurants in Rome and they helped me find a good job as a waiter with a work contract that allows me to stay here legally.”

“Of course I miss Egypt and my family, but life there has become so difficult that the best way I can help them is to save as much as I can from my salary and generous tips and send money to them.”

Smuggled Osman*

Working at a trattoria in the outskirts of Rome, Osman* (41) hesitates before telling IPS that he was a victim of smugglers who cheated him, demanding 3,000 dollars to take him to Europe. He managed to burrow 2,000 dollars and promised to pay the remaining amount as soon as he found a job.

“They treated me worse than an animal taken to a slaughterhouse,” Osman told IPS. Smugglers literally “loaded me” with dozens of other Egyptians on a truck to Libya.

“From there, after five endless weeks, they loaded us on a boat to Lampedusa Island” in Italy. Civil society humanitarian organisations “helped us find jobs as fruit pickers.”

Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Sara Prestianni / noborder network. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


A Case of Tough Success

Halim* (49) has a different story. He was born in Port Said, northeast of Cairo. Italy is one of the main destinations for Egyptians in Europe, and Halim landed here during the fall of 1987, having taken a regular boat trip to Naples.

He immediately connected with others in the Egyptian community in the EUR area of Rome. “My father worked for eleven long years as a helping hand in a restaurant and then ventured into setting up his own business independently,” he told Laurent Vercken in an interview for IPS.

Halim is one of more than 100,000 migrants from Egypt who live in Italy. Like most other Egyptian migrants, he chooses to stay here rather than return to his native land. “There are no opportunities to work there and I prefer to work long hours in the kitchen that my father set up, which is giving me a better life.”

When Halim’s father passed away twelve years ago, he took on the responsibility of looking after his entire family.

It has been very hard work, with little free time spent with his loved ones. Halim soon found that running a business had serious pitfalls as well, like facing organised crime. He discovered that over the years, his father had made many undefined regular payments.

A few days after his father’s death, a couple of men came to the restaurant, pretending to buy some food. But after placing their orders, they forced him to provide a free meal and demanded cash payoffs in the future as well.

After contacting the local police station, Halim was advised to install micro-cameras and microphones inside the restaurant. “The police were then able to apprehend the thugs and have discovered a bigger network of local, organised crime groups that were taking advantage of migrant businesses,” he said.

Today, he seems older than his real age, but perhaps stronger than ever. When asked how he feels after so many years of being a migrant, he responds, “Try just to imagine that if I am not able to survive every day, who will help my family to survive?”

Unaccompanied Egyptian Children Migrating to Europe

Last year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)–Egypt launched its “Egyptian Unaccompanied Migrant Children:A Case Study on Irregular Migration,” designed to shed light on the irregular migration of Egyptian children to Europe.

Based on IOM counselling interviews in Egypt and Greece, the report looked at the driving forces behind unaccompanied children travelling irregularly from Egypt to Europe and their vulnerability. It also provided insights into the modus operandi and characteristics of smuggling networks operating from Egypt.

Over a million migrants arrived to Europe by sea in 2015 and some estimates suggest that up to 20 per cent of them may have been minors, the UN Migration Agency informs.

The report provides recommendations covering prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership for the development of a multidisciplinary response to address irregular migration of unaccompanied migrant children.

“The report addresses the significant information gap on the issue of irregular child migration and comes at a time where Egypt is the highest sending country of unaccompanied migrant children to Europe. We are working closely with the government to develop an integrated response and are seeking donor support,” said Amr Taha, IOM Egypt Head of Office.

Since 2011, the percentage of unaccompanied children among Egyptian irregular migrants reaching Europe has been remarkably high. In 2014, they accounted for nearly half of 4,095 irregular Egyptian migrants arriving in Italy. In 2015, Italy registered the arrival of some 1,711 Egyptian children – more than from any other country.

Migration Shaping the Middle East

Migration has long shaped the Middle East and North Africa, with countries in the region often simultaneously representing points of origin, transit and destination, says the UN migration Agency.

Demographic and socioeconomic trends, conflict and, increasingly, climate change are among the multitude of factors that influence migration dynamics in the region, IOM explains.

According to IOM, the migration context in the Middle East and North Africa can be broadly characterised as consisting of closely interrelated patterns. One of them is that forced migration and internal displacement are a result of “multiple, acute and protracted crises across the region, particularly in Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Globalisation, conflict and instability, development differentials and –increasingly– climate change are amongst the multitude of factors that continue to influence the dynamics of human mobility in the region, says the UN specialised agency.

Question: Aren’t all these patterns and factors human-made? Being so, one wonders if perhaps governments cannot find a human-made solution other than building walls, shutting borders, and installing detention centres.

*Names of migrants have been changed to protect their identity.

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Philanthropists Join Forces to Fund Africa’s Cash-Strapped Health Sector

28 September 2017 - 2:24am

Tristate Heart and Vascular Centre in Nigeria. Credit: Tristate Heart and Vascular Centre

By Pavithra Rao, Africa Renewal*
NEW YORK, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

In the 2017 World Happiness Report by Gallup, African countries score poorly. Of the 150 countries on the list, the Central African Republic, Tanzania and Burundi rank as the unhappiest countries in the world.

Some of the factors driving unhappiness are the poor state of the continent’s health care systems, the persistence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and the growth of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

Few African countries make significant investments in the health sector—the median cost of health care in sub-Saharan Africa is $109 per person per year, according to Gallup. Some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar and Niger, spend just half of that per person annually.

In 2010, only 23 countries were spending more than $44 per capita on health care, according to the World Health Organization. These countries got funding from several sources, including government, donors, employers, non-governmental organisations and households. Private investment is now critical to meet the considerable shortfall in public-sector investment, say experts.

While many international organisations, such as UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross, continue to support Africa’s health care system, private entities and individuals are also increasingly making contributions. For example, Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote, and the world’s second richest person, Bill Gates, have formed a partnership to address some of Africa’s key health needs.

In 2014 the Nigerian-born cement magnate made global headlines after donating $1.2 billion to Dangote Foundation, which used the money to buy equipment to donate to hospitals in Nigeria and set up mobile clinics in Côte d’Ivoire.

A philanthropist himself, Mr. Gates wrote of Mr. Dangote in Time magazine: “I know him best as a leader constantly in search of ways to bridge the gap between private business and health.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses, among other projects, on strengthening Africa’s health care resources. According to the Gates Foundation, as of May 2013 it had earmarked $9 billion to fight diseases in Africa over 15 years. In 2016 the foundation pledged to give an additional $5 billion over a five-year period, two-thirds to be used to fight HIV/AIDS on the continent.

While acknowledging the Gates’ generosity, locals noted that for many years the Foundation had invested in the oil companies that have contributed in making health outcomes extremely poor in some areas of Nigeria. These companies include Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total.

Facing a backlash, the Gates Foundation sold off some 87% of its investments in major coal, oil and gas companies, leaving approximately $200 million in these stocks as of 2016. Groups such as Leave It in the Ground, a non-profit organization advocating for a global moratorium on fossil exploration, are pushing for divestment.

“The link between saving lives, a lower birth rate and ending poverty was the most important early lesson Melinda and I learned about global health,” said Mr. Gates recently. The Gates Foundation supports reducing childhood mortality by supplying hospitals with necessary equipment and hiring qualified local practitioners to take care of patients and their children.

Dangote-Gates collaboration

In 2016, the Dangote Foundation and the Gates Foundation formed a philanthropic dream team when they announced a $100 million plan to fight malnutrition in Nigeria. The new scheme will fund programmes to 2020 and beyond, using local groups in the northwest and northeast Nigeria. The northeast has for the past seven years been ravaged by the Boko Haram’s Islamic militant insurgency, affecting all health care projects in the region.

Malnutrition affects 11 million children in northern Nigeria alone, and Mr. Dangote said the partnership would address the problem. The Foundations had already signed a deal to work together to foster immunization programmes in three northern states: Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto.

The Gates Foundation states on its website, “Contributions towards the costs of the program by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dangote Foundation, and state governments will be staggered across three years: 30% in year one, 50% in year two, and 70% in year three, with the respective states taking progressive responsibility for financing immunization services.”

The future of about 44% of Nigeria’s 170 million people would be “greatly damaged if we don’t solve malnutrition,” said Mr. Gates, at a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Building trust

Despite the many international and local efforts, cultural and religious factors often impede efforts to address Africa’s weak health infrastructure. For example, in 2007, religious leaders in northern Nigeria organized against aid workers administering polio vaccinations after rumours started circulating that the vaccines were adulterated and would cause infertility and HIV/AIDS. In 2014, during the Ebola crisis, villagers chased and stoned Red Cross workers in Womey village in Guinea, accusing them of bringing “a strange disease”.

The big players may be Mr. Dangote and Mr. Gates, but others less well known are also making important contributions to Africa’s health care. After the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, for example, which resulted in the loss of about 11,300 lives, private companies in the three most affected countries—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—partnered with the government to fight the virus.

The Sierra Leone Brewery, for example, helped in constructing facilities for Ebola treatment. Individuals, such as Patrick Lansana, a Sierra Leonean communications expert, also volunteered their services for the Ebola fight. He said: “I joined the fight against Ebola because I wanted to help my country. My efforts, and those of others, made a difference. It would have been difficult for the government and international partners to combat the virus alone.”

Public-private partnerships

Private and public sectors need to collaborate to help Africa’s health care system from collapse, notes a report by UK-based PricewaterHouseCoopers consultancy firm. The report states that public-private partnerships, or PPPs, when fully synergised can bring about quality health care. Under a PPP in the health sector, for example, a government can contribute by providing the health care infrastructure, while private entities can be involved in the operations.

In a widely published joint opinion piece last April, Mr. Dangote and Mr. Gates stated that improving health care in Africa depends on a “successful partnership between government, communities, religious and business leaders, volunteers, and NGOs. This ensures that everyone is rowing in the same direction.”

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information

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Marginalised Minorities and Homeless Especially Hard-hit by Mexico’s Quake

27 September 2017 - 7:45pm

A community of 35 Nahñú indigenous families, from the central state of Querétaro, set up a camp in front of the old building that they occupied in the center of Mexico City, which was heavily damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake. In the photo can be seen the tent that serves as their kitchen and dining room. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Maricela Fernández, an indigenous woman from the Ñañhú or Otomí people, shows the damages that the Sept. 19 earthquake inflicted on the old house where 10 families of her people were living as squatters, in a neighbourhood in the center-west of Mexico City.

The magnitude 7.1 quake, mainly felt in Mexico City and the neighboring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, caused structural damage to the building, which like many other buildings in the city is in danger of collapsing.

The two-storey building, inhabited by indigenous families since 2007, had already been damaged by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake that claimed at least 10,000 lives on September 19, 1985 in the Mexican capital, exactly 32 years before the one that hit the city a week ago."These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake…The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore.” -- Alicia Vargas

Since Sept. 19 “we have been sleeping outside, because the house is badly damaged and may collapse. We do not want to go to a shelter, because they could take the building away from us,” explained Fernández, a mother of two who works as an informal vendor.

The residents of the house, including 16 children, set up a tent on the sidewalk, where they take shelter, cook and sleep while looking after their battered house and belongings inside.

Fernández, a member of the non-governmental “Hadi” (hello in the Ñahñú language) Otomí Indigenous Community, told IPS that humanitarian aid received so far came from non-governmental organisations and individual citizens.

But she criticised what she described as disregard from the authorities towards them and the discrimination exhibited by some neighbors.

“It is unfair that they discriminate against us for being indigenous and poor. Nobody deserves that treatment,” she said.

The earthquake had a death toll of at least 331 people – mostly in Mexico City – while at least 33 buildings collapsed and another 3,800 were partially or totally damaged.

Most schools resumed classes on Monday Sept. 25, as did economic activity and administrative work, but thousands of students and employees are reluctant to return to their educational institutions and workplaces until they have guarantees that the buildings are safe.

A similar situation is faced by another Ñahñú community living in a different rundown, abandoned building in a neighborhood in the centre of the capital, which has a population of nearly nine million people and which exceeds 21 million when adding the greater metropolitan area.

After the earthquake they set up a camp in the street next to the building that is damaged but still standing, where they sleep, cook and eat. Their refusal to move to a shelter is due to the fear of eviction and the loss of their home and belongings.

The 10 Nahñús families who were living in an old house in Mexico City since 2007 are now living outside the building due to the structural damages caused by the Sept. 19 earthquake. They are staying there in order to protect their property and belongings and to demand support for access to housing. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“We have organised ourselves to prepare food and watch over our things. The government has not taken care of us. They always ignore indigenous people,” complained Telésforo Francisco Martínez, a member of the group of 35 families who inhabit the property.

The whiteness of three large tents and a smaller one contrasts with the black canvas that protects the entrance to the building. Two camping tents complete the makeshift camp, together with two campfires and a few small tables.

These indigenous people work in the informal sector, selling traditional crafts and art, cleaning cars on the streets or cleaning houses.

“We have not been able to work, so we have no income,” said Martínez, who cleans car windshields on the streets.

Since 1986, some 2,000 Ñahñú natives have migrated to Mexico City from the municipality of Santiago Mezquititlán in the central state of Querétaro, and they now live in eight shantytowns in neighborhoods in the center-west of the capital.

Mexico City attracts thousands of people from other parts of the country who leave their towns to seek an income in the informal economy and often live in slums on the outskirts of the city.

The Ñahñús, who numbered 623,098 in 2015, are one of 69 native peoples in Mexico, representing about 12 million people, out of a total population of 129 million.

About 1.2 million indigenous people live in the capital, according to data from the non-governmental Interdisciplinary Center for Social Development (Cides).

“These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake,” Cides director Alicia Vargas told IPS.

“The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore,” she said.

For Vargas, whose organisation works with these minorities, these groups have been “traditionally invisible, especially children” and their level of vulnerability is exacerbated by disasters and the exclusion and discrimination they suffer.

The Sept. 19 earthquake exacerbated the needs of vulnerable groups living in Mexico City, including the homeless, such as this woman sleeping on a sidewalk on the south side of the capital. Authorities have diverted assistance for the homeless to earthquake victims. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“The State’s response is to come and assess the properties and evict them, leaving them on the streets, with nothing. They have not offered them any alternative. There is no official response from any government housing body to temporarily resolve their situation,” the activist complained.

The homeless, forgotten as always

The homeless have also suffered from the earthquake, which has exacerbated their extreme poverty.

“It’s the same as with historically excluded groups: in times of disaster, they always do worse. The disaster is so severe that no one remembers these groups. On the street they are more on their own than ever,” the director of the non-governmental organisation El Caracol, Luis Hernández, told IPS.

After the earthquake, squads of 25 community workers with El Caracol, which works with street people, visited groups at risk in different Mexico City neighbourhoods.

The monitoring found that they had received food, but the services they traditionally have access to – such as preventive health care – are now unavailable to them, as these services have been reoriented to care for those affected by the deadly earthquake.

“That neglect exacerbates their vulnerability. No governmental or private institution has approached them to provide assistance. They have remained on the streets and have not been evacuated or taken to shelters,” said Hernández, who noted that many homeless people participated in the efforts to rescue people trapped in damaged buildings.

In Mexico City, 6,774 people are homeless and of these, 4,354 stay in public spaces, and 2,400 in public and private shelters, according to the Census of Homeless People in August, carried out by the Ministry of Social Development.

Of the homeless, 5,912 are men and 862 are women. The majority are between the ages of 18 and 49 and nearly 40 percent have come from other states seeking work.

IPS found at least four people on the street who had received no kind of assistance, and were wandering about without being aware of where they were or what had happened.

In recent years, organisations such as El Caracol have denounced violations of the rights of the homeless, such as eviction from bridges and avenues, without offering them alternative shelter.

Fernández and Martínez just want a decent place to live. “We want to live here…we want them to tear the house down and build housing,” said Fernandez.

Martínez, for his part, complained about the slow process of regularisation of ownership of the property. “We have already completed it and they have not given us an answer. We don’t want anything for free, we just want to be taken into account,” he said.

For Vargas, the cleaning of debris, the installation of temporary housing, the provision of basic services and a safe space for about 100 children are urgent needs.

“Perhaps given this situation they can have access to social housing. In the medium-term, what is necessary is the immediate resolution of the definition of land to build housing for these families, with accessible credits. The indigenous population are in the areas of highest risk in the city, with the worst overcrowding,” he said.

Hernández proposed developing protection policies during emergencies. “What we are worried about is that they could be evicted from their areas, unless it is due to safety issues caused by collapses or demolitions,” he said.

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Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty a Significant Milestone

27 September 2017 - 11:55am

Jonathan Granoff is President of the Global Security Institute

By Jonathan Granoff
NEW YORK, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Presently, the entire world is hostage to a nuclear crisis expressed in the language of war and destruction by the leaders of North Korea and the United States We can look over the abyss and the reality of the consequence of the uses of nuclear weapons strikes fear and terror in the hearts of any sane person.

Master of Ceremonies Jonathan Granoff

There is no alternative to international coordinated diplomacy. We believe a broad perspective is valuable now to deal with this crisis and prevent others from arising in the future

In a speech, titled “Global Nuclear Disarmament A Practical Necessity, a Moral Imperative then United Nations,” High Representative Sergio Duarte reminded us that even before Hiroshima, on 11 June 1945, fifteen days before the UN Charter was signed, Manhattan Project scientists issued the “Franck Report, which stated with prescience: “Unless an effective international control of nuclear explosives is instituted, a race of nuclear armaments is certain to ensue following the first revelation of our possession of nuclear weapons to the world.”

Appropriately, the first UN General Assembly resolution, focused on the elimination of nuclear weapons. Last week, a step was taken at the United Nations to fulfill that vision of a nuclear weapons free world.

Since September 20, 2017, 53 nations have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, popularly known as the Ban Treaty. It will enter into force after it is ratified by 50 states. UN Secretary General Guterres opened the signing of what he referred to as a “milestone” worthy of celebration.

The Treaty prohibits developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use them, or allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts.

The Treaty requires each signatory state to develop “legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress” these prohibited activities.

Criticism has been made that the Treaty is not supported by the nine states with nuclear weapons. Critics from nuclear weapons states argue that the Treaty does not address the threat of North Korea, undermines the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and will not advance nuclear disarmament.

The Treaty exemplifies an effort to establish a universal formal legal prohibition to end the incoherence of the states with nuclear weapons asking others to do as we say, not as we do.

Nothing stimulates nuclear proliferation so much as strong states and coalitions such as NATO claiming they need these weapons for their security while claiming they create dangers for the world when others have them. There are no good hands for such horrible arms.

We agree with the Nobel Peace Laureates who joined former South Korean President and Nobel Laureate Kim Dae Jung and stated in the Gwanju Declaration of Nobel Peace Laureates: If we are to have stability, we must have justice. This means the same rules apply to all. Where this principle is violated disaster is risked.

In this regard we point to the failure of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their bargain contained in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to negotiate the universal elimination of nuclear weapons. To pursue a nuclear-weapons-free Korean Peninsula or Middle East or South Asia, without credible commitment to universal nuclear disarmament is akin to a parent trying to persuade his teenagers not to smoke while puffing on a cigar.

There are steps available to make progress in this area and they include: (a) Completing a treaty with full verification mechanisms cutting off further production of highly enriched uranium or plutonium for weapons purposes. (b) Universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, now ratified by 176 nations. (d) Taking the arsenals of Russia and the US off of hair trigger, launch on warning high alert. d. Legally confirmed pledges by all states with nuclear weapons never to use them first. (e) Making cuts in the US and Russia’s arsenal irreversible and verifiable.

The NPT requires the US, China, Russia, UK, and France to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons. Each of these states are either modernizing their nuclear arsenals and/or expanding them rather than fulfilling their legal obligations to negotiate their elimination.

It is time they began to fulfill their disarmament duties by either joining the Ban Treaty and addressing its limitations of verification and other technical issues or move forward in the arduous process of negotiating a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention to their liking. Sitting on the sidelines and offering no better way forward is inadequate.

The Treaty, in its preamble, highlights, “the ethical imperative” to achieve a nuclear weapons free world. The Treaty is designed, in its intent and substance, to stimulate, support, and advance humanity’s quest for the security of a nuclear free world. Obviously, more work is needed. Rather than only criticize that the Treaty does not do everything at once, critics should get to work on moving forward.

The Treaty states “that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular international humanitarian law.” The Treaty deftly highlights prohibitions on the use of nuclear weapons that apply to all states now, including those with the weapons.

Existing international humanitarian law (law of war) limits the use of force in armed conflict, compels distinctions between civilians and combatants, sets forth requirements that force be proportionate to specific military objectives, prohibits weapons of a nature to that causes superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering and provides rules for the protection of the natural environment. The Treaty further emphasizes “that any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.”

The Treaty makes clear that even today should North Korea bomb Tokyo with a nuclear weapon, should a conflict take place, that it would be illegal and indeed criminal. This scope of the existing illegality of such uses of the weapon applies to all states, including those that have not signed on to the Treaty.

The Ban Treaty presents a challenge to the nuclear weapons states to help make humanity great by joining in efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. GSI was honored to participate in the Treaty negotiations along with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and hundreds of other passionate civil society advocates who for decades have laid the groundwork for this step forward.

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Marriages of Desperation

27 September 2017 - 11:19am

By Rafia Zakaria
Sep 27 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

War bleeds people; it spills over borders, rivers, deserts and forests, with people hiding and pleading and always, always running. Along with the Rohingya, the people of Syria have seen incredible devastation in the past few years. Even as other wars have waxed and waned, these conflicts have continued in full view of the world, with the feeble bureaucrats of the United Nations looking on and doing nothing.

Rafia Zakaria

Like all wars, these conflicts of our times impose the greatest cost on women who become, even more so than in times of peace, pawns in the hands of men. Where currency may be hard to procure, a daughter or a sister can be traded, sometimes for weapons, sometimes for money and sometimes for safety.

The trade in Syrian brides evolved from just these circumstances. Turkey, which has taken in several million refugees fleeing Assad or the militant Islamic State group or the general barbarity of war, is one venue for the hapless trade in Syrian women. Refugees are everywhere in Istanbul, huddled and eager for any charity that they can get. It is no surprise, then, that some of the women among them have become targets for a thriving war economy in marriage.

In one case, reported by the UK newspaper The Sunday Times, an elderly man approached a refugee family about marrying their 17-year-old daughter. He wanted a girl with fair skin (what’s new?) and blue eyes (sigh) and she fit the bill. The man was already married, and polygamy is forbidden in Turkey. In order to get around this, only a religious and not a required civil marriage ceremony was carried out. With this, the two were married.

A woman is not a toy. But the moral mechanics via which she is transformed into one are notable.

The young girl was taken to a home ruled over by an old but cruel mother-in-law. One of the reasons the girl had agreed to the marriage was that she could not afford a sight-saving medicine that she needed for her eyes (the same blue eyes that the man so coveted). She never received the medicine. The man used her and his mother mistreated her. Then he tired of her and sent her back to her family. By this time her sight had degenerated to such an extent that she was becoming blind. The man divorced her in the same perfunctory way he had married her. The money he had paid to her family had long evaporated. In essence, the man purchased the young girl as if she were a toy, and then discarded her when she no longer amused him. There was no one to stop him.

Except that a woman is not a toy. The moral mechanics via which she is transformed into one are notable here. Beneath the purchase of a woman for pleasure is the idea that such a ‘marriage’ — and the quotation marks are important — is somehow permissible in religion. Underlying this sort of justification is the idea that a marriage as an act of charity is allowed despite the fact that the intention is not to form a lifelong relationship but to fulfil the whim of a rich man.

Embedded in this justification is the idea that a male is a whole human and a woman not quite that. And that in turn, buying a woman or using her as a thing without rights, instead of a person with them, is part of faith. All of these ideas preclude any understanding of marriage as a bond based on mutual respect or love or equality, and reduce it to a commercial transaction in which the man is a buyer and boss and the woman is a purchased product.

Syrian women, particularly those who are facing these dire conditions, are not currently in a situation in which they can contest this arrangement. That burden falls on all the rest of the watching world, particularly the Muslim world, which must grapple with the idea that the idea of marriage has been reduced to the purchase of women. Muslim scholars, usually so eager to issue fatwas and edicts on controversial issues of global import, have unsurprisingly remained silent on the matter. No one, it seems, is willing to point out the many injunctions that stress the equality of men and women, that point to marriage being a relationship of love and equanimity, rather than exploitation and profiteering.

Beyond issues of faith, the idea that marriage is a transaction carried out by men and endured by women further embeds the idea that Muslim men, Turkish or Pakistani or otherwise, are somehow inherently unable to respect women. This premise, now a staple of Islamophobic propaganda in the West, uses examples such as the ones involving the sale of Syrian women to Turkish men as the material for exclusion and mistreatment. It is difficult to insist that not all brown men from the Muslim world are committed to hating women, treating them poorly and insisting on their inferiority, when so few of them speak up against the misuse and mistreatment of Muslim women.

The example of Syrian women for sale is a dire one, but the idea that marriage is a transaction that involves the purchase of a woman, who must amuse and endure silently and exist in servitude, has millions of supporters in Pakistan. It is on the basis of that kind of support that economies of mistreatment, of the sale and enslavement of women, can exist and persist. As long as all of these smug and silent men continue to treat their wives as their property and marriage as a hierarchy, all marriages, whether they happen in refugee camps in Turkey or in fancy mansions in Karachi, are marriages of desperation.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Malawi’s Communal Fight Against Deadly Avian Disease

27 September 2017 - 8:32am

A poultry farmer from Lumbwe village in Malawi hands her chickens to Lydia Katengeza to administer a vaccine against Newcastle Disease. Credit: Charles Mkoka/IPS

By Charles Mkoka
LILONGWE, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Lydia Katengeza, a community vaccinator with the Nathenje Community Vaccination Association (NCVA), wakes up as early as 5 a.m., ready with her I-2 vaccine vial in a storage container in her hand. She moves from one house to another, visiting each poultry farmer. All of them are alerted a day in advance so that they don’t release their free-range chickens in the morning.

The first farmer she visited when an IPS reporter accompanied her on her rounds was Maxwell Panganani, who owns 30 chickens. The whole flock was given the vaccine, which protects poultry from the deadly Newcastle Disease (ND) and costs four cents per chicken. This means Katengeza collected 1.24 dollars from this farmer.Raised by 80 percent of local farmers, poultry is the greatest contribution to household food and nutritional security of all livestock species in Malawi.

She moved on to other households: Makalani Kumapeni, whose 51 chickens were given the vaccine; Chipiliro Kanamwali with 11 chickens; Peter Lumbwe with 24 chickens; Zeze Lumbwe with 14 chickens, Frank Thamisoni with 12 chickens and Samuel Asipolo, who just owns one.

Raised by 80 percent of local farmers, poultry is the greatest contribution to household food and nutritional security of all livestock species in Malawi. Farmers use chickens during weddings, funerals and other rituals, and for sale or as gifts. They are also bartered for other products.

However, despite the important role that chickens play in supporting households in rural areas, there is a major constraint to the expansion and increased productivity of poultry – the frequent devastation of flocks, up to 90 percent, according to the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development (DAHLD). This damage is caused by ND, which strikes during the hot, dry months of August through to November annually.

The virus presents primarily as an acute respiratory illness, and is one of the most serious of all avian diseases. It is also transmissible to humans.

“We were first trained as farmer field facilitators in 2014 under a CARE Malawi programme. Later CARE linked us with Inter Aide, a French organization that provided us training in the procedures of how to be a community vaccinator,” says Katengeza, who is also village head woman of Chizinga in Traditional Authority Kalumbu, Lilongwe district.

According to Katengeza, the knowledge and procedures learnt during vaccine administration have been of great benefit to her as a farmer. As a result of the training, her chickens no longer die of ND. And as a ripple effect, she has also managed to help her fellow farmers to overcome the disease.

“I now have 10 goats, harvested 70 50-kg bags of maize this year, moulded bricks and built a good house. I am also able to pay school fees for my kids. As a family, we have sustained access to proteins as body-building foods from chickens once slaughtered,” says Katengeza.

She said CARE and Inter Aide have changed her life and that of other farmers.

Another farmer, Eveless Makalani, with a flock of 51 birds, has worked with community vaccinators for some time. She learned about them during the farmer extension meetings they conduct in the village.

“My family gets help from these chickens, especially during funerals and weddings, but also in the event of problems. We sell some of them as they are in high demand on the market, unlike hybrids.”

Malakani adds that the money earned from selling one chicken pays for the vaccination of over 50 chickens from ND – making it a viable business.

Yolomosi Tifere, a male community vaccinator who serves farmers in the Nathenje area, said the project should be expanded to include other health supports.

“This vaccine is for ND fine and good. However, we also need other drugs to address bacteria, cough, intestinal worms so that these problems are also taken care of,” Tifere said in an interview during the field visit.

Graça Archer, Programme Officer for Inter Aide Newcastle Disease Control Programme, said each ND campaign is systematic and runs for four months.

“During the first month, community vaccinators go house to house to do poultry registration, like how many chickens to vaccinate, how many vials are needed. The second month is for the actual vaccination of the chickens and the fourth month is for review of the success and challenges.” Archer explained in an interview.

The peak of the campaign takes place in July because the risk of an outbreak is high. This is when farmers have more money and exchange more chickens and there is a greater probability for them to become infected with ND.

“There is more acceptance from the farmers in July than the two other campaigns. For instance, last year we vaccinated 590,800 chickens,” says Archer, who expressed concerns about the erratic supply of the drug from CVL.

In order to ensure sustainability of the programme, NCVA was formed to strengthen local participation in the fight against ND. Meanwhile, the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicine is working in partnership with Inter Aide to improve the nutrition and livelihoods of smallholder livestock producers, and enhance family farm productivity and resilience in an increasingly changing climate.

“The I-2 vaccine is thermal tolerant demand driven, people see the benefit of vaccinating chickens so there is exponential growth for the vaccine need. However, production is not managed as an enterprise due to shortage of financing of the drug, hence its erratic availability,” Archer explained.

Gilson Njunga, Officer in Charge at the CVL, says they produce 3,000 bottles of the vaccine per month which translates to about a million dosages administered to chickens, as each bottle accommodates 300 chickens.

“Production of the vaccine vial is at 3,000 bottles monthly because we produce the vaccine within a diagnostic laboratory and not an independent vaccine lab. As such, the production process has to pass through quality control before being certified for use by farmers to ensure they are not contaminated,” Njunga told IPS.

Meanwhile, as a further step towards attaining food and nutritional security, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Malawi Government agreed on a Country Programme Framework estimated at 24.3 million dollars. The rationale for the proposed CPF priority areas is derived from the analysis and the enabling environment for Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture.

The analysis demonstrates that while the country is making good progress in food security and staple crop production, it remains vulnerable to shocks – many climate-related – that impede increased agricultural production, productivity and profitability.

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Thousands Rally to Mark Second Anniversary of UN´s SDGs

27 September 2017 - 5:34am

Tanja Gohlert is Member, European Secretariat of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty

By Tanja Gohlert
BRUSSELS, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Two years ago on 25 September 2015, 193 governments agreed to an action plan to end poverty, protect the planet and foster international peace by adopting the UN´s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To mark the anniversary, thousands of people participated in over 850 events across 110 countries to raise awareness for the goals and to hold governments accountable for their slow rollout of national implementation programs.

Map: Over 850 events across 110+ countries, led by Global Call for Action against Poverty, Action for Sustainable Development, the UN´s SDG Action Campaign and in conjunction with CIVICUS´SPEAK! Campaign.


“The goals will only be implemented if people demand action by their governments” said Beckie Malay from the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who organised an event with university students in Manila, Philippines

Community events were held all shapes and sizes, with marches, panel discussions, art performances, lesson plans and an #Act4SDGs social media conversation that reached over 80 million people. Central to these actions, was the recognition that the most marginalised groups of people require priority access to the resources and programs being mobilised by the goals.

“Today we should be celebrating, but the situation is worrying. Social injustices are increasing and people are going hungry again” commented Salina Sanou of Action for Sustainable Development in Kenya. Last week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced that despite a steady decline in recent years, 815 million people suffered from hunger in 2016 – 38 million more than 2015. This is unacceptable in these times of over-production and over-consumption in rich countries, says Sanou. “It is time to break the cycle of inequality in all our systems.”

Standing in front of a large pink elephant in front of the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, Ingo Ritz, coordinator of the Global Day of Action, pointed out that the European Commission was very supportive when the Agenda 2030 was negotiated. “However, now the EU leadership is not seriously interested and the SDGs have become the elephant in the room. They cannot afford to ignore them – making Europe sustainable for all will be key for the legitimacy of the EU.”

The elephant in the room for governments: The Sustainable Development Goals


46 events were organised in India alone. Young people, women, Dalits, urban poor and religious minorities, gathered at various landmarks with banners and placards highlighting which SDGs would have an impact on their lives. The goals have not reached these communities, the main concerns continue to be basic – education, housing issues, health issues, as well as water and sanitation, noted Manshi Singh of the national network Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA).

Wadanatodo organised a public mobilisation event outside the red fort in Delhi


In Buenos Aires, banners highlighting the SDGs were hung on main streets in all 15 communes of the city and murga dancers and jugglers shared information on the SDGs. Agustina Carpio, from the Argentinian NGO FOCO, said the idea is to have an impact on each and every citizen. “We need everybody to be aware of what the SDGs mean and understand that we have a humanitarian commitment ahead of us and not an act of propaganda.”

Note: More information as well as photos and stories from all over the world can be found at act4sdgs.org

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Where Do 50 Million Tonnes a Year of Toxic E-Waste Go?

27 September 2017 - 2:18am

Disassembling of electronic waste in Bengaluru, India. Credit: Victorgrigas. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Each year, the electronics industry generates up to 41 million tonnes of e-waste, but as the number of consumers rises, and the lifespan of devices shrinks in response to demand for the newest and best, that figure could reach 50 million tonnes this year, according to specialised studies.

Of all these tonnes of noxious waste, a staggering 60-90 per cent of e-waste –worth nearly 19 billion dollars– is illegally traded or dumped, often with the involvement of transnational criminal gangs, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) research had already warned a couple of years ago.

West Africa has been reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to be a major destination for electronic waste, while some Asian countries are also recipients of millions of tonnes of these toxic materials, sometimes as part of so-called trade free agreements with Western countries.

Old computers and mobile phones, electric cables, televisions, coffee machines, fridges, old analogue radios are piling up in landfills across the world, UNEP explains.

According to the research, e-waste often contains hazardous materials, which pose risks to human health and the environment, especially in developing countries.

One of Fastest Growing Waste Streams

E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in developed as well as in developing countries, reports the Global Partnership on Waste Management.

Due to the fact that the life span of computers has dropped in developed countries from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005, and mobile phones have a lifespan of even less than two years, the amount of generated e-waste per year grows rapidly, it adds.

“This has a major impact on developing countries as loopholes in the current {European Commission} Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directives allow the export of e-waste from developed to developing countries (70 per cent of the collected WEEE ends up in unreported and largely unknown destinations).”

E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in developed as well as in developing countries. Credit: UNEP


Recycling, Re-Using, an Enormous Challenge

According to the Global Partnership on Waste Management, inappropriate methods like open burning, which are often used by the informal sector in developing countries to recover valuable materials, have heavy impacts on human health and the environment.

“Electronic goods are increasing exponentially in number, variety and complexity, and all of them include both valuable and hazardous materials,” said Keith Alverson, head of the UNEP-hosted International Environmental Technology Centre, which looks at ways to increase recycling and handle waste in a more sound manner.

“The challenge of re-using, recycling and properly disposing of electronic waste is already enormous, and will grow – be it in individual households, in the private sector or in countries around the world. We need to think carefully about, and implement solutions for, e-waste as we continue to benefit more and more from electronic goods and services.”

A Criminal Business

“It is illegal to export e-waste, but extensive smuggling networks classify the waste as second-hand goods and dump it in places like Ghana, India, Pakistan and Brazil,” said Dr. Christian Nellemann, head of the Rapid Response Unit at the Rhipto-Norwegian Center for Global Analyses and author of UNEP’s e-waste report.

“Tricks include declaring waste batteries as plastic or mixed metal scrap, and cathode ray tubes and computer monitors as metal scrap. Both small and large-scale smuggling techniques can be seen all over the world, from organized truck transport across Europe and North America to the use of major smuggling hubs in South Asia, including widespread container transport by sea.”

Insufficient control over waste removal is another loophole exploited by criminals, who collect payments for the safe disposal of waste, which they later dump or recycle unsafely, the study warns.

Risks for Human Health

According to the report, the illegal dumping of waste in developing countries is where health problems start to creep in. Inappropriate methods like open burning are often used by the informal sector to recover valuable materials, bringing heavy impacts on human health and the environment.

“Harmful emissions come from lead in circuit boards or cathode ray tube glass, mercury in liquid crystal display (LCD) backlights, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and the accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food. Inhalation of toxic fumes from reagents such as cyanide or other strong leaching acids to extract rare earth metals, copper and gold also cause health issues.”

Children in developing countries are exposed as family members try to recycle at home or are forced to recycle themselves, or simply by living or going to school close to dumps. They are especially vulnerable to the health risks as their bodies are still developing, the report adds.

Low Rates of Recycling

“Key to solving a lot of these problems – and ensuring that we don’t run out of metals in decades to come, is better, more-formalised recycling.”

According to research by the International Resource Panel (IRP), recycling rates have been consistently low: less than one-third of some 60 metals studied have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50 per cent and 34 elements are below one per cent recycling. This presents a valuable opportunity to reduce environmental degradation, energy and water use, and cut down on health impacts by doing it right.

“We need to address the full circle, establishing recycling systems and formalizing and subsidizing the informal handling systems,” said Nellemann, who authored UNEP’s report. “We also need to address the significant involvement of organized crime in waste handling.”

Solutions to combat illegal and unsustainable handling of e-waste are emerging. Recovering valuable metals and other resources locked inside electronic products, for example, can reduce the amount of e-waste produced, diminishing pressure on the environment, creating jobs and generating income.

According to the IRP, designers must look at making materials such as rare earth metals in products easily recoverable at their end of use – including in green tech such as solar panels and wind turbine magnets. Binding agreements on classification of waste through the conventions will also be vital to prevent the dumping of waste in developing countries.

The Global Partnership on Waste Management also looks at improving sound management of e-waste in developing countries, an area of work led by the International Telecommunication Union.

“Mountains of e-waste are indeed growing across the globe, but this waste can be turned into a valuable resource that will protect human health and ensure humanity uses the planet’s increasingly strained resources.”

Modern World Without Electronics?

The United Nations might be right –and at least realistic– when it says that it is impossible to imagine the modern world without electronics. In fact, it seems to be already too late to think of such a hypothetical scenario.

Smartphones that serve as umbilical cords to the digital world; fridges and air conditioning systems that keep our food fresh and homes cool, as the UN Environment Programme says, as well as computers, blenders, games consoles, electric cars, solar panels.

“These inventions have undoubtedly transformed our lives for the better – allowing us access to information and resources, instant communication and freeing up our time so we can get on with doing things we enjoy.”

But the UN is definitely right when it also says that every silver lining has a cloud, and in this case, it’s a big one: e-waste.

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Mercury Mining Awaits International Control in Mexico

26 September 2017 - 3:30pm

Artisanal gold mining in Latin America uses mercury, a practice that should be modified in countries that have ratified the international Minamata Convention for the control of this toxic metal. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

For environmentalist Patricia Ruiz the only word that comes to mind is “devastating,” when describing the situation of mercury mining in her home state of Querétaro in central Mexico.

“There are a large number of pits (from which the mercury is extracted), and there are the tailing ponds containing mining waste, all of which drains into the rivers. These are people who don’t have other options, they risk their health, their family genetics. There are many people involved, who have no alternative employment,” said Ruiz, the founder of the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group.

Her non-governmental organisation is dedicated to protecting the 383,567-hectare Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, which is home to a rich ecosystem as well as100,000 people, distributed in five municipalities and 638 communities.

Querétaro and the northern state of Zacatecas have become major producers of mercury, the extraction of which is mainly in private hands and practiced without a license. The mercury is mostly exported to countries such as Bolivia and Colombia, where it is used mainly in the artisanal mining of gold.

The rise in production in Mexico was a consequence of export bans in the United States and the European Union since 2011, which prompted Mexico to step in to fill the gap.

Replacing mercury in artisanal mining is a challenge that Mexico is now facing in order to comply with the Minamata Convention, which entered into force on Aug. 16, and which will celebrate its first meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Geneva from Sept. 24-29.

The treaty prohibits new mercury mines and stipulates the phasing out of existing mines, the reduction of mercury use in a number of products and processes, the promotion of measures to curb emissions into the atmosphere and seepage into the soil and water, the regulation of artisanal and small-scale gold mining and proper management of contaminated sites.

The “Mexican Mercury Market Report”, produced in 2011 by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, estimated that there are nearly 27 million tonnes of mercury waste accumulated in mines and the chlor-alkali industry.

Primary mercury mines account for 43 percent of these deposits – some 11.75 million tons – while the secondary production of old deposits of mine waste or tailings in Zacatecas contribute another 14.9 million, and the chlor-alkali industry accounts for 240,000 tonnes in two plants.

A report by the governmental National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), obtained by IPS, shows that eight of Mexico’s 31 states have mercury mines that feed the national trade in dental fillings, lamps and raw materials for artisanal gold mining, as well as the increasing exports.

Some 300 artisanal mercury mines operate in Querétaro, while extraction from tailings ponds is attractive due the value of amalgamated silver. Mercury mining in Querétaro is concentrated in three municipalities.

In that state, two regions, with a total of nine mining districts, contain mercury. Between 1995 and 2016, the state government supported three projects with potential mercury deposits.

In Zacatecas, four of 17 mining regions have mercury and six of 116 mining projects involve mercury exploration and exploitation.

Artisanal gold mining is active in 10 states, and more than 3,000 people work in this activity.

Mercury is obtained from cinnabar ore, which is crushed and fed into a furnace or kiln to be heated, generating toxic mercury vapor with toxic properties.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main effect of exposure to fish and seafood contaminated by mercury in fetuses and infants is impaired neurological development. Mercury, which has
neurotoxic characteristics, accumulates in the body.

In Latin America, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have already ratified the Convention. But only Brazil has submitted its report to the secretariat of the mercury control treaty, as only nine other countries around the world and the European Union have done.

Measures to curb the production of mercury in other countries have turned Mexico into the second largest supplier in the world, after Indonesia. In July this country exported 75 tons to Bolivia and 9.55 to Chile, while sporadic sales were reported to Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.

In 2016, Bolivia was also the top destination, with 193 tons, while Colombia imported 41.5, even though it had banned the use of mercury in artisanal mining in 2013.

The coordinator of the non-governmental Center for Analysis and Action on Toxics and their Alternatives (CAATA), Fernando Bejarano, said that Mexico saw the upturn in mercury mining coming and did not take action.

“This is a social problem linked to poverty and we must treat it according to that perspective, and not only as an environmental issue. But there is no clear multisectoral approach. In the coming years production may grow even further,” the expert told IPS.

In his view, “Mexico lacks a clear policy on the handling of hazardous substances and people continue to be exposed to them.”

A report by the Federal Attorney General’s Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa), to which IPS had access, states that mining is carried out with no environmental damage mitigation or prevention of health effects.

Mines, the report adds, lack the infrastructure to prevent polluting emissions from the furnaces, and there is inadequate management of mining waste, which pollute water and soil.

Their “2015 studies on air quality and its impact in the central region of Mexico”, obtained by IPS, which assessed emissions from 83 mines, concluded that there is a risk of toxicity for workers in the mining area of Querétaro and the surrounding population, where it found high concentrations of the mineral.

INECC this year detected high concentrations of mercury in the basement of a shopping center in Zacatecas, where products for sale are stored.

For activist Patricia Ruiz, winner of at least five prizes in ecology, Mexico should work on a plan based on people´s needs.

“The semi-desert (of the region) offers possibilities. It can provide employment for many years and the mines would be shut down. It requires financial resources to be able to pay temporary employment and cover the pits,” she said.

Mexico, which anticipates designing a plan of action to modify artisanal gold mining, will have to adapt its legal framework to the Minamata Convention. It has already identified four sites and 15 communities contaminated with mercury.

“The state and municipal actors must be informed about the risks. There must be an orderly plan of transition. It is a national responsibility, we should not just wait for international resources to come,” Bejarano said.

In Geneva, CAATA and other NGOs will determine the presence of mercury in body creams from places such as Quéretaro.

Mexico is waiting for approval by the Global Environment Facility to finance a seven million dollar environmental risk reduction initiative in mining in Querétaro. At the end of the year, the government will complete an assessment of the country’s situation in this regard.

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More Public Spending, Not Tax Cuts, for Sustainable, Inclusive Growth

26 September 2017 - 11:53am

Tax cuts do not magically improve economic growth. Instead, the government should focus on building more economic capacity with new investments in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), education, and anti-poverty programs. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

The Trump administration’s promise to increase infrastructure spending should break the straightjacket the Republicans imposed on the Obama administration after capturing the US Congress in 2010. However, in proportionate terms, it falls far short of Roosevelt’s New Deal effort to revive the US economy in the 1930s.

To make matters worse, reducing budget deficits remains the main economic policy goal of all too many OECD governments. Governments tend to cut social spending if they can get away with it without paying too high a political price.

But OECD governments’ belief that social spending — on health, education, childcare, etc. — is growth inhibiting is sorely mistaken. There is, in fact, overwhelming evidence of a positive relationship between public social spending and growth.

Return of supply-side economics
The cornerstone of all too many OECD government policies is tax cuts, especially for business corporations, ostensibly so that they will invest more with their higher retained earnings. This policy is premised on the long-discredited ‘supply-side economics’ promoted by conservative economists led by Arthur Laffer, popular during the early Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980s.

But in retrospect, it is clear that the tax cuts by the Reagan administration on high-income households and businesses failed to boost growth in the US. Harvard professor and National Bureau of Economic Research president emeritus Martin Feldstein, President Reagan’s former chief economist, and Douglas Elmendorf, the former Democrat-appointed Congressional Budget Office Director, have shown that the 1981 tax cuts had virtually no net impact on growth.

Similarly, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts on ordinary incomes, capital gains, dividends and estates also failed to stimulate much growth, if any. In both cases, growth mainly came from other expansionary policies.

The OECD and the IMF also both doubt that tax cuts significantly induce investments. Cross-country research has found no relationship between changes in the top marginal tax rates and economic growth between 1960 and 2010. During this half-century period, although the US cut its top tax rate by over 40 percentage points, it only grew by just over two percent per annum on average. In contrast, Germany and Denmark, which barely changed their top rates at all, experienced similar growth rates.

Thus, tax cuts do not magically improve economic growth. Instead, the government should focus on building more economic capacity with new investments in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), education, and anti-poverty programs. As the IMF’s 2014 World Economic Outlook showed, the impacts of public investment are greatest during periods of low growth.

Social spending for economic recovery
Effective social programs provide immediate benefits to low-income families, enhancing long-term economic growth prospects. Increased income security improves health and increases university enrolment, leading to higher productivity and earnings.

Similarly, nutrition assistance programs improve beneficiaries’ health and cognitive capacities while housing assistance programs have other positive impacts. Investments in education result in a more skilled workforce, raising productivity and earnings as well as spurring innovation. Extra years of schooling are correlated with significant per capita income increases.

Investments in early childhood, including health and education, also enhance economic benefits. The earlier the interventions, the more cost-effective they tend to be; hence, OECD policymakers now promote preschool childcare and education.

Children enjoying early high-quality care and education programs are less likely to engage in criminal behaviour later in life; they are also more likely to graduate from secondary school and university. Reducing preschool costs also effectively raise mothers’ net incomes, inducing them to return to employment.

But the revenue boost from greater growth and productivity due to such social programs may not be enough to prevent rising deficits or debt. However, there are many ways to deal with revenue shortfalls, including new taxes as well as better regulations and enforcement to stem tax evasion. Progressive social protection programs and universal health care provisioning also help improve equity.

The ‘cure’ is the problem
This is not the time to reduce public debt through damaging cuts to social programs when most OECD economies are stagnant and the world economy continues to slow down. Hence, the current OECD priority should be to induce more robust and inclusive growth.

There is simply no robust evidence – old or new – of growth benefits from ‘supply-side’ tax cuts. This is the time for a pragmatic inclusive growth agenda, breaking free of the economic mythology which has held the world economy back for almost a decade.

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Global Companies Give Africa a Second Look

26 September 2017 - 11:27am

BMW South Africa announces the production of its one-millionth BMW 3 Series sedan at its manufacturing plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria in South Africa. Credit: BMW Group

By Zipporah Musau, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

When travelling abroad for work and looking for accommodation, Joe Eyango, a Cameroonian living in the US, considers two factors: convenient transportation from the airport and around the city and reliable Internet access. He is a university professor and wants to be able to jet in, hit the ground running, make his presentation and zoom off to another destination in a day or two.

Eyango has been to various countries in Africa for business and work but has reasons for preferring South Africa. “South Africa has a lot to offer compared with other African countries. The road system is good, there is adequate electricity and reliable Internet connection, which is necessary for work and business,” Eyango told Africa Renewal in an interview.

Recently, having been invited to present a conference paper on a tight schedule, Eyango flew into Johannesburg from Amsterdam, spent less than 30 minutes in customs at the O. R. Tambo International Airport, took a taxi and was at his hotel in less than an hour since arrival.

South Africa attracts many professionals and big multinationals. It’s currently home to more than 75% of all top global companies in Africa.

“Where these big companies choose to invest depends on whether the environment is right for business. Investors are interested in relatively stable countries, good infrastructure, reliable communication, electricity and labour,” says Dr. John Mbaku, a researcher at Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and also a professor of economics at Weber State University, US.

Some of the global companies with a presence in South Africa include luxury car manufacturers BMW, the Standard Bank Group, Barclays Bank, Vodafone (one of the world’s largest communication companies), Volkswagen, and General Electric. There is also FirstRand, Sasol, Sanlam, and MTN Group.

In an earlier interview with South African officials on why they’d chosen the country as an investment destination, Sam Ahmed, then the managing director of Britannia Industries, an India-based manufacturer of biscuits, snacks and confectionery, said his organization had been looking for a country that would give it access to the entire African market while keeping its costs low.

“In South Africa you have first-world infrastructure and third-world cost,” Ahmed said. The company’s production costs in South Africa were much lower than in Southeast Asia, the company headquarters.

Big businesses are also attracted to countries where the legal system works, so they can be assured of justice should legal issues arise. South Africa’s judiciary has been hailed for its sound judgements and independence from political machinations relative to other African countries.

Another attraction for big businesses is human resources. The efficiency and smooth operation of these large companies depend on the calibre of its labour force. Despite many years of apartheid, according to Mbaku, South Africa provides its citizens with relatively good quality education the multinationals are looking for in their labour force.

However, despite its successes, South Africa continues to grapple with a high crime rate (especially in urban areas), graft accusations and the political uncertainty that businesses loathe.

Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN body that deals with trade, investment and development issues, acknowledges that South Africa has the oldest and most developed market economy in the whole of Africa for historical reasons: the market grew out of a strong mining and industrial base and the financial industry.

However, according to Kituyi, things are now changing and other African countries are also attracting big investors. “It’s true South Africa has had a head start, but in net terms, there is faster growth in alternative centres for both manufacturing and service delivery than in South Africa. Today, the financial services industry is growing faster in Morocco than in South Africa,” Kituyi told Africa Renewal in an interview.

He notes that some multinational enterprises operating out of South Africa have relocated substantially. “We recently saw the opening of the Volvo truck-manufacturing plant in Mombasa. And similarly, we have seen many other services, particularly IT-based services and telecommunications, growing in new nodes like Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda.”

Fringe benefits
So why should African governments want to encourage global companies to set up shop in their countries? Driven by insufficient funds, African governments are increasingly turning to private-sector companies for a much-needed boost. Foreign investments provide capital to finance industries, boost infrastructure and productivity, provide social amenities and create jobs, all of which can help a country reach its economic potential. And as countries rush to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, funding is key.

In Africa, governments and industry are gradually forming public-private partnerships (PPPs) in which companies provide capital while governments ensure an environment conducive to business. In the last 10 years, the continent has welcomed PPPs for projects in infrastructure, electricity, health and telecommunications.

Lenders like the African Development Bank are urging African countries to improve business environments by “creating the necessary legal and regulatory framework for PPPs, and to facilitate networking and sharing of experience among regulatory agencies and other similar organizations.”

Tread carefully
However, even as PPPs begin to change the face of Africa, there is need for countries to tread carefully and to learn from failed PPPs when signing up for such partnerships. “Ask yourselves, does the state have the capacity to forge ahead with these partnerships? This is necessary to avoid bad debt,” says Kituyi, adding that governments should not let private companies drive the agenda.

This word of caution is echoed by the Brookings Institution’s Mbaku, who is advising African governments to ensure that PPPs work to their advantage: “If you have a weak or corrupt leadership, you may not have the power or the skills required to negotiate a favourable partnership. You will end up with a PPP that is not really a partnership.”

Mbaku gives the example of oil companies that have been operating in Africa for more than 20 years yet still depend on expatriate labour instead of employing locals. Such companies are reluctant to transfer skills, knowledge and technology to the locals.

Another problem with PPPs is the imbalance of power. “If you are a government engaged in a PPP on a development project, there is inequality in power. The multinational has capital, skilled manpower and [an] external market. The government has no power over these,” says Mbaku.

Despite the challenges, however, PPPs will continue playing a major role in the development of poor countries. For African countries to attract multinationals and other big investors to partner with, their governments need to put their house in order—improve infrastructure, communication, security and the legal system, and fight corruption.

*(Africa Renewal, published by the UN’s Department of Public Information)

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Crisis in Cameroon Spurs Govt Crackdown on Press

26 September 2017 - 8:22am

Police block rioters in front of the Divisional Officers building in Kumba, Southwest Region, Cameroon, amid an ongoing political crisis in the country’s Anglophone region. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

“For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian journalist Elie Smith.

The outspoken journalist told IPS he was forced to resign from Cameroon’s leading private media house following intense pressure from government. The CEO of the station had suspended a talk show, Tough Talk, Smith co-hosted with Divine Ntaryike and Henry Kejang. He said Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Justice Minister Laurent Esso wanted him fired.Journalist Tim Finian Njua was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde.

The trio were accused of being too critical of government, especially during reporting and analysis of an ongoing 11-month-long protest in English-speaking Cameroon. Protesters had adopted civil disobedience as their trump card, keeping schools and courts in the region closed since Nov. 21, 2016.

Smith, who had refused to travel from the financial capital, the port city of Douala, to Yaounde, the country’s political capital, to apologise to the prime minister for being too critical of government, was later told to stick to a program called World Views and refrain from any discussion of domestic politics.

“On Sep. 4 when schools were expected to resume in Cameroon, protests marred the resumption in English-speaking Cameroon. Yet, the CEO asked me to lie on air that resumption was effective in order to please government. I refused. That is when we both realised we can no longer work together,” he told IPS.

Despite losing his job, Smith is among the few journalists who have avoided prison in a government clampdown on reporters since the crisis erupted in English-speaking Cameroon. Others have been jailed and tortured, while some are currently in exile. For the most part, security forces target English-speaking journalists whom government accuses of supporting or sympathising with “terrorists”.

Journalists or terrorists?

Cameroon was first colonised by the Germans in 1884. After the defeat of Germany in World War I, France and Britain shared the territory under a mandate from the League of Nations, with Britain keeping one-fifth of it.  A federation of two states with equal status was declared in 1961, but was abolished in 1972 following a referendum – its conduct remains contested to this day.

Citizens of the former trust territory of British Southern Cameroons who have over the years, complained of marginalisation and lack of control over their assets, rose up in October 2016 in two ranks- some demanding a return to federation while others demand total independence. Both camps however agree on the same complaints; insignificant placements of English-speaking Cameroonians in administration, and inequality which they say led to impoverishment of their region and its population and subjugation of their educational and cultural heritage. At least 13 people have been shot dead since the crisis erupted.

A controversial law on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Cameroon enacted in December 2014 is being used to try citizens arrested in relation to the protests. Journalists arrested for reporting on the crisis are equally tried at the military tribunal under the same law which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Tim Finian Njua, one of eight journalists arrested in relation to the ongoing crisis, says he is finding it difficult readjusting after spending over six months in jail. The editor of Life Time newspaper, Njua was freed from the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde alongside Atia Tilarious and two other journalists, and close to 50 protesters, following a presidential clemency in August.

Njua told IPS he was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde. “They said our newspaper reported an incident that may provoke or aggravate rebellion. I was charged with acts of terrorism, insurrection, secession and propagation of false information.”

Atia Tilarious, who had earlier been arrested and released for hosting a TV debate on the uprising, had gone to Kondengui after his first arrest, this time in the company of Amos Fofung, a reporter for The Guardian Post newspaper.

Fofung told IPS “I was let out of prison six months later. I was told the state attorney sent apologies for keeping me in jail without charge or evidence. I walked out and later travelled back to Buea. It made me bolder. I am still objective in my reporting.”

Meanwhile Fonjah Hanson Muki, proprietor of Cameroon Report, was arrested alongside five of his staff in the town of Bamenda, which is regarded as the epicentre of the uprising. They were accused by a military tribunal of propagatng false information. They were also accused of receiving money from secessionists abroad to push a separatist agenda through their reporting. The last of them, arrested on July 25, was released on Sept. 18. The media owner was ordered never to report on the ongoing crisis.

Skewed regulator

Before the clampdown on journalists reporting the crisis, the national communication council had issued a warning to journalists in the country, tacitly outlawing all media debates on the return to federation. Though the council’s decision preceded a speech by President Paul Biya making the topic taboo, French-language media organs continued the debate, while English-language tabloids piped down.

“You know we are not the same. There are things Le Messager or Le Jour can report and go free but The Guardian Post or The Sun will be sanctioned for doing same. The public does not understand, that is why you find citizens criticising us on social media, saying we are chicken-hearted,” a newspaper publisher who asked for anonymity told IPS.

The council has been criticised for siding with state officials and influential citizens. It meted out sanctions on Sep. 22, suspending some 20 media organs, publishers and journalists for periods ranging from one to six months. Most of the decisions were verdicts on complaints filed by government officials like the Minister of Forestry and influential citizens like Cameroonian football star and billionaire, Samuel Eto’o Fils.

Ten-year jail sentence for reporting on terrorism

Ahmed Aba, Cameroon correspondent for the Hausa service of the French international radio, RFI, is currently serving a ten-year jail term. He was found guilty of “laundering of proceeds of terrorism” and “non-denunciation of terrorism” by the military tribunal in Yaounde.

The verdict, handed down this year after two years of pre-trial detention, was appealed by his lawyer, Clement Nakong. Aba told IPS at the prison yard in Yaounde that he is innocent and hopes to be set free after the appeal. He said he was accused of working for the Nigeria-based Boko Haram terror group.

But the outcome of an appeal is uncertain as a government spokesman bluntly declared at a press conference that RFI supports terrorists. The appeal hearing was expected to begin among others in mid-August this year, but Aba’s name was taken off the list.

International and local institutions and activists have been advocating for his release. He was recently named one of the winners of the 2017 International Press Freedom Award by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another journalist, Gubai Gatama, was placed under investigation and interrogated at the police headquarters for reporting on Boko Haram.

“Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press,” said CPJ Africa Program Director Angela Quintal in a statement. “When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal. Cameroon must amend its laws and stop subjecting journalists–who are civilians–to military trial.”

On Sep. 20, CPJ issued a report, written by Quintal, warning that in addition to detaining journalists, authorities have banned news outlets deemed sympathetic to the Anglophone protesters, shut down internet in regions experiencing unrest, and prevented outside observers, including CPJ, from accessing the country by delaying the visa process.

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Public-Private Partnerships as the Answer . . . What was the Question?

26 September 2017 - 2:04am

Manuel F. Montes is Permanent Observer and Senior Advisor on Finance and Development, South Centre, Geneva

By Manuel F. Montes
NEW YORK, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

In discussions at the UN about achieving Agenda 2030, it has become de rigueur to highlight the role of the private sector. It is often introduced as the discovery of the idea that private sector investment and financing is indispensable to achieving Agenda 2030.

For developed country diplomats and their associated experts this new celebrity treatment appears to be an article of faith, at least during negotiations on economic matters in the UN. They are foisting a misleading Trumpian exaggeration that is technically harmful to development policymaking and to Agenda 2030.

The practical, and long-running, reality is that investment by enterprises has always been indispensable to growth and development. It is NOT a new reality. It’s NOT a reality specific only to Agenda 2030. Except in old-style socialist economies where capital is controlled centrally by intention, private sector resources have always dwarfed those of the public sector. This private-public resource imbalance is not a newly-found situation; it is not specific to Agenda 2030.

However, the discovery, unearthed in the UN, is being deployed to justify the so-called “leveraging” of limited public resources to “de-risk” private investment. At the end of the day, this amounts to seeking ways to subsidize the private sector for the things the public sector wants to happen in order to achieve Agenda 2030.

The new celebrity treatment of private investment and financing by developed countries is quite ironic because, as reported by the UN’s financing for development technical task force (in which the staffs of the IMF, the World Bank, and WTO participate) in its 2017 report, the growth of private non-residential investment (in new factories and ventures) in DEVELOPED countries is at an unprecedented low at this point in time.

The limit of developed country officials touting the indispensable role of the private sector is that they are unwilling and legally unable themselves to commit to developing countries that their private sectors will respond to and responsibly perform in support of the UN Agenda. What they can do is to think about means to devote some of their official development assistance (ODA) to provide subsidies and guarantees. And of course, developed countries seek credit for doing this – by adjusting the ways in which ODA is measured.

If the private sector finds it in its commercial interest to undertake Agenda 2030 activities, then such subsidies would be a waste of the already historically dwarfed taxpayer resources.

State leadership in channeling private resources for new facilities and economic activities has long been the secret of successful development. Singapore imposed mandatory employer and employee contributions to the Central Provident Fund which were then channeled to fund housing development.

The upfront costs of construction were paid back from mortgage payments. The private sector (employees and employers) provided the original financing and the private sector (households living in the housing development) paid back the upfront costs. The Singapore government knew even then, in the late 1960s, of the extreme dominance of the private resources in any development effort.

The truly fresh reality is that the financial sectors in developed countries are sitting on a pool of money which – instead of being channelled to creating new wealth in the form of new economic activities, new facilities and upgraded infrastructure – is being applied to trading of financial assets and computer entries representing claims on existing wealth.

For US companies particularly, instead of being invested towards creating new jobs, cash hoards are applied toward stock buybacks to increase the value of existing financial assets “in the market.”

This unstable (inverted) pyramid of money resting on existing assets is already – at present – flitting in and out of developing economies as private portfolio flows, creating short-term external liabilities and often swamping their control over their exchange rates, with harsh impacts on their export competitiveness (during the boom phases) and their ability to import critical inputs (during the inevitable busts).

Is the exaggerated, and allegedly newfound, indispensability of the private sector’s role in financing Agenda 2030 more a matter of seeking means to prop up the unstable financial assets pyramid hanging over developed economies?

The scaling up of “blended finance” and “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) is the new development silver bullet and happens to be very helpful to the propping up needed by developed country financial sectors. The World Bank has been involved in an effort to standardize provisions of PPP contracts to expand their use in developing countries.

Public-private partnerships are as old as development but the new models have seen the risks and costs of failing projects falling on the public sector. The incidence of failures is disquieting. There is, for example, the failed ten-year public-private project to privatize and modernize the London underground, whose costs are now sitting on Her Majesty Treasury’s books after 2009.

After an initial spurt, the central government of China had to rein in PPPs by local governments in the mid-1990s when the costs of failures rose steeply in the books of national banks. With these kinds of problems, the public sector in developing countries might as well take the risks themselves under the “old-style” approaches of blended finance.

This will require the kind of state leadership over the economy shown by Singapore in the late 1960s, through long-term planning and the mobilization of domestic resources. This will in turn require that developing countries recover “old-style” policy space to regulate financial lending and external capital flows.

Instead, as their contributions to the SDGs, developed countries and business associations like to distract from regulation by narrating examples of successful finance blending public guarantees with private money, then wring their hands about the difficulty of “scaling up” these instances. Bespoke approaches do not scale up easily. The way to scale up SDG investment is to provide enterprises with stable financing frameworks at reasonable cost as a platform on which they can undertake risk.

Policy space in developing countries is severely limited after decades of capital account liberalization. Governments are stymied from making available long-term finance at reasonable interest to finance infrastructure and new economic activities.

Countries with open capital accounts have a hard time providing these facilities because their banks have to provide their own lenders an interest rate high enough to compensate for possible foreign exchange losses when foreign investors experience ‘mood changes’ against the country.

Every developing country external payments crisis recalls the need to avoid currency mismatches in financing domestic investment. Foreign currency financing should be relied on mainly for imported goods and services that can be paid back with prospective foreign earnings.

Relying more on domestic currency financing will require upgrading the domestic financial sector, but this is a desirable end in itself. It is timely for developing countries to re-establish their development banks which they had shut down in many structural adjustment programmes. Development banks are able to provide long-term finance, while raising long-term resources themselves.

Rather than devote their limited resources to torturous ways to subsidize and seduce the private sector to take risks on the UN’s Agenda 2030, governments in developing countries should recapture their policy space to regulate and direct private sector resources to the service of sustainable development.

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Trump’s Threat of Total Destruction Is Unlawful & Extremely Dangerous

25 September 2017 - 11:40am

Security Council meeting: Maintenance of international peace and security. Nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By John Burroughs and Andrew Lichterman
NEW YORK, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

President Trump’s threat of total destruction of North Korea is utterly unacceptable. Also deplorable is the response of North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on 23 September at the United Nations.

He said that North Korean nuclear forces are “a war deterrent for putting an end to nuclear threat of the U.S. and for preventing its military invasion,” referred to “our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland,” and called Trump “mentally deranged”.

Instead of exchanging threats and insults, the two governments should agree on a non-aggression pact as a step toward finally concluding a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean War and permanently denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and North Korean threats are wrong as a matter of morality and common sense. They are also contrary to bedrock requirements of international law. Both countries, by engaging in a cycle of threats and military posturing, violate prohibitions on the threat of force to resolve disputes and on threats to use force outside the bounds of the law of armed conflict.

Trump’s threats carry more weight because the armed forces of the United States, backed by an immense nuclear arsenal, could accomplish the destruction of North Korea in short order.

A threat of total destruction negates the fundamental principle that the right to choose methods and means of warfare is not unlimited:
• Under the law of armed conflict, military operations must be necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of legitimate military objectives, and must not be indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering. Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits threatening an adversary that there will be no survivors or conducting hostilities on that basis. The Nuremberg Tribunal found the Nazi concept of “total war” to be unlawful because it runs contrary to all the rules of warfare and the moral principles underlying them, creating a climate in which “rules, regulations, assurances, and treaties all alike are of no moment” and “everything is made subordinate to the overmastering dictates of war.”
• Conducting a war with the intention of destroying an entire country would contravene the Genocide Convention, which prohibits killing “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ….”
• Limits on the conduct of warfare apply to both aggressor and defender states. Thus Trump’s statement that total destruction would be inflicted in defense of the United States and its allies is no justification. Moreover, the U.S. doctrine permitting preventive war, carried out in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, means that Trump’s reference to “defense” does not necessarily rule out U.S. military action in the absence of a North Korean attack or imminent attack.
• While the United States likely would not use nuclear weapons first in the Korean setting, it remains true that Trump’s references to “fire and fury” and “total destruction” raise the specter of U.S. nuclear use. North Korea has explicitly warned of use of its nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the law of armed conflict, as the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes. Threats of use of nuclear weapons are likewise unlawful. The illegal character of the threat or use of nuclear weapons is especially egregious where the express intent is to “totally destroy” an adversary, a purpose that from the outset rules out limiting use of force to the proportionate and necessary.

U.S. and North Korean threats of war are also unlawful because military action of any kind is not justified. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force except in self-defense against an armed attack or subject to UN Security Council authorization:
• Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force as a matter of self-defense only in response to an armed attack. No armed attack by either side has occurred or is imminent.
• The Security Council is addressing the matter and has not authorized use of force. Its resolution 2375 of 11 September 2017 imposing further sanctions on North Korea was adopted pursuant to UN Charter Article 41, which provides for measures not involving the use of force. There is no indication whatever in that and preceding resolutions of an authorization of use of force. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the need for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with North Korea. That approach is mandated by the UN Charter, whose Article 2(3) requires all members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

It is urgent that diplomatic overtures replace threats.
In the nuclear age, the first principle of diplomacy should be that adversaries talk to each other to the maximum possible extent, and in moments of crisis directly and unconditionally. We learned during the Cold War that even when the prospects for any tangible progress seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leaderships of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears, and build broader channels of communication.

Accordingly, the United States should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks. To facilitate negotiations, the United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities.

The immediate aim of negotiations should be a non-aggression pact, as a step toward a comprehensive peace treaty bringing permanent closure to the Korean War and providing for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula.

Success in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula will be much more likely if the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states also engage, as they are obligated to do, in negotiations for a world free of nuclear weapons.

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Even in School, More Than Half of All Children Aren’t Learning, Says UNESCO

25 September 2017 - 10:57am

Students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

Six out of ten children in the world are not achieving basic proficiency in reading and mathematics, a new report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shows.

The numbers, which estimate 617 million children in the world, includes 387 million who are primary school age and 230 million adolescents of secondary school age. These numbers mean that more than one half, or 56 percent, of all children will not be able to read or perform simple math by the time they reach adolescence. Similarly, adolescents readying to enter the workforce are lacking necessary education and skills.

This snowballing effect has serious implications for the future of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to achieve equality in quality education to promote “lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

The staggering numbers, however, hide vast regional differences. For instance, one out of three children in this age group, who are unable to complete education, live in sub-Saharan Africa. If this trend continues, 202 million children stand to be affected by a lack of education. The most disadvantaged group is young girls. The report estimates that more than 70 million girls will not be able to read at the minimum level.

The numbers are worrying because many children are in school – and still not learning. Of all 387 million primary aged children, 262 million are in classrooms. Similarly, 137 million adolescents in school are unable to read and write fluently.

“The figures are staggering both in terms of the waste of human potential and for the prospects of achieving sustainable development,” said Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, in a press release.
Montoya said the new data was a “wake-up call” for far greater investment in quality education.

While the global development goals for inclusive education are clear, it has become increasingly clear that access to schools, albeit a first step, is simply not good enough to ensure literacy.

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The Urbanization of Malnutrition

25 September 2017 - 7:52am

While Kuala Lumpur boasts islands of artificial rainforest, one of the fastest growing urbanized agglomerations stretching 2,245 sq.km around it, with 7.4 million people, has lost all ancient rainforests to destructive palm oil plantations. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, India, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

Rapid urbanization is increasingly shifting the impacts of malnutrition from rural to urban areas. One in three stunted under-five children out of 155 million across the world now lives in cities and towns.

Degrading land productivity, deepening impacts of changes in climate, conflict, and food insecurity, poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities are driving mostly the rural poor into towns and cities, with projections that just 13 years from now, 5 billion people will be living in the world’s urban areas. While the urban population is forecast to double within these 30 years (starting in 2000), the area taken over will triple, increasing by 1.2 million square kilometers, says the Global Land Report 2017.Not only will urban land area triple globally between 2000 to 2030, the projected expansion will take place on some of the world’s most productive croplands.

Close to 90 percent of urban population and area growth is forecast in Asia and Africa, with the most dramatic changes foreseen in Asia, according to this report from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

By 2050, 56 percent of Asia’s population will be urban. China crossed the halfway mark in 2012, India will in 2050. This major shifting of the character of a population, the character of its economic activity, from being predominantly rural to becoming urban is seen to catapult – particularly China and India – to global economic leadership. But its urban growth engines could be riding on a huge malnourished rural migrant population.

From 777 million chronically undernourished people worldwide, 2016 saw a jump to 815 million. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ latest major report, said the increased food insecurity owes to a greater  number of conflicts, often exacerbated by climate-related shocks. These two factors, which studies have now established to be inter-related, are what is driving most migration today, and possibly will continue to do so in the future unless strong multi-sector action is taken soon.

From rural food producers to net consumers in cities

Rural marginal landholders, the family farmers, compelled to abandon their food producing role, migrate to urban centres to join instead the growing millions of consumers. Where once they grew their own food, kept aside for their own needs first and the remainder sold to urban food chains, and reached out to the natural ecosystem in hard times, these farmers are migrating into an economic structure where access to cash alone determines their food security.

Poor urban households in many developing countries spend over half their earnings on food, studies find.

Although in cities, food is available year-round, a growing number of urban poor face a daily struggle to feed their families. Price fluctuations, sometimes of staples which are increasingly being imported from other parts of the world, hit the poor hardest.

An illness, a religious ceremony or a family wedding can cut deeply into the fragile food budget of the urban poor, paving the way for malnutrition and stunted childhoods.

When Sunita Behera came to India’s megacity Delhi with her three children, the youngest barely three years old, and her husband, a wage worker for a construction contractor building the 2010 Commonwealth Games stadium, they could afford meat and fish only once a week. But vegetables and lentils – said to be a poor man’s meat because of its rich protein content – were a regular part of their meals.

The price of lentils, India’s staple item, inched up because more was being imported to meet the demand. By 2014, the commonly used variety was 1.5 dollars a kilogram. Reducing the cooked quantity by half, Behera would mix rice starch to thicken it and sauté a few more chilies to spice it up.

In 2015, her husband fell from a construction scaffolding and could not work for months. Lentil prices had doubled and a month’s salary from her domestic work from one household would have gone for purchasing a month’s requirement of lentils alone. She didn’t buy them anymore and they mostly ate rice and potatoes. Her father back in the village grows green grams over half an acre every winter.

Many city-dwellers in Asia, and in India specifically, particularly men when they migrate alone, have limited time and no place to cook or store groceries, relying increasingly on street foods. Poor shelter, lack of sanitation and hygiene in slums, and insufficient family and community support – which were woven into the rural social fabric – further compound the problems of the urban poor. Under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are the result.

With over 65 percent of its population below the age of 35, India is set to supply more than half of the potential workforce over the coming decade in Asia, a recent study said. Over the last two decades, India’s urban population increased from 217 million to 377 million and is expected to reach 600 million, or 40 percent of the 1.5 billion population, by 2031. This demographically-powered economic growth is bound to see a huge rural-urban migration. Hundreds of ‘smart’ cities are already underway to capitalize on this migrating workforce.

On 1/5th hectare of land in Indian Sundarbans, Alpana Mandal has access to a range of food – fish from their tiny freshwater pond, eggs from a brood of hens and beans, leafy vegetable and rice – all self-grown. But the rising sea threatens this Ganges deltaic village and fleeing to Kolkata city could be their only means of survival. Photo credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Urbanisation, cropland loss and under-nutrition

Not only will urban land area triple globally between 2000 to 2030, the projected expansion will take place on some of the world’s most productive croplands, according to a 2016 study. Asia and Africa alone will account for over 80 percent of global cropland loss. Asia’s 3 percent is world’s highest absolute loss, leading to a 6 percent annual food production loss. Currently around 60 percent of cropland around towns and smaller cities have irrigation facilities and are twice as productive.

This dynamic adds pressure to potentially strained future food systems, says the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

China and India will continue to urbanize rapidly, but with different spatial patterns and development dynamics, it said. China’s cropland losses between 2000 and 2030 are calculated to be 5-6 percent, adding up to 9 million hectares and translating into as high as one-tenth of food production loss.

India’s absolute urban area expansion until 2030 would take over around 4 million hectares, half that of China. The South Asian nation will lose 2 percent production by 2030, mainly because the nature of its urbanization will be more in the shape of small towns and 100,000-population cities, according to the PNAP study. Its peri-urban regions would for the time being continue to grow food and rural-urban linkages have the potential for sustainability.

Indian experts however said India’s infrastructure developments and land use change in favour of industries and mining is already severely affecting the food and nutritional security of the country’s poorest, including many of the 104 million partly forest-dependent indigenous population.

Owing to hundreds of land related conflicts that over the last two decades delayed proposed industries, mining projects, dams and other infrastructure, the government has set aside close to 2.68 million hectares of land-bank, barricading some of them in eight states, according to a recent news report.

An industrial corridor is being planned between the financial hub of Mumbai and the capital New Delhi, which will develop as many as eight new manufacturing cities across six states. India constructed 20,000 km of new and upgraded roads between 2012 and 2017 to improve transport systems. An acute shortage of 18 million urban housing units across India in 2012 has led the government to convert the city fringes for expansion, to cite only a few urban infrastructural projects.

Even when the aggregate amount of cropland on city fringes is high, the weak link is that each patch is relatively small, with vulnerable smallholders finding it difficult to hold out against the government or aggressive property developers.

Cropland loss can be compensated by the global food trade but its impacts are borne mainly by the urban poor. Agricultural intensification and expanding into grazing commons and less productive land can compensate for food production loss. In South Asia, however, much of the suitable land is already under intensification. With climate change already adversely affecting yields, further intensification will be counter-productive.

Policies to ensure sustainable urbanization and adequate quantity and quality of food supply include protecting peri-urban agricultural land from conversion, incentivizing farmers in proximity to cities to maximize production, and encouraging urban residents to grow food even on small patches and rooftops.

However, to date, the quality of governance in countries with important cropland losses tends to be medium to low in emerging economies like India and China, the PNAP study said.

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G77 a Key Partner in Reform of the UN System

25 September 2017 - 6:03am

Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, in his address to the 41st annual ministerial meeting of the Group of 77

By Miroslav Lajcak
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

When the Charter of Algiers was adopted 50 years ago, it marked the unity of the Group of 77. This unity has not wavered since then.

Credit: UN Photo

The G77 is the biggest group at the UN, made up of more than two thirds of Member States. It is also the most diverse– bringing together perspectives and priorities from across the world.

Today I want to focus on the key role played by the Group of 77 in strengthening our multilateral work. And I want to identify opportunities for stronger cooperation, as we head into the 72nd Session.

I will first point to the Group’s commitment to maintaining momentum around the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement.

These two frameworks involve big commitments. And big commitments need loud reminders to ensure they are met. The Group of 77 has spoken in a united voice. Over the past two years, it has worked to remind us all of the financial pledges made to humanity and to the planet. And I intend to add my voice over the coming year.

G77 members have also played a major role in promoting specific goals and issues. We have seen this through initiatives to mobilize youth for Sustainable Development. We will see this again, with the launch of the International Decade for Action on “Water for Sustainable Development” in 2018. And the Group’s commitment to combating climate change will be clear throughout COP23, which will be chaired by Fiji.

In addition, the Group has also acted as an import platform for south-south cooperation. I stand ready to support the preparation leading to the Second UN Conference on South-South Cooperation, to be hosted by Argentina in 2019

This focus on financing and partnerships is very much in line with the priorities of my Presidency. I intend to work with the Group of 77 throughout the coming year to identify opportunities for the sharing of ideas and lessons learned.

Second, I want to stress that an active G77 is crucial in other areas.

In 2018 the General Assembly will be charged with adopting Global Compacts for Refugees and Migrants. To succeed, we must focus on the needs of people, rather than our individual positions or ideologies. And we will need active engagement from the Group of 77.

Additionally, I will convene a High-Level Event on Sustaining Peace in April 2018. It will offer us an important opportunity to strengthen UN actions around peace and prevention. I intend to consult many G77 members as we work towards this event.

Finally, another opportunity for better cooperation lies in our collective goal for a stronger United Nations.

The 72nd Session will see UN Member States consider the reform agenda of the UN’s Secretary-General. This will apply to the UN development system, peace and security architecture, and management. I am committed to facilitating open and inclusive dialogue on reforms. The G77 will be a key partner in this process.

For the UN to carry out the mandates set by Member States, it needs adequate funding. We will need a timely agreement on the UN regular budget for 2018-2019. I commend the Group for its active engagement in this area.

The Group of 77 has a loud – and a united – voice. It can call attention to the needs and priorities of its members. This helps to ensure a prominent role for Least Developing Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States on the international stage.

But, more importantly, the Group can shed light on the needs and priorities of the people living in these countries.

Many of them are facing challenges. Some have experienced the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma and Maria. Others are dealing with the effects of terrorism, conflict, or drought.

These people, however, are also creating opportunities. They are working to mediate conflicts – start new businesses – and advocate for people and the planet.

Let us ensure that the 72nd Session involves stronger cooperation between the G77 and UN bodies, including the General Assembly. And let us ensure that this cooperation is focused on the people you are all are here to represent.

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