Interpress News Service

Will Governments Support Access to Information Driving Development?

27 July 2017 - 1:24pm

Gerald Leitner, is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

By Gerald Leitner
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

In an Information Society, access, and the ability to apply and re-use information is at the heart of individual fulfilment and social participation. Long before the idea of an Information Society came into use, libraries connected people to this, connecting them with literature and learning, and allowing them to improve their lives, and those of their families and communities.

Gerald Leitner. Credit: IFLA

The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report 2017, produced by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, makes the case for investment by governments, and other stakeholders, in delivering access as a driver of progress.

The spread of the Internet, and the content it holds, creates unique possibilities to offer access to information. Yet there are barriers standing in the way to realising this potential. These present us with two scenarios.

In the first, rates of physical connectivity to the Internet remain low in remote or poorer areas, allowing a digital divide to become a development divide. A lack of relevant content, and the ability to read and use it, prevents others from seeing the value in connectivity.

Information poverty robs people of opportunities to keep their families healthy, update farming practices to respond to climate change, or find jobs. And rather than full information and evidence, decisions on civic, economic and social life are taken based on misinformation and superstition.

In the second, people learn to get the best out of the Internet, knowing how to keep themselves and their families safe online. They can find the information they need, at the right time and in the right format, and apply it to changing real world problems.

They also develop the skills necessary to create their own content, further enriching available information resources. New markets are created, new communities formed, and innovation, creativity and civic participation thrives.

DA2I 2017 argues that four factors make the difference: physical connectivity, social context, individual and community skills, and the legal and policy framework. Based on indicators from established, recognised sources, the report offers a first look at how regions and countries are doing in each of these four areas, and how performance on these is linked to other characteristics, such as poverty or gender inequality.

It finds that while there is progress in some areas, such as numbers with Internet connections, big gaps in terms of skills and uses remain, and the gender digital divide is even widening.

It also provides evidence of the contribution access makes to achieving four of the focus Sustainable Development Goals at this year’s UN High Level Political Forum, which took place on 10-19 July – agriculture, health, gender equality and innovation.

Most of all, it underlines how essential libraries are to development. When they benefit from the resources and legal frameworks they need, they can bring their unique potential to bear – as trusted, community institutions, connected both to the global Information society and alert to local needs and interests, with staff dedicated to providing meaningful access to information.

IFLA itself has made the most of its unique position as the global voice of libraries, working with representatives of 73 countries to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and the role that libraries can play in their realisation.

We have been overwhelmed by the response so far, but this is just the start of an ongoing process – the next stop is a global meeting in early 2018. We look forward to returning with a new DA2I report next year, with updated statistics, and even more examples of how libraries are making a difference, from the local to the global level, to achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

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Asian Financial Crisis: Lessons Learned and Unlearned

27 July 2017 - 12:02pm

Asset and currency markets of all emerging economies with strong international reserves and investment positions, including China, have been hit on several occasions in the past ten years. Office buildings at night, Hong Kong - Credit: Bigstock

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Switzerland, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

Debates are taking place on whether there will be another financial crisis, whether in some part of the world or that is global in scope.  Governments draw lessons from financial crises to adopt measures to prevent their recurrence.  However, such measures are often designed to address the root causes of the last crisis but not the next one.  More importantly, they can actually become the new sources of instability and crisis. 

Much of what has recently been written about the Asian crisis on the occasion of its 20th anniversary praises the lessons drawn and the measures implemented thereupon.  But they often fail to appreciate that while these might have been effective in preventing the crisis in 1997, they may be inadequate and even counterproductive today because they entail deeper integration into global finance.

An immediate step taken in Asia was to abandon currency pegs and move to flexible exchange rates in order to facilitate external adjustment and prevent one-way bets for speculators.  This has a lot to commend it, but its effects depend on how capital flows are managed.

Under free capital mobility no regime can guarantee stable rates.  Currency crises can occur under flexible exchange rates as under fixed exchange rates.   Unlike fixed pegs, floating at times of strong inflows can cause nominal appreciations and encourage even more short-term inflows.  Indeed nominal appreciations have been quite widespread during the surges in capital inflows in the new millennium, including in some East Asian economies.

Second, most emerging economies, including those in Asia, have liberalized foreign direct investment regimes and opened up equity markets to foreigners on the grounds that equity liabilities are less risky and more stable than external debt.  As a result, non-resident holdings as a percent of market capitalization have reached unprecedented levels, ranging between 20 and 50 per cent compared to 15 per cent in the US.

This has made the emerging economies highly susceptible to conditions in mature markets.  Since emerging economies lack a strong local investor base, the entry and exit of even relatively small amounts of foreign investment now result in large price swings.

Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva.

Third, they have also sought to reduce currency mismatches in balance sheets and exposure to exchange rate risk by opening domestic bond markets to foreigners and borrowing in their own currencies.  As a result sovereign debt in many emerging economies is now internationalized to a greater extent than that in reserve-currency countries.

Whereas about one-third of US treasuries are held by non-residents, this proportion is much higher in many emerging economies, including in Asia.  Unlike US treasuries this debt is not in the hands of foreign central banks but in the portfolios of fickle investors.

Although opening bond markets has allowed the sovereign to pass the currency risk to lenders, it has led to loss of autonomy over domestic long-term rates and entailed a significant exposure to interest rate shocks from the US.  This could prove equally and even more damaging than currency exposure in the transition of the US Fed from low-interest to high-interest regime and normalization of its balance sheet.

Fourth, there has been extensive liberalization of the capital account for residents.  Corporations have been encouraged to become global players by borrowing and investing abroad, resulting in a massive accumulation of debt in low-interest reserve currencies since 2008.

They have also borrowed through foreign subsidiaries.  These are not always repatriated and registered as capital inflows and external debt, but they have a similar impact on corporate fragility.  Hence the reduction in currency mismatches is largely limited to the sovereign while private corporations carry significant exchange rate risks.

Fifth, limits on the acquisition of foreign securities, real estate assets and deposits by resident individuals and institutional investors have been raised or abolished.  A main motive was to relieve upward pressures on currencies from the surge in capital inflows.  Thus, liberalization of resident outflows was used as a substitute to restrictions over non-resident inflows.  Although this has led to accumulation of private assets abroad, these would not be readily available at times of capital flight.

Sixth, banking regulations and supervision have no doubt improved, restricting currency and maturity mismatches in bank balance sheets.  However, banks now play a much less prominent role in the intermediation of international capital flows than in the 1990s.  International bond issues by corporations have grown much faster than cross-border bank lending directly or through local banks and a very large part of capital inflows now goes directly into the securities market.

These measures have failed to prevent credit and asset market bubbles in most countries in the region.  Increases in non-financial corporate debt since 2007 in Korea and Malaysia are among the fastest, between 15 and 20 percentage points of GDP.  At around 90 per cent of GDP Malaysia has the highest household debt in the developing world.  In Korea the ratio of household debt to GDP is higher than the ratio in the US and the average of the OECD.

 

International Reserves

Asian economies, like many others, are commended for building self-insurance by accumulating large amounts of international reserves.  Moreover, an important part of these came from current account surpluses, not just capital inflows.  Indeed, all countries directly hit by the 1997 crisis made a significant progress in the management of their external balances in the new millennium, running surpluses or keeping deficits under control.

However, whether or not these reserves would be sufficient to provide adequate protection against massive and sustained exit of capital is highly contentious.  After the Asian crisis, external vulnerability came to be assessed in terms of adequacy of reserves to meet short-term external debt in foreign currencies.

However, there is not always a strong correlation between pressure on reserves and short-term external debt.  Often, in countries suffering large reserve losses, sources other than short-term foreign currency debt play a greater role.  Currencies can come under stress if there is a significant foreign presence in domestic deposit and securities markets and the capital account is open for residents.

A rapid and generalized exit could create significant turbulence with broader macroeconomic consequences, even though losses due to declines in asset prices and currencies fall on foreign investors and mitigate the drain of reserves.

In all four Asian countries directly hit by the 1997 crisis, international reserves now meet short-term external dollar debt.  But they do not always leave much room to accommodate a sizeable and sustained exit of foreign investors from domestic securities and deposit markets and capital flight by residents.

This is particularly the case in Malaysia where the margin of reserves over short-term dollar debt is quite small while foreign holdings in local securities markets are sizeable.  Indeed its currency has been under constant pressure since mid-2014.  As foreign holders of domestic securities started to unload ringgit denominated assets, markets fell sharply and foreign reserves declined from over $130 billion to $97 billion by June 2015.  In October 2015 the ringgit hit the lowest level since September 1998 when it was pegged to the dollar.  Currently it is below the lows seen during the turmoil in January 1998.

Deepening integration into the inherently unstable international financial system before attaining economic and financial maturity and without securing multilateral mechanisms for orderly and equitable resolution of external liquidity and debt crises could thus prove to be highly costly.
In Indonesia reserves exceed short-term dollar debt by a large margin, but foreign holdings in its local bond and equity markets are also substantial and the current account is in deficit.  The country was included among Fragile 5 in 2013 by Morgan Stanley economists for being too dependent on unreliable foreign investment to finance growth.

Capital account regimes of emerging economies are much more liberal today both for residents and non-residents than in the 1990s.  Asset and currency markets of all emerging economies with strong international reserves and investment positions, including China, have been hit on several occasions in the past ten years, starting with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

The Lehman impact was strong but short-lived because of the ultra-easy monetary policy introduced by the US.  Subsequently these markets came under pressure again during the ‘taper tantrum’ in May 2013 when the US Fed revealed its intention to start reducing its bond purchases; in October 2014 due to growing fears over global growth and the impact of an eventual rise in US interest rates; in late 2015 on the eve of the increase in policy rates in the US for the first time in seven years.

These bouts of instability did not inflict severe damage because they were temporary, short-lived dislocations caused by shifts in market sentiments without any fundamental departure from the policy of easy money.  But they give strong warnings for the kind of turmoil emerging economies could face in the event of a fundamental reversal of US monetary policy.

Should self-insurance built-up prove inadequate, economies facing large and sustained capital flight would have two options.  First, seek assistance from the IMF and central banks of reserve-currency countries.  Or second, engineer an unorthodox response, even going beyond what Malaysia did during the 1997 crisis, bailing in international creditors and investors by introducing, inter alia, exchange restrictions and temporary debt standstills, and using selective controls in trade and finance to safeguard economic activity and employment.

The Asian countries, like most emerging economies, seem to be determined not to go to the IMF again.  But, serious obstacles may be encountered in implementing unilateral heterodox measures, including creditor litigation and sanctions by creditor countries.  Deepening integration into the inherently unstable international financial system before attaining economic and financial maturity and without securing multilateral mechanisms for orderly and equitable resolution of external liquidity and debt crises could thus prove to be highly costly.

This paper draws on a recent book by the author; Playing with Fire: Deepened Financial Integration and Changing Vulnerabilities of the Global South, Oxford University Press, 2017. 

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Can Economic Growth Be Really Green?

27 July 2017 - 7:37am

Credit: GGGI

By IPS World Desk
ROME/SEOUL, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How?

The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy capacity was from renewable sources. And solar power will likely be the lowest-cost energy option in almost all parts of the world in less than 10 years.

This bold, fact-based information has been provided by Frank Rijsberman, the Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a well-known expert in the field of sustainable development and former CEO of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium.

Frank Rijsberman. Credit: GGGI

Building on this documented information, Rijsberman, in an article Will fossil fuels and conventional cars be obsolete by 2030?, which was published on 23 February in The Huffington Post, asks “Is it all over for fossil fuels?”

The GGGI chief then answers: “Tony Seba, Author of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,” predicts that the industrial era of centralized fossil-fuel based energy production and transportation will be all over by 2030.”

Solar Energy, Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

Solar energy and self-driving electric vehicles will take over, explains Rijsberman. “New business models will allow people to call a self-driving car on their phone for a ride, ending the need for private car ownership.”

This change will occur as quickly as the transition from horse-drawn carriages to cars a century ago.

“The Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and independent think-tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative echoed Seba’s prediction in their recent report, stating that electric vehicles and solar panels could dominate by 2020, sparking revolution in the energy sector and putting an end to demand growth for oil and coal.”

The Global Green Growth Institute invited experts to debate Seba’s “clean disruption” last month [January 2017] at the World Economic Forum in Davos (see short summary of our conclusions here).

“We discussed what are the main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure. The most immediate barriers are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation. The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate these subsidies, yet they continue to this day, Rijsberman informed.

“Significant volumes of investment are shifting away from fossil fuels and towards alternative energy services, particularly in countries with binding renewable energy targets such as in Europe.”

The Energy Transition

According to the head of GGGI — a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies–the energy transition can accelerate through the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally fossil fuel subsidies still amount to some 450 billion dollars per year, warned Rijsberman.

Even African governments, with limited budgets and many competing priorities still subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of 20-25 billion dollars per year according to Dr. Frannie Laeutier of the African Development Bank, speaking in Davos, he added.

Rijsberman then underlined that the best way for governments to attract the private sector is to stand aside (i.e., remove impeding policies such as fossil fuel subsidies and enable market access) and let the market develop by itself.

“Easier said than done, of course, for countries with monopolistic power utilities, with large political influence; or for countries with heavy subsidies on electricity prices.”

Unsustainable Depletion of Natural Resources

The Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, which was established in 2012, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, has been accelerating the transition toward a new model of economic growth –green growth– founded on principles of social inclusivity and environmental sustainability.

In contrast to conventional development models that rely on the “unsustainable depletion and destruction of natural resources,” green growth is a coordinated advancement of economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and social inclusion driven by the sustainable development and use of global resources, according to GGGI.

Sirpa Jarvenpaa. Credit: GGGI

On this, GGGI incoming Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Communications, Sirpa Jarvenpaa, in an interview to IPS, emphasised the importance of the Institute in “supporting developing and emerging country governments in their transition to an inclusive green growth development.”

“We do it through mainstreaming green growth in development and sector plans, mobilising finance to green growth investments, and improving multi-directional knowledge sharing and learning for achieving green outcomes on the ground.”

Green Jobs, Clean Energy

Sirpa Jarvenpaa explains that, globally, GGGI’s strategy contributes to “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, green job creation, access to sustainable services (clean energy, sustainable waste management improved sanitation, and sustainable transport), improved air quality, access to enhanced ecosystem services, and climate change adaptation.”

In Jordan, for example, GGGI is helping the government prepare a national green growth plan –an overarching and influential policy instrument enabling incorporation of green growth objectives across the national investment planning, Jarvenpaa told IPS.

There, the Institute works in partnership with the Ministry of Environment as well as the German Ministry for the Environment

This interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation believes “economic growth and environmental sustainability are not merely compatible objectives; their integration is essential for the future of humankind.”

For that, it works with developing and emerging countries to design and deliver programs and services that demonstrate new pathways to pro-poor economic growth. And it provides member countries with the tools to help build institutional capacity and develop green growth policy, strengthen peer learning and knowledge sharing, and engage private investors and public donors.

The Global Green Growth Institute supports stakeholders two complementary and integrated work-streams –Green Growth Planning & Implementation and Knowledge Solutions– that deliver comprehensive products and services designed to assist in developing, financing and mainstreaming green growth in national economic development plans.

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Yemen Records 400,000 Cholera Cases

27 July 2017 - 2:37am

Tents set up at Alsabeen hospital in Sana'a Yemen for screening suspected cholera cases.

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

The directors of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) released a joint statement today shedding light on a deadly cholera epidemic engulfing war-torn Yemen.

More than 400,000 cases of cholera are suspected, and nearly 1,900 people have died from associated cases in the last three months alone.

The dire situation results from a culmination of factors, such as modern tactics of warfare that destroy water pipelines, as well as continuous bombing of schools and hospitals. More than 60 percent of the population remains uncertain of their next meal as famine looms.

Nearly 2 million children are suffering from malnutrition, and are easy targets of the water-borne disease. The report estimates that nearly 80 percent of all children need immediate humanitarian assistance.

Amid the lack of adequate international support, community leaders have stepped up to the task—more than 16,000 volunteers visit families from door-to-door to raise awareness about cholera, and assist them with information to protect themselves.

Many health-care workers, as many as 30,000, haven’t been paid in nearly 10 months. Still, that doesn’t keep them from their work.

Similarly, international organisations like UNICEF and WHO have set up nearly 1,000 diarrhoea treatment centers to provide key supplies, like food and medicine. They are also similarly assisting, with the help of the community, to rebuild the local infrastructure.

There is hope, and more than 99 percent who are now showing cholera-related symptoms have a good chance of surviving.

The two-year deadly conflict in Yemen between the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) and Houthi rebels in one of the most poorest Arab countries has produced devastating results—one report in 2016, which was quickly withdrawn, estimated that nearly 60% of children died from attacks by the SLC.

The UN agency leaders, Anthony Lake (UNICEF), David Beasley (WFP) and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (WHO) urged the international community to “redouble its support for the people of Yemen,” following a trip to the country themselves.

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Barbados Steps Up Plans for Renewables, Energy Efficiency

26 July 2017 - 8:01pm

Barbados’ minister with responsibility for energy, Darcy Boyce (right). Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

With wind, solar and other renewable energy sources steadily increasing their share in energy consumption across the Caribbean, Barbados is taking steps to further reduce the need for CO2-emitting fossil fuel energy.

The tiny Caribbean island is rolling out a project to reduce both electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while driving down government’s fuel import bill.In addition to changing out the street lights and retrofitting the 13 government buildings, the project will also see the use of more electric vehicles in Barbados.

The country is hoping to save up to 3 million dollars in electricity bills annually with the implementation of a 24.6-million-dollar Public Sector Smart Energy Programme (PSPP).

The project, which is being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the European Union (EU), includes changing out close to 30,000 street lights across the country, replacing them with Light Emitting Diode (LED) fixtures.

“So, this project will save us a couple million dollars a year, [up to] 3 million a year. It is a small amount in the context of Barbados but it is a start to save some money,” Minister with responsibility for Energy Darcy Boyce said, while explaining that based on a 2009 study, government is aiming for a 29 percent per year reduction in electricity consumption through various methods of renewable energy use and energy efficiency.

“When that is combined with the work to retrofit 13 government buildings with solar photovoltaic, it begins to add up.”

Boyce acknowledged that government is a significant user of electricity, adding that the street lamps account for a great portion of that usage.

Renewables have become a major contributor to the energy transition occurring in many parts of the world and the growth in renewables continues to bolster climate change mitigation.

In December 2013, Barbados passed the Electric Light and Power Act (ELPA) in parliament and later amended it in April 2015. It replaced the original 116-year-old Electric Light and Power Act which was passed in 1899.

The ELPA revised the law relating to the supply and use of electricity and promotes the generation of electricity from sources of renewable energy, to enhance the security and reliability of the supply of electricity and to provide for related matters.

A key aim of the government in passing the Act was reducing the Bds$800 million fuel import bill (50 percent of which is used to generate electricity). It also intended to promote the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources and allows independent power producers to supply electricity in addition to the Barbados Light and Power Company (BL&P).

Boyce urged those involved in the PSPP to “keep the momentum going”, adding that it was his intention for Barbados to reach 100 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2045 as outlined in the BL&P 100/100 Vision.

“The Light & Power has reached to a wonderful point where they are committing to have 100 percent renewable energy within 30 years. I pressed them and I wanted them there by 2035 but they say no, 2045 and I will live with 2045,” Boyce said.

“And that I think is really a very good commitment to the country’s economy because when we reduce the use of fossil fuels, when we reduce the importation of fossil fuels whether it is by efficiency gains or it is by renewable energy, we reduce the amount of foreign exchange that we use.”

The shift towards renewables is driving down greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, buildings’ heating and cooling, and transport.

In addition to changing out the street lights and retrofitting the 13 government buildings, the project will also see the use of more electric vehicles in Barbados.

So far government has two electric vehicles as part of a pilot project and is expected to procure about six more by the end of this year.

Head of the Green Economy and Resilience Section of the EU Peter Sturesson urged officials to go even further to focus on energy efficiency, pointing out that this is an important aspect if the country is to save critical foreign exchange.

“As you know, the European Union remains committed to support renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable development in Barbados and in the Caribbean region,” Sturesson said.

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

Sturesson pointed out that the project marked “yet another milestone” in Barbados’ development.

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

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

The effective cost of electricity in Barbados is around $0.65/kWh. This rate varies slightly from residential to commercial power users. Roughly 60 percent of the bill is simply a fuel charge. This component, the Fuel Clause Adjustment (FCA), varies month to month but has been increasing at a normalized rate of 3.7 percent per year over the past seven years.

Representative of the IDB Juan Carlos De La Hoz Viñas said there are many benefits to be derived by reducing the cost of electricity in the country.

“We all know and it’s part of the day to day conversation with the private sector that electricity costs are a major hurdle in terms of doing business in the country. So every attempt to reduce the electricity cost is a path to a greater competitiveness in the country,” he said.

“This is part of a long-standing cooperation between the IDB, European Union and the Government of Barbados to establish a sustainable energy matrix in Barbados.”

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Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Council

26 July 2017 - 12:44pm

An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity.

And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development aid or diverting funds to boost domestic security.

“The danger of sea level rise is very real and threatens not just the Maldives and other low-lying nations, but also major coastal cities like New York and Miami,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the outgoing Permanent Representative of the Maldives, told IPS.

Sareer, who held the chairmanship of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over two years, said that even though projections vary, scientists anticipate at least three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would be problematic for the Maldives, SIDS and many other coastal regions. We are currently building coastal defences to mitigate the danger, but need more support,” said Sareer, currently Foreign Secretary of the Maldives.

Along with Maldives, there are several low lying UN member states who are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Micronesia.

Asked if the United Nations and the international community were doing enough to help alleviate low-lying small island states, Sareer told IPS: “There has been a heightened focus on the risks SIDS face in recent years, not just from climate change but economic challenges as well. We are grateful for the progress, of course, but it is fair to say we still have much further to go.”

Beginning July 31, the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS), one of the major US television networks, is planning to do a series of stories on “Sinking Islands” threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of over 390,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The island nation was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of tsunami damage estimated at over $400 million.

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsumani.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic publicity gimmick back in October 2009, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers in scuba diving gear, to highlight the threat of global warming.

And earlier, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told delegates that if his country is to host the annual meeting in the foreseeable future, the meeting may have to be held underwater in a gradually disappearing island nation.

The World Bank has warned that with “future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged”.

But still, the Maldives which graduated from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing nation in 2011, is very much alive – and currently campaigning for a two-year non-permanent seat in the most powerful body at the United Nations: the 15-member Security Council.

This is the first time in its 51 years of UN Membership that the Maldives has presented its candidacy for a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Over the past 25 years, only six SIDS have served on the Council, out of the 125 elected members during that period. SIDS constitutes 20% of the UN Membership.

Since January 2015, the Maldives has chaired the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group it helped form in 1990, leading a coalition of 39 member states, of which 37 are UN Members, through landmark agreements on sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable urbanization, and the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway- the sustainable development programme of action for SIDS.

In a long-planned effort, the Maldives put forward its candidature on 30 January 2008: ten years before the election, which will take place next year in the 193-member UN General Assembly which will vote for new, rotating non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Sareer said the Maldives seeks to bring a fresh and unique perspective to old challenges.”

And the Maldives believes that non-traditional security threats are as important if not more, than traditional security threats, in today’s world. The Maldives also believes in multi-dimensional approaches to solving issues.

Despite its size, he said, the Maldives has always punched above its weight on the international stage. And it has been a staunch advocate for climate change, and a champion of small States.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS Maldives has a commendable mission to realise – to push for action on climate change through the Security Council.

This, though a laudable aspiration, will be an uphill battle given that a powerful Permanent Member of the UNSC (the United States) is a declared opponent of the majority global view on climate change, having recently pulled out of the Paris Accord. It will also run in to opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

However, if elected to the UNSC, Maldives is likely to enjoy the sympathy of the vast majority of the membership of the UN, including those who initiated a movement to seek an advisory opinion in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on responsibility for global warming and climate change in 2012, said Kohona, who co-chaired the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and is a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“It will need to deploy considerable resources to secure a seat and then to realise its goal
because Security Council elections, unfortunately, have become a competition among aspirants to see who can spend most on entertaining, junkets and obligatory visits to capitals. These ‘poojas’ become bigger and bigger by the year,” said Kohona.

He said Maldives will be a trend setter for small island developing states, which also must be able to play a role in the UNSC. “They have concerns of global import. It is unsatisfactory in every sense for the UNSC to increasingly become a preserve of big and the powerful.”

He also pointed out that Maldives is well placed and eminently qualified to raise awareness on climate change, global warming and sea level rise. These are threats to the very existence of humanity and could very well morph in to threats to global peace and security.

Already the flood of refugees is having a destabilizing effect on Europe. Refugee flows, which could be massive, resulting from climate change would pose a greater threat to global peace and stability requiring UNSC action. Such action could be taken preemptively rather than after the catastrophe has occurred, he noted.

“Seeing our loyal friend and neighbour seeking a non permanent Security Council seat should also encourage Sri Lanka to do the same in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

Asked whether the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement reflected the fears expressed by SIDS on sea level rise, Sareer said sea level rise is just one of the many impacts of climate change, which are of significance to SIDS.

“The Paris Agreement’s main objective is to enhance climate actions, and hence doesn’t directly address sea level rise. However it did include a strong temperature goal and a stand-alone article on loss and damage, which indirectly address these concerns. What is important now is for countries to make deep cuts in their emissions immediately.”

Asked whether the Maldives expects funding from the multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF), he said: “We do. The GCF is a primary multilateral vehicle to deliver climate financing to developing countries and therefore ramping up support for the GCF will be critical for all vulnerable countries.”

However, other funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are also crucial for transforming climate action in SIDS and also in developing countries.

He said changing rainfall patterns and increasing salinization caused by rising sea levels have led to challenges in securing reliable supplies of drinking water in many Small Island Developing States.

In this context, the Maldives submitted one of the first projects approved through the GCF which will see almost a third of the population of the Maldives becoming freshwater self-sufficient over the next five years.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Migrant Contributions to Development: Creating a “New Positive Narrative”

26 July 2017 - 10:42am

Pakistani migrant workers build a skyscraper in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Despite the “undeniable” benefits of migration, barriers including public misconceptions continue to hinder positive development outcomes, participants said during a series of thematic consultations here on safe, orderly, and regular migration.

At a time where divisive rhetoric on migration can be seen around the world, member State representatives, UN agencies, and civil society gathered at the UN for a two-day meeting to discuss migrants’ contributions to sustainable development as well as the challenges in harnessing such contributions.

In her opening remarks, Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour noted that though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

“This must be reversed so that policy is evidence-based and not perception-driven. Policies responding to false perceptions reinforce the apparent validity of these erroneous stereotypes and make recourse to proper policies that much harder,” she added.

Among such evidence is the 575 billion dollars in global remittances transferred by international migrants to their families, almost 430 billion of which went to developing countries.

These essential lifelines, which are are three times larger than official development assistance (ODA) and more stable than other forms of private capital flows, have contributed to progress on key aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in migrants’ countries of origin, including poverty reduction, food security, and healthy families.

Benefits can also be seen in the countries where migrants reside as 85 percent of migrant workers’ earnings remain in the countries of destination.

Migrants also tend to fill labour market gaps at all skill levels in countries of destination, advancing economic growth, job creation, and service delivery.

Participants noted that this contributes to a “triple win” scenario for the country of origin, country of destination, and the migrants themselves.

“When migrants succeed, societies do too,” said Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and International Security of Egypt and one of the sessions’ moderators, Hisham Badr.

Contributions of migrants to development in origin and destination countries go beyond financial remittances and include transfers of skills and knowledge and entrepreneurship.

Despite representing 13 percent of the overall population in the United States, immigrants made up over 20 percent of entrepreneurs, building businesses from popular search engines to environmentally-friendly cars.

In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2016 had at least one founder who immigrated to the U.S. or was the child of immigrants. According to the New American Economy, those firms alone employed almost 20 million globally and generated more than 5 trillion dollars in revenue.

This diaspora is also often “bridge-builders,” maintaining strong links to their countries of origin.

However, participants noted that inadequate policies stand in the way of positive development outcomes.

“The crucial issue is not that migration and development are linked, but how they can be leveraged to create positive development outcomes,” Badr told delegates.

Arbour noted that that cost of sending and receiving remittances remains excessively high. Currently, the global average cost of transactions is over 7 percent, significantly greater than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of 3 percent.

The lack of access to financial services also poses a major obstacle as it prevents the investment of remittances into productive activities and sustainable development in remittance recipients’ communities.

Arbour stressed the need to boost financial inclusion, calling it “low hanging fruit.”

Participants particularly highlighted the importance of integrating migration into development planning, including the need to engage with the diaspora to create more effective migration and development policies.

Numerous UN member States have already launched initiatives to include the diaspora, including Jamaica, which hosts a biennial conference to motivate greater involvement in the country’s socio-economic development.

During the consultations, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) launched a similar platform for diaspora communities to contribute to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), the UN’s first intergovernmentally negotiated and comprehensive agreement on international migration, which is expected to be adopted in 2018.

“Diaspora communities have emerged as key influencers in global development practices,” said iDiaspora Forum moderator Martin Russell.

“The iDiaspora Forum is a platform designed to initiate ideas, learn lessons, and share best practices. Diaspora engagement is a booming industry,” he added.

In the final panel of the meeting, which aims to gather input and recommendations to feed into the GCM, Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Managing Director Marta Foresti pointed to the compact as a unique opportunity that the international community cannot afford to miss.

“With the global compact, we can create a new positive narrative,” she concluded.

Organized by the president of the General Assembly and co-facilitators including the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Switzerland, the informal session is the fourth in a series of six to take place this year.

The last two consultations will take place in Vienna from 4-5 September and Geneva from 12-13 October on the issues of smuggling of migrants and irregular migrants, respectively.

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To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rights

26 July 2017 - 10:16am

By Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin
NEW YORK, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Recent protests in Ethiopia have seen people demonstrate in their thousands, angry at their authoritarian government, its favouritism towards those close to the ruling elite, and its failure to share the country’s wealth more equally.

The response of the state, in a country where dissent is simply not tolerated, has been predictably brutal: at the height of protests last year hundreds of people were killed, and a staggering estimated 24,000 were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today.

Perhaps not many of those marching in Ethiopia were aware of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies with provisions to protect civic freedoms, ensure equal access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

Clearly, in countries like Ethiopia, the current reality falls a long way short of these basic standards: if people felt that the government was listening to them and they could take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, they wouldn’t have protested in such large numbers.

If fundamental freedoms were upheld, including the essential civil society rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression, then people wouldn’t have been met with mass killings and detentions. It is no surprise that on the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the space for civil society – civic space – in every country of the world, Ethiopia is rated in the worst category, as having an entirely closed civic space.

It’s a matter of disappointment for civil society that progress on Goal 16 was not one of the goals reviewed by the governance body of the global goals at last week´s High Level Political Forum, which convened all UN member states and leaders from across sectors to review goal progress. A common concern amongst the 2,5000 civil society representatives that attended the global forum is that without progress on Goal 16, all the other goals cannot be achieved. And Goal 16 can only be realised if the role of civil society is respected and civic freedoms are protected.

On this score, two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, the early signs are worrying. Of the 44 countries whose progress was checked, four of them – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Iran, alongside Ethiopia – have entirely closed civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor ratings. A further 18 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Thailand – are rated as also having serious civic space restrictions. Only ten countries are assessed as having entirely open civic space.

The fact that there are worrying levels of restrictions placed on civil society in over three quarters of the countries up for review in New York indicates that civil society’s ability to realise Goal 16 is being hampered, and potential for SDG progress is being lost.

The SDGs must go further than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which enabled governments to receive praise for making advances on a narrow set of indicators even while they were cracking down on fundamental freedoms: Ethiopia, for example, was rated highly for its MDG performance, alongside other countries where civic space is heavily restricted. It must be remembered that the promise of the SDGs is to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, and to advance social justice and human rights.

The ambition of the SDGs calls for everyone – governments, businesses and civil society – to play their part; the agenda is too big for any one sector to deliver on its own. But when civil society is being constrained – including widespread restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to receive funds and organise the masses – then its capacity to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals at the community level is severally limited.

Goal 16 must be on the agenda whenever countries meet to evaluate progress on the SDGs. As of now it is only scheduled to be reviewed in 2019. The key test for Goal 16, for Ethiopia’s citizens, and the many other countries with restricted civic space, is if people are able to freely express their opinions, protest in peace and promote the interests of their communities without fear of persecution. On these measures, the Sustainable Development Goals still have a long way to go.

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China Seeks to Export Its Green Finance Model to the World

25 July 2017 - 11:05pm

Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Hand in hand with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change.

The PBOC, which as China’s central bank regulates the country’s financial activity and monitors its monetary activity, has been particularly interested in Argentina, because next year it will preside over the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2018, Buenos Aires will become the first Latin American city to organise a summit of the G20 forum, in which the major global powers discuss issues on the global agenda.

“China started to develop strategies to promote green finance international collaboration in the G20 framework in 2016, the year when it took over the presidency. And Germany took over this year the presidency and decided to continue. We are looking forward to Argentina to continue with this topic of green finance in 2018,” said Ma Jun, chief economist at the PBoC, in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the UNDP offices in Buenos Aires. “Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information.” -- Ma Jun

Ma, a distinguished economist who has worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Deutsche Bank, was the keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Finance, held Jul. 20-21 at IDB headquarters in Buenos Aires.

At that event, he told representatives of the public sector and private companies from a number of countries that over the past three years China has been making an important effort for its financial system to underpin a change in the development model, putting aside polluting industries and supporting projects that respect the environment and use resources more efficiently.

Ma, a high-ranking PBoC official since 2014, surprised participants in the Symposium stating that in 2015, China decided to change its development model because of the enormous environmental impact it had, which is reflected in the estimate he quoted: that “a million people a year die in China due to pollution-related diseases.“

He said four trillion yuan – approximately 600 billion dollars – will be needed to finance investments in environmentally sustainable projects over the next few years in China.

Simon Zadek, co-director of the UNEP Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, concurred with Ma.

He explained that the UN agency he co-heads promotes the “mobilisation of private capital towards undertakings compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the financial markets, banks, investment funds and insurance companies.“

He added that “many countries have taken steps in that direction and China is one of the most inspiring, most ambitious at an internal level and most active in promoting international cooperation.“

“Financial markets and capital should take environmental and climate issues into account now, not tomorrow. We are hoping for Argentina’s leadership next year on this matter and we are ready to collaborate if it decides to do so,“ said the UNEP official.

The Symposium was held a few days after this year’s G20 summit, which was hosted Jul. 7-8 by Hamburg, Germany.

During the summit the discrepancy became evident between the rest of the heads of government and U.S. President Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change and withdrew his country from the Paris Agreement, which in December 2015 set commitments for all governments to reduce global warming.

In Hamburg, a meeting was held by the Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), created in 2016, the year China presided over the G20, and which is headed by Ma and Michael Sheren, senior advisor to the Bank of England, with UNEP acting as Secretariat.

There are two main issues that the GFSG currently promotes for the financial industry to consider when deciding on the financing of infrastructure or productive projects: setting up an environmental risk analysis and using publicly available environmental data.

“PBoC, the largest Chinese bank, has verified that to invest too much in the polluting sector is not beneficial. The costs are higher and the profits lower, because lots of policies are more and more restrictive in the polluting sector,” Ma said, noting that the bank began to carry out environmental risk analysis two years ago.

For the chief economist, “the other focus is to allow financial markets to distinguish who is green and who is brown,” referring to the predominant model of development, based on draining natural resources and not preserving ecosystems.

“Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information,” added Ma.

An important part of the initiative is the promotion of the emission of so-called green bonds, to finance projects of renewable energy, energy saving, treatment of wastewater or solid waste, the construction of green buildings that emit less pollutants and reduce their energy consumption, and green transport.

But the promotion of green finance does not foresee the arrival of special funds for that purpose to countries of the developing South.

In fact, the “greening of the financial system“ mainly depends on the private sector, especially where the state has limited fiscal capacity, according to the conclusions of the G20’s GFSG.

For Rubén Mercado, UNDP economist in Argentina, governments can facilitate undertakings that are beneficial to the environment by changing policies, without the need for spending additional funds.

“The key issue is that of relative prices. In Argentina we have subsidised fossil fuels for years. Perhaps we would not even have to subsidise renewable forms of energy, but simply reduce our subsidies for fossil fuels so that the other sources can be developed,“ he said.

Ma took a similar approach, pointing out that “You don´t need to spend money, you just need to eliminate the subsidies” that are traditionally granted to fossil fuel producers, which hamper investments in clean energies.

In the Symposium in Buenos Aires a study was released about the economies of Germany, China and India, which revealed that in the last year they have invested in renewable energies just 0.7, 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of GDP, respectively.

“The massive demand for green financing simply cannot be met by the public sector or the fiscal system,” said Ma.

“In a country like China, 90 percent is being covered by the private sector. Globally, my feeling is that in the OECD countries the fiscal capacity is probably higher. Maybe more than 10 percent could be provided by governments,” he said.

“But in other economies with weaker fiscal capacity, the rate should be even lower than in China.”

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Nigeria’s Ticking Time Bomb

25 July 2017 - 5:39pm

'Alarming' levels of malnutrition and famine-like conditions in north-east Nigeria. Credit: UN Photo

By Cheick Ba
Maiduguri City, Nigeria, Jul 25 2017 (IPS)

In the dusty arid town of Dikwa, tens of thousands of Nigerians queue for hours in sweltering 40-degree heat for water. Fatuma is one of 100,000 people displaced in the Borno State town, the epicentre of Nigeria’s conflict. She sifts through remnants of food aid seeds, drying them out to prepare them to eat. Food is a scarcity here. Fatuma used to live on three meals a day. Today she is happy if aid agencies can provide her with a single meal.

Dikwa’s food crisis is mirrored throughout the conflict-stricken northeast, where the armed group Boko Haram has been brutally fighting to enforce strict Islamic Sharia law since 2009.

The Nigerian government launched a military operation in 2015 to flush the jihadist group out. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed due to the violence. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes, including 200,000 who sought safety in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The violence was the first thing Nigerians feared for their lives. Now they fear famine.

Northeast Nigeria is inching closer than ever to mass starvation. The food crisis is about to get alarmingly worse, with food security experts predicting its deterioration between now and the end of August.

Experts forecast a rise in the number of people facing crisis, emergency and famine conditions from 4.7 million to 5.2 million in northeast Nigeria. This includes 50,000 people likely to be affected by ‘famine-like’ conditions, according to the latest United Nations Global Early Warning report.

Declaring famine has serious implications for countries to step up and take action. It rings international alarm bells. But lack of access to some communities caught up in Nigeria’s conflict means the exact number of people dying of hunger is impossible to confirm. Regardless, the threat of famine draws nearer.

Armed conflict and violence are driving this food crisis. Insecurity is preventing people from farming in many areas, and restricting access to local markets. This is depleting grain stocks and pushing food prices beyond people’s reach. It’s having devastating consequences for affected families, including 450,000 acutely malnourished children.

The May to August lean season is well underway in Nigeria. This is a period when food production is traditionally low and families rely on what they have stockpiled from more plentiful times. With many farmers unable to cultivate their land for up to three years already, families have little reserves to draw from.

Inflation caused by currency depreciation is compounding the situation further. Conflict areas are experiencing prices about 150 per cent higher than in 2015, according to the United Nations.

My organization, the Norwegian Refugee Council, was forced to reduce the food basket we provide to families this month, to make up for the increased price of rice beans and millet. It’s a heart-breaking decision to make, but the alternative is to feed fewer people.

Despite the worsening food crisis, donor countries have only contributed 28 per cent of the money needed to provide the most basic humanitarian assistance this year. More visible crises like the war in Syria and Iraq garner so much international attention, there is less space for countries like Nigeria to get the same attention. As a result, donor dollars go elsewhere.

But while providing people with food saves lives, it’s only a short term solution. The crisis will only end when the conflict has been resolved, and communities can safely return to their land to rebuild their lives.

This is a man-made conflict that needs a man-made solution.

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Alcoholism Cannot Explain Russian Mortality Spike

25 July 2017 - 10:42am

In Russia, the simultaneous increase in the total death rate, deaths due to external causes, and alcohol consumption were all driven by stress. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS

By Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
MOSCOW and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 25 2017 (IPS)

The steep upsurge in mortality and sudden fall in life expectancy in Russia in the early 1990s were the highest ever registered anywhere in recorded human history in the absence of catastrophes, such as wars, plague or famine. The shock economic reforms in the former Soviet economies after 1991 precipitated this unprecedented increase in mortality, shortening life expectancy, especially among middle-aged males.

Shock therapy
During 1987-1994, the Russian mortality rate increased by more than half, from 1.0% to 1.6%, as life expectancy fell from 70 to 64 years! Economic output fell by almost half during 1989-1998 as wealth and income inequalities as well as crime, murder and suicide rates soared.

The dramatic increase in mortality – most pronounced for middle-aged men, mostly due to cardiovascular diseases – has been explained in terms of various factors like falling real incomes, poorer nutrition, environmental degradation, the collapse of Soviet health care, and surges in alcoholism and smoking.

However, dietary changes – less meat and dairy products, yet more bread and potatoes – could not have quickly increased cardiovascular diseases.

Deterioration of health care, smoking and changes in diet would require much more time to increase mortality by so much, while increased pollution is not an acceptable explanation due to the collapse of industrial output.

While deterioration of the Russian diet, the collapse of its health care system as well as increased deaths due to accidents, murders and suicides undoubtedly contributed to increased mortality in Russia, they cannot explain the sudden magnitude of the increase. This leaves two major competing explanations for the mortality crisis – either increased alcohol consumption or heightened stress factors.

Alcoholism

The major explanation popular in the West, as it absolves the West of responsibility, attributes the mortality spike to increased alcohol consumption in the late 1980s and early 1990s after Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism campaign.

Deaths due to alcohol poisoning are generally considered a better indicator of actual alcohol consumption as some alcohol consumed is produced illegally or smuggled into the country. Such deaths per 100,000 inhabitants increased from 10 in 1990-1991 to nearly 40 in 1994, exceeding the number of deaths due to suicide and murders.

The increased intake of alcohol can, in turn, be attributed to the lower prices of spirits in the early 1990s. But this alcohol explanation does not stand up to critical scrutiny. After all, as with most other goods, demand for alcohol is inversely related to price and positively to personal income and spending capacity.

First, during some periods, per capita alcohol consumption and death rates moved in opposite directions, e.g., alcohol consumption rose or remained stable during 2002-2009, while death rates – also due to external causes, accidents, murders, suicides and poisoning – fell.

Second, per capita alcohol consumption levels in the 1990s were equal to or lower than in the early 1980s, whereas the total death rate increased by over half and deaths due to external causes doubled!

Although strongly correlated with the mortality rate, higher alcohol consumption was not an important independent cause, but also exacerbated by the same stress factors as the mortality rate itself.

The simultaneous increase in the total death rate, deaths due to external causes, and alcohol consumption were thus all driven by another factor, namely stress.

Stress
What were these sources of increased stress and why did they increase premature deaths? Stress factors due to the economic ‘shock therapy’ following the demise of the Soviet Union are associated with the rise in unemployment, labour mobility, migration, divorce, wealth, and income inequalities.

A stress index incorporating these variables turns out to be a surprisingly good predictor of changes in life expectancy in post-communist economies, especially in the Russian Federation.

The evidence shows that many men in their 40s and 50s – who had lost their jobs or had to move to another job and/or another region, or experienced increases in inequalities in their country/region, or had divorced their wives – were more likely to die prematurely in the 1990s.

To reiterate, the Russian mortality crisis of the 1990s was mainly due to the shock economic reforms that led to mass, especially labour dislocations, much greater personal and family economic insecurity and sharp increases in inequalities. The resulting dramatic rise in stress factors was therefore mostly responsible for the sharp rise in mortality.

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Tobago Gears Up to Fight Sargassum Invasion

24 July 2017 - 8:01pm

Sargassum inundates a beach on Barbados. Credit: H. Oxenford/Mission Blue

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jul 25 2017 (IPS)

As Tobago’s tourism industry struggles to repel the sargassum invasions that have smothered its beaches with massive layers of seaweed as far as the eye can see – in some places half a metre thick – and left residents retching from the stench, the island’s government is working to establish an early warning system that will alert islanders of imminent invasions so they can take defensive action.

The Deputy Director of Trinidad and Tobago’s Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), Dr. Rahanna Juman, told IPS, “After the 2015 sargassum event, the IMA got stakeholders together and developed a sargassum response plan. We looked at some sort of early warning mechanism [using satellites]. We know that it comes off of the South American mainland. If we know when it is coming and we can forecast which part of the coast it is going to land, we can inform the relevant regional authority so they can put things in place.A particularly heart-rending consequence of the sargassum invasions has been the devastation it causes to turtle nesting sites on the island.

“We have this network set up. We got the Met Services to provide an idea of where [the sargassum] is going to land,” she said.

The 2010-2015 State of the Marine Environment (SOME) report, released in May this year by the IMA, states, “Sargassum invasion of Trinidad and Tobago’s beaches is a relatively novel phenomenon for which we have been largely unprepared for in the past. However, with climate change causing continuous warming of the oceans, it appears that future events are likely.”

The country experienced massive onslaughts of sargassum, a type of seaweed, in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015, and some again this year. “Sargassum is a natural phenomenon,” said Dr. Juman, but it was the quantity of the seaweed that stunned the public during these years.

The consequences for Tobago’s tourism industry have been debilitating.

A director on the board of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, Environment Tobago and the Association of Tobago Dive Operators, Wendy Austin, told IPS the first major event for the Tobago tourism industry was in 2015. “People were cancelling their bookings. Visitors were having to move, particularly from the north end of the island. Speyside had it very bad and the smell was awful. The restaurants had to close because people were not coming out to eat.” As the sargassum rotted, it emitted a nauseating stench.

“This year we have been hit fairly hard once again,” Austin added. “Recommendations have been put forward to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) as to how the situation can be handled environmentally so that tourism would then have fewer problems. However, there is no money to put these recommendations into action.”

The THA reportedly spent approximately 500,000 dollars during one year to clear up the decaying sargassum.

Apart from the tourism industry taking a hit, the country’s marine environment has also been adversely affected .

A particularly heart-rending consequence of the sargassum invasions has been the devastation it causes to turtle nesting sites on the island. The SOME report notes, “Ecologically, both adult and juvenile sea turtles can become entangled in the thick masses.”

Dr. Juman said hatchlings making their way out to sea from Tobago’s shores in 2015 got caught in the mass of sargassum, as well as many leaving the beaches of Trinidad in the northeast after they were hatched. Local media reports earlier this year expressed fears that turtle hatchlings would die because of becoming entangled in the masses of sargassum that washed ashore in April.

Further, “sargassum can smother your coral reef and seagrass, and they can bring in organisms that are not native to [Tobago], so that can have a negative impact on the native species,” said Dr. Juman, who is a wetlands ecologist.

The SOME report notes that the seagrasses which the sargassum destroyed off southwest Tobago are important for the marine environment since they “stabilize bottom sediments, slow current flow, prevent erosion, and filter suspended nutrients and solids from coastal waters.”

In response to this phenomenon, as well as other threats caused by climate change to the nation’s coastlines, the Trinidad and Tobago government has established as a priority of its new Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) policy the objective of maintaining “the diversity, health and productivity of coastal and marine processes and ecosystems”.

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning Marie Hinds said via e-mail that this objective, the eighth one listed under the ICZM policy, incorporates tackling the sargassum problem.

She said achieving the objective would involve implementing a “programme to manage/control the introduction of alien invasive species into the coastal and marine zones.”

Establishment of an ICZM policy was a requirement of the Inter-American Development Bank for Trinidad and Tobago to access funding to deal with climate change, Hinds added. The ICZM policy will facilitate coordination and cooperation between civil society, government and the private sector in addressing the impacts of climate change.

However, there is still relatively little research data on which to base decision-making and management of the sargassum problem because it is such a new phenomenon, said Dr. Juman.

Among the proposals for disposing of the sargassum is to transform it into a biogas. But, “if you are going to invest in some sort of industry…you have to have a known quantity, you need to know how much, you need to have a consistent supply.

“You also need research to quantify such an industry’s impact on the fishing and shipping industry, as well as tourism. We do not have that kind of data,” said Dr. Juman. “Having the research and knowing how to treat with it so we can be proactive not reactive,” she said, was important for the IMA in finding solutions to the sargassum problem.

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The G20 Needs To Go Back to its Roots

24 July 2017 - 5:36pm

Inge Kaul is adjunct professor at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany; advisor to various governmental, multilateral and non-profit organizations; and the first director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, a position, which she held from 1989 to 1994, and director of UNDP’s Office of Development Studies from 1995 to 2005

By Inge Kaul
BERLIN, Jul 24 2017 (IPS)

When the finance ministers of the G7 countries proposed the G20 in the late 1990s, a good sense of realism prevailed. They recognized that addressing issues of global finance required the political support from—and involvement of—emerging market economies.

Inge Kaul

This view proved prescient in seeking policy responses to the 2007–08 global financial crisis. The leaders of the G20 met at their first summit in Washington D.C. in 2008 to agree on measures to resolve the crisis through dialogues among the “systemically relevant” countries.

At its creation, the G20 was thus meant to facilitate coordination, cooperation and problem-solving among key actors in a specific policy field, which then was global financial stability. The G20 was not meant to be a jack-of-all-trades, offering welcoming words and restating support for long-accepted and previously reconfirmed goals, as most subsequent G20 summits did.

Why had there been so little real progress? What concrete measures would be taken? Neither question was asked let alone answered—to avoid a spiral of reiterations at subsequent summits.

Not solving the most pressing problems

So far, the G20’s record of practical follow-up to its communiqués has been less than sterling. But this could reflect its shift from solving the most pressing problems to considering all possible facets of a more desirable world.

Forget for a moment the failure to clearly add value. What would the 2017 Hamburg summit have done, if it had stuck to the original G20 idea and approach? Which one or two global key challenges could it have focused on to suggest concrete measures?

One focus could have been mass starvation in Africa, with a clear promise to augment, in a meaningful way and within a few days, financial and other support for the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme. A second could have been mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Even if only 19 of the 20 had stated what concrete breakthroughs they would make on the Monday morning following the Hamburg summit, much could have been gained by inspiring others to ratchet up their corrective measures. Why was such a determination to lead not in evidence?

Trend away from multilateralism

Many factors come into play. Among them might be that the G20 has increasingly been promoted as a core element and driving force of the ongoing trend away from genuine multilateralism to increasing minilateralism and club-based global governance.

The G20 agenda has been loaded with diverse issues, and the preparatory processes have accordingly been broadened to afford many parties a chance to raise their pet topic and see it in the summit communiqués. That would also give them a sense of importance as they commented on how to run the world, while the other 173 countries and their people could only observe the summits from the sidelines.

Would the world miss something if such G20 summitry were stopped? Not really. It is important for world leaders to talk and to consult each other. However, plenty of opportunities exist for that.

Just think of the high-level segment of the United Nations General Assembly each September, or the regular Bretton Woods meetings, or the many global conferences convening heads of state or government, or such informal meetings as the Syrian Peace Talks.

There is no scarcity of opportunities for world leaders to announce intentions and explore common ground. What is rare is translating words into action—and into action that is up to the challenge.

Time to revisit the role of the G20

Despite nearly 10 years of G20 summitry, the list of unmet global challenges is lengthening and the human, political, environmental and economic costs of global crises are mounting. So wouldn’t this be the time to revert to the original G20 concept as a global forum for announcing concrete measures to resolve—not just chat about—the most pressing global challenge?

Any other challenges could be taken up in other multilateral forums. And if leaders feel that these challenges also deserve attention and solution, they could instruct their representatives at those forums to announce their country’s ongoing or planned corrective actions—to lead by example and make a real difference that all would perceive as fostering sustainable and inclusive growth and development. How, then, to engineer such a return of the G20 to its original purpose?

Argentina, as the host of the next G20 summit, would be well positioned to initiate debate on this issue and to invite views and suggestions on what should be the basic features of a system of global governance fit for the 21st century and on what should be the potential role of the G20 within this system alongside other informal bodies of various groups of state and non-state actors. Perhaps, it could do so together with the hosts of the last two G20 summits, China and Germany.

The best outcome would be for the G20 leaders to recognize that the G20 is not the right forum to decide on a new, reformed system of global governance that will affect all countries and to instead encourage debate on this issue at the United Nations. This could also be a way for the G20 to clarify its future role and eventually, in whatever form it may continue, to invite less opposition and enjoy more political acceptance, legitimacy and effectiveness.

The post The G20 Needs To Go Back to its Roots appeared first on Inter Press Service.

The Unnoticed Demise of Democracy

24 July 2017 - 4:57pm

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 24 2017 (IPS)

Politicians are so busy fighting for their jobs, they hardly seem to notice that they risk going out of business. Democracy is on the wane, yet the problem is nowhere in Parliaments. Common to all is a progressive loss of vision, of long term planning and solutions, with politics used just for power.

Roberto Savio

In English, there are two terms: politics, which is term for the machinery, and politics, that is the vision. In Latin languages, there is only one, politics, and that is now becoming the adequate term also for English-speaking countries, from May’s UK to Trump’s US.

In a few years, we have seen an astonishing flourishing of authoritarian governments. Turkey’s Erdogan may be the best example. He was elected in 2002, and hailed as proof that you could be a Muslim and also a champion of democracy. At the end of the decade, he started to take a more fundamentalist and authoritarian approach, until in 2013 there was the famous crackdown on thousands of protesters, protecting a Park in Istanbul intended to be razed for a supermarket.

Since then, the tendency to use power has accelerated. In 2014, Erdogan was accused, along with his son, of corruption (three sons of cabinet ministers were also arrested). He blamed it on the Gulenist Movement, a spiritual movement led by an earlier ally, Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the US. And when in 2016 some military factions attempted a coup against him, he used the coup as a reason to get rid of Gulenist and other dissidents. It has put 60,000 people in jail, and he has dismissed from public employment a staggering 100,000 people.

What is reminiscent of Stalin and Hitler’s practices is how those 100,000 have been treated. They have been banned from private employment, and their passports as well the ones of their families have been revoked. When asked how they will survive, the government’s reaction was to scoff that even eating roots would be “too good” for them.

We’re talking of hundreds of judges, tens of thousands of teachers, university professors, who have been dismissed without any hearing and without any formal imputation. Europe’s reaction? Empty declarations, and since then Erdogan has become more authoritarian.

He has built a Presidential Palace of 1,000 rooms, larger than the White House and the Kremlin, where there is a three-room office dedicated to taste his food to avoid poisoning. The palace cost between 500 million euro (the government’s declaration), and 1 billion dollars (opposition’ estimates).

It could be said in Europe’s defence that Turkey is not a member of the European Union, and his actions have made it extremely unlikely that membership in the EU is possible. But Poland and Hungary not only are members of the EU, but also the main beneficiaries of his economic support. Poland joined the EU in 2004, has received more than 100 billion dollars in various subsidies: double the Marshall Plan in current dollars, the largest transfer of money ever done in modern history.

Yet the government has embarked in a firm path to dismantle democratic institutions (the last, the judicial system), and even the sleepy EU has been obliged to warn that it could take away the right of Poland to vote, to the total indifference of the government. Yet nobody has formally proposed to cut the subsidies, which are now in the budget from 2014 to 2020 another 60 billion dollars – half of what the world spends for development aid for nearly 150 countries.

Hungry is run since 2010 by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who campaigns for “an illiberal democracy”, and, like Poland’s PM Szydlo, has refused to accept any immigrants, in spite of EU subsidies. Hungary, despite its small population (less than 10 million, versus Poland’s 28 million) is the third largest recipient of EU’s subsidies, or 450 dollars per person.

One third of the world population lives on less than that. In addition, the European Investment Bank gives a net subsidy of 1 billion euro, and Hungary received 2.4 billion euro from the balance of Payment Assistance Program. The two countries have formed with Slovakia and Czechia, the Visegrad group, which is in a permanent campaign against the EU and its decisions. Needless to say, subsidies to Slovakia and Czechia largely surpass their contributions.

Are Erdogan, Orban, Szydlo and dictators? On the contrary, they are democratically elected, like Duterte in the Philippines, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Maduro in Venezuela and other 30 authoritarian presidents in the world. But in Europe this is new. And it is also new to see an American President, Donald Trump, present an agenda of isolationism and international confrontation, who was also regularly elected.

A poll at the end of his first semester revealed that his voters would re-elect him again, with the Republican support going down only from 98% to 96%. Nationwide, his popularity has declined to 36%. If elections were held today, he would likely get a second term.

Which brings us to wonder why we still consider elections equivalent to democracy? Because this is how the people can express themselves. But people certainly do not like corruption, which in polls anywhere is considered the most prominent problem of modern governments.

However, unless it reaches a totally systematic level, like in Brazil, a studies don’t show a strong correlation between corruption and electoral punishment. Corruption, in politics, has been used by populists, who has promised to get rid of it to the electorate: exactly what Trump did in his campaign, while now his conflict of interest and lack of transparency with his private interests have no precedent in the White House.

That bring us to the next question. If ideologies are gone, and politics have become mainly a question of administrative efficiency and personalities, what is the link between a candidate and his voters, and whose support persists despite everything, like those who voted for Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo?

Perhaos it is time that we start to look to politics with a new approach. What did we learn from the last few years’ elections?

That people are aligning themselves under a new paradigm, which is not political in the sense we have used until now: it is called IDENTITY. Voters now elect those with whom they identify, and support them because in fact they defend their identity, no matter what. They do not listen to contradictory information, which they dismiss as “fake news.” Let us see on what this identity issue is based: the new four divides.

There is first a new divide: cities against rural areas, small towns, villages, hamlets. In Brexit, people in urban areas voted to stay in Europe. The same goes for those who voted against Erdogan, who is unpopular in Istanbul, but very popular in the rural areas. In the US, those who vote d for Trump were largely from the poor states. The same has happened with Orban and Szydlo. None would be in power if the vote was restricted to the capital and the major towns.

There is a second new divide: young and older voters. Brexit would not have happened if all young people cared to vote. Same with Erdogan, Trump, Orban and Szydlo. The problem is that young people have in serious percentages stopped to be active in politics because they feel left out, and look to parties as self-maintaining machines, ridden with corruption and inefficiency.

Of course, this plays in favour of those who are already in the system, which perpetuates itself, without the generational lift for change. Italy found 20 billion dollars to save four small banks while the total subsidies for young people are 2 billion euro. No wonder they feel left out.

There is the third divide, which is also new, ideologies of the past were basically more inclusive, even if of course the class system played a significant role. The third divide is between those who have finished at least high school, and those who did not. This is going to increase dramatically in the next two decades, when the robotization of industry and services will reach at least 40% of the production.

Tens of millions of people will be left out, and they will be those with less education, unable to fit in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Elites look with disdain at the choices of electors who are considered ignorant and provincial, while the latter in turn consider the elite winners who reap whatever they can, and marginalize them.

Finally, there is a fourth divide, which is very important for the values of peace and cooperation as a basis for a world governance. It is the divide between those who see the return to nationalism as the solution to their problems (and therefore hate immigrants), and those who believe that their country, in an increasing competing world, can be better if it integrates in international or regional organizations.

Two extremely simplified examples: Europe and the US. There was a survey done by the EU among the nine million Erasmus, or the students who with a scholarship from that exchange program went to make lives in other countries. They have had more than 100,000 children by marrying somebody met abroad: the real Europeans.

In the poll, they were at 92% asking for more Europe, not less Europe. And in the US, the classic Trump voters, as white (a demographic group in decline: at every election 2% less of white vote), who did not get beyond secondary education, who do not read newspapers or books, coming from the poorer states. People who lost their jobs, often after closure of factories or mines, strongly believe that they are victims of globalization, which created social and economic injustice.

This is a consequence of the fact that during two decades, only macroeconomic indexes have been used, like the GNP. Social indicators were largely shunned. How the growth that GNP indicated was divided was not a concern for the IMF, World Bank, the EU and most politicians, who blindly believed that market was the only engine for growth and would solve social problems: only now have they tried to brakes on, too late. The world has seen an unprecedented explosion of inequality, which is helping nationalism and xenophobia to become a central part of the political debate.

Nationalism is not confined to Trump, Erdogan, Orban and Szydlo, and to Brexit. China, India, Japan, the Philippines, Israel, Egypt, Russia, and other countries are now run by nationalist and authoritarian governments. This bring us to a very simple conclusion. Either the transition to an unknown new political system, that will certainly replace the present unsustainable system, will be based on the values of social justice, cooperation and peace (probably updating the present international organizations), or it is difficult to see how we will avoid conflicts, wars and bloodshed.

Why the man is the only animal who does not learn from previous experience?

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Kenya and Ethiopia Join Forces to Advance Peace, Security, Development and Hope

24 July 2017 - 2:59am

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia have a shared vision of turning this once violent and fragile region into a prosperous & peaceful area. Moyale-07 Dec 2015. Credit: UNDP Kenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 24 2017 (IPS)

The Horn of Africa is often synonymous with extreme poverty, conflict, demographic pressure, environmental stress, and under-investment in basic social services such as health, education, access to clean water and infrastructure.

In Kenya’s Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir and Mandera counties, for instance, between 74% and 97% of the people live below the absolute poverty line and literacy rates and school enrollment rates are well below the national average. Conditions here are rife with flashpoints for potential conflict over natural resources and access to limited government services, and all too fertile for discontent, radicalization, violent extremism and recruitment of adolescents and youth into armed groups as an economic survival mechanism.

Confronting the challenges of radicalization and terrorist threats in the region calls for a focused strategy on a compendium of socio-cultural, economic, political and psychological factors. While extremism and related violence have traditionally been driven by exclusion and poverty, this paradigm is no longer adequate. As shown during the attack at Kenya’s Garissa University, not all extremists are uneducated or from poor families.

Complex, interlinked and rapidly evolving circumstances have brought about the need for a raft of interventions geared towards fostering sustainable peace in the border areas. One of the most promising initiatives to-date involves establishing social and economic interdependence across border communities.

This is the powerful rationale behind the pact between the Governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, who established a cross-border programme which straddles Marsabit County, Kenya and the Borana/Dawa Zones of Ethiopia known as the “Integrated Programme for Sustainable Peace and Socio-economic Transformation.”

This initiative was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Executive Secretary, Ambassador Mahboub Maalim. A short video.

The programme, which is implemented in partnership with IGAD and the UN Country Teams of Ethiopia and Kenya, aims at preventing and mitigating potential violent conflicts and extremism in the borderland areas through conflict prevention mechanisms, addressing the root causes of violent extremism and focusing on the humanitarian, security and development nexus.

To take this programme another step forward, the Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments signed the programme document on 22 June 2017.

Kenya’s Minister Henry Rotich and Ethiopia’s Minister Kassa Tekleberhan exchange the joint agreement. Kenya’s Foreign Minster Amina Mohamed and EU Ambassador to Kenya, Stefano Dejak look on. Credit: UNDP Kenya


To galvanize support for the programme, an event titled “From Barriers to Bridges: The Ethiopia-Kenya Cross-Border Programme” was organized on 10 July 2017 at UNDP New York. It was co-chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Kenya and Ethiopia to the United Nations.

Taking stock of the programme to-date, one cannot help but marvel at how far the two countries have come and what can still be achieved. As confirmed by local community elders, local conflicts have diminished and the programme has achieved impressive results in reducing the allure of extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab among local youth, ever since joint interventions by the Government of Kenya, the UN and civil society partners started in 2015.

There have been significant socio-economic gains as well. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, which is partially financed by the European Union (EU), is now complete and is expected to be a game-changer in enhancing integration, connectivity and promoting trade between Ethiopia and Kenya.

The World Bank has also embarked on a huge infrastructure development programme to link Isiolo with Mandera. The EU is already proposing that the Ethiopia-Kenya cross-border programme be scaled up to include the Mandera Triangle, the Omo and Karamoja clusters.

These are all welcome developments for a region with substantial development needs and considerable potential. The areas involved are home to more than half of Kenya’s livestock, which can be harnessed to create bigger and better agro-business industries.

The region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage, evidenced by local historical and geographical sites, can be an asset in developing eco-tourism. There is also a latent resource for clean and renewable energy exploitation, as proven by the recent launch of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which is expected to generate 310MW.

Once operational, the wind farm will provide 310MW of reliable, low cost energy to Kenya’s national grid (i.e. approx. 15% of the country’s installed capacity). Credit: Lake Turkana Wind Power Project


The recent discovery of major groundwater aquifers and massive oil deposits in Turkana provides further reason for optimism.

Cross-border trade could have a positive ripple effect. It is poised to generate tremendous revenue for both countries, reduce risks of conflict, facilitate prevention of violent extremism efforts (particularly if tied to approaches that aim to strengthen social cohesion and societal resilience as well as paying attention to the social/cultural/political dimensions that drive radicalization and extremism), and improve livelihoods, especially among the marginalized and poor communities to expedite the achievement of a core goal of the SDGs – ending poverty by 2030.

The UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Africa Mr. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye has said, “The Ethiopia Kenya Cross Border Programme has a high peace and development return. If we invest in the region we can boost development and reduce insecurity. This Cross Border Programme is a regional public good. It resonates far beyond Kenya and Ethiopia and can serve the entire continent”.

Mr Abdoulaye Mar Dieye flanked by the Permanent Representative of Kenya Ambassador Macharia Kamau and the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia, Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said, “The Ethiopia Kenya Cross Border Programme has a high peace and development return”. Credit: UNDP Africa


The Kenya Ethiopia cross-border programme may well hold the key to an innovative approach to operationalizing Mr António Guterres, the UN Secretary General’s prevention agenda by addressing marginalization, radicalization and prevent violent extremism using human development and economic growth to spur peace.

Norway’s Ambassador to Kenya, Victor Ronneberg says. “this programme is a testimony of the UN’s convening role, to spur dialogue & engagement & reiterates the primacy of multilateralism even more in this day and age.”

The momentum has to be maintained and should not falter due to absence of resources. It is therefore critical for the international community to strongly support this initiative.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Follow him on twitter.

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Prepare Now for the Next Financial Crisis

22 July 2017 - 4:24pm

The developing countries went through the 2008 financial crisis without much harm, because of certain conditions, which no longer exist. Credit: Bigstock

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jul 22 2017 (IPS)

The Asian financial crisis started 20 years ago and the global financial crisis and recession 9 years back. When a new global financial crisis strikes, the developing countries will be more damaged than in the last crisis as they have become less resilient and more vulnerable.  They thus need to prepare from being overwhelmed.

A debate is taking place as to whether the time is now ripe for a new crisis.  Most economists and commentators think not, as an economic recovery, admittedly weak, appears to be taking place in developed economies.

On the surface, the present situation seems quite good.  The US stock market continues to hit new highs, and the head of the Federal Reserve recently testified the US economy is robust and job growth is good.

There has been a rebound of foreign capital flows to emerging economies in the first half of 2017, after two years of outflows.

The G20 leaders focused on climate change, trade and disagreements with the United States in their Hamburg summit, and seemed complacent about the world’s economic condition; they didn’t worry about any looming crisis.

But below the surface calm, the waters are boiling and churning.  As Shakespeare wrote in his play Hamlet:  “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Whether the deep-seated problems boil over shortly into full-blown crisis, or continue to fester for some time more, is hard to predict.  But the world economy is in trouble.

Amidst a weak global economy recovery, many serious risks remain, wrote  Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ chief economics commentator, on 5 July.

“The possibly greatest danger is a collapse in global cooperation, perhaps even an outbreak of conflict,” he said.  “That would destroy the stability of the world economy on which all depend…

“We in the high-income countries allowed the financial system to destabilise our economies.  We then refused to use fiscal and monetary stimulus strongly enough to emerge swiftly from the post-crisis economic malaise.

Martin Khor

“We failed to respond to the divergences in economic fortunes of the successful and less successful.  These were huge mistakes.  Now, as economies recover, we face new challenges: to avoid blowing up the world economy, while ensuring widely shared and sustainable growth.  Alas, we seem likely to fail this set of challenges.”

The Star (Malaysia) on 12 July reported that the possibility of the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates and reducing its balance sheet of US$4.5 trillion is causing regional stock markets and currencies to fall and funds to flow out of the region.

Is this another blip that will be corrected soon, or the start of a turn of the boom-bust cycle in capital flows to and from emerging markets?

A comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the global economic situation and how it affects developing countries is given in a recent paper by the South Centre’s chief economist Yilmaz Akyuz, assisted by Vicente Yu.

The US and Europe have wrongly managed the aftermath of the 2008 crisis by policies that will have very adverse effects on most developing countries, according to the paper, “The financial crisis and the global South:  impact and prospects.”   (South Centre Research Paper 76;)

The developing countries went through the 2008 crisis without much harm, because of certain conditions, which no longer exist.

Meanwhile, these countries have recently built  up new and dangerous vulnerabilities which expose them to serious damage when the next crisis strikes.

It is thus imperative that the developing countries review their precarious situation and act to protect their economies to the extent possible to reduce the effects of the new turmoil.

It is thus imperative that the developing countries review their precarious situation and act to protect their economies to the extent possible to reduce the effects of the new turmoil.
Akyuz says the post-2018 crisis has moved in a third wave to several emerging economies after having swept from the US to Europe. A central reason is the wrong crisis response policies of the US and Europe.

“There are two major shortcomings:  the reluctance to remove the debt overhang through orderly restructuring, and fiscal orthodoxy,” adds Akyuz.

“These resulted in excessive reliance on monetary policy, with central banks going into uncharted waters including zero and negative interest rates and rapid liquidity expansion through large bond acquisitions.

“These policies not only failed to secure a rapid recovery but also aggravated the global demand gap by widening inequality and global financial fragility by producing a massive build-up of debt and speculative bubbles.  They have also generated strong deflationary and destabilising spillovers for developing economies.”

When a new crisis comes, developing countries will be harder hit than in 2008.  Their resilience to external shocks is now weak, due to three factors.

First, many developing economies deepened their integration into the international financial system, resulting in new vulnerabilities and high exposure to external shocks.

Their corporations built up massive debt since the crisis, reaching US$25 trillion (95% of their GDP);  and dollar-denominated debt securities issued by emerging economies jumped from $500 billion in 2008  to $1.25 trillion in 2016, carrying interest rate and currency risks.

Moreover, foreign presence in local financial markets reached unprecedented levels, increasing their susceptibility to global financial boom-bust cycles.

Second, the current account balance and net foreign asset positions of many developing countries have significantly deteriorated since the crisis.  In most countries, foreign reserves built up recently came from capital inflows rather than trade surpluses.  They are inadequate to meet large and sustained capital outflows.

Third, the countries now have limited economic policy options to respond to adverse developments from abroad.  Their “fiscal space” for counter-cyclical policy response to deflationary shocks is much more limited than in 2009;  they have significantly lost monetary policy autonomy and lost control over interest  rates due to their deepened global financial integration; and flexibile exchange rate regimes are no panacea in the face of financial shocks.

“Most developing economies are in a tenuous position similar to the 1970s and 1980s when the booms in capital flows and commodity prices ended with a debt crisis as a result of a sharp turnaround in US monetary policy, costing them a decade in development,”  warns Akyuz.

It would be hard for some of them to avoid international liquidity or even debt crises and loss of growth in the event of severe financial and trade shocks.

Unfortunately, the South has not been effective in reflecting on these problems nor in taking collective action.

Global reforms are required to prevent the major countries from transmitting the effects of their wrong policies to developing countries; and global mechanisms are needed to prevent and manage financial crises.

There have been many proposals for reform in the past but hardly any action taken due to opposition from developed countries.

“Now the stakes are too high for developing countries to leave the organisation of the global economy to one or two major economic powers and the multilateral institutions they control,” concludes Akyuz.

If his wide-ranging analysis is correct, then the crisis that started in 2008 will enter more dangerous territory due to new factors fanning the flames.

The underlying  causes are known, but what is yet unknown is the specific event that will trigger and ignite a new phase of the crisis, and when that will happen.

When the new crisis takes place, developing countries will in a less fortunate position to ride through it compared to 2008, so there is ever less reason for complacency.

Each country should analyse its own strong and weak spots, its vulnerabilities to external shocks, and prepare actions now to mitigate the crisis in advance, rather than wait for it to happen and overwhelm its economy.

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Parliamentarians Study Nexus of Youth, Refugees and Development

21 July 2017 - 2:04pm

Delegates of Asian and Arab Parliamentarians in Amman, Jordan. Credit: Safa Khasawneh

By Safa Khasawneh
AMMAN, Jordan, Jul 21 2017 (IPS)

Held for the first time in the Arab world, an annual meeting of Asian and Arab Parliamentarians examined how regional conflicts hinder the development of effective policies to achieve sustainable development, particularly as they generate large numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants.

To reach a comprehensive solution, legislators called for examining the roots and background of conflicts in the region."Governments should create societies where people can realize their dreams and achieve their goals." --Acting Chair of JPFP Ichiro Aisawa

The meeting kicked off Tuesday, July 18 in the Jordanian capital Amman with a focus on challenges faced by youth, including high unemployment rates and poor access to healthcare, as well as women’s empowerment and other sustainable development issues.

Around 50 legislators and experts from Asian, Arab and European countries attended the meeting, organized annually by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) which serves as the Secretariat of Japan’s Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP).

This year’s meeting was held under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs” and hosted by the Jordan Senate and Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD).

On behalf of the conference organizers, Acting Chair of JPFP Ichiro Aisawa addressed the gathering, devoting his remarks to the need to address challenges facing youth in the region, which he described as the birthplace of two of the world’s three major monotheistic religions and which has contributed richly to humankind’s cultural heritage.

Aisawa, who is also Director of APDA, called on parliamentarians to work together to realize sustainable development for the good of all.

In his opening statement, Jordan’s Acting Senate President Marouf Bakhit reiterated his country’s commitment to promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adding that issues of population and development are at the “forefront” of legislation approved by Arab parliaments and that holding this event is a “positive indicator and a step in the right direction.”

Bakhit stressed that population and development problems in Arab countries are caused mainly by conflicts, wars and forced migration.

Tackling the situation in the region, Vice Chair of JPFP Teruhiko Mashiko said in his keynote “the only solution is to prepare basic conditions for development based on knowledge and understanding of social sciences and integrating youth into the economic system.”

The first session touched on regional challenges, young refugees and means of fostering social stability. Jordan’s MP Dr. Reda Khawaldeh told IPS that building peaceful and stable societies is a responsibility that must be shouldered by the state, religious leaders, media and other civil society organizations.

Picking up on the main theme of Amman meeting – a youth bulge in the region, which describes the increasing proportion of youth relative to other age groups – Aisawa told IPS that frustration is one of the reasons that led angry Arab youth (most of whom were highly educated but with no jobs) to protest in the streets and topple their leaders.

These young men had lost their hopes and dreams of having a decent life, he said, stressing at the same time that this phenomenon is not limited to Arab countries, but could happen anywhere.

“To address this key dilemma, governments should create societies where people can realize their dreams and achieve their goals. Politicians must also advocate policies based on democracy where the rule of law prevails and people identify themselves as constructive stakeholders who participate in building their country rather than be the source of disruption and chaos,” Aisawa said.

The second session discussed the demographic dividend and creating decent jobs for youth. Sharing his experience in this regard, Philippines MP Tomasito Villarin said his country has adopted five local initiatives to give youth quality education essential for enhancing their productivity in the labor market and providing them with decent jobs.

Villarin told IPS that to achieve SDGs, his country must also address other grave challenges, including massive poverty in rural areas and an armed conflict south of Manila.

Focusing on women’s empowerment in the region as a driving force for sustainable development, Jordan’s MP Dr. Sawsan Majali warned that gender inequality is still a major challenge, especially for women with disabilities.

The second day was dedicated to a study visit to a number of sites in the ancient city of Salt, some 30 km northwest of the capital, where participants had the opportunity to explore and share good practices of development projects provided by the Salt Development Corporation (SDC), aimed at supporting community services and raising public awareness.

SDC Director Khaldoun Khreisat said financial and technical support came from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), whose officials saw Salt as a similar model to the Japanese city of Hagi.

During the three-day meeting, close consultations were held on other issues, including the key role parliamentarians play in achieving the SDGs, promoting accountability and good governance.

In his closing address, Vice Chair of JPFP Hiroyuki Nagahama stressed that politicians are accountable for the outcome of their policies and they have the responsibility and power to build a society where everybody can live in dignity.

At the end of meeting, Algerian MP Abdelmajid Tagguiche proposed the establishment of a committee to follow up and implement recommendations and outcomes of the conference.

As the curtain came down on July 20, a draft statement was issued calling for examining causes of conflicts in the region to achieve the SDGs, create decent jobs for youth and provide societies with health care and gender equality.

APDA was established on Feb. 1, 1982 and since that time it has engaged in activities working towards social development, economic progress, and the enhancement of welfare and peace in the world through studying and researching population and development issues in Asia and elsewhere.

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No Justice, No Peace for Yemeni Children

21 July 2017 - 10:09am

'Zuhoor_Yemen' : One-year-old Zuhoor was forced to have the fingers of her right hand amputated after being seriously injured by an airstrikes near Sana'a. Credit: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 21 2017 (IPS)

Human rights groups are urging the UN Secretary-General to include the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) in a child rights’ “shame list” after documenting grave violations against children.

Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict have documented at least 23 SLC airstrikes which injured or killed children, prompting an urgent call for the UN to help protect children caught in the midst of the deadly two year-long conflict.

“Everywhere you go in Yemen you see the devastation caused by airstrikes…all parties have been responsible for the unnecessary deaths of children in Yemen, and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is among them,” said Save the Children’s Yemen country director Tamer Kirolos.

“The UN Secretary-General must put the interests of children first – and hold all of those responsible to account,” he continued.

The human rights groups compiled evidence of “grave violations” in an effort to push Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to include the SLC in a report on child rights violations in conflict, expected to be released next month.

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report documents grave violations including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It also includes an annex which names and shames perpetrators of such violations.

The coalition was initially listed in the 2016 report, only to be removed a few days later after the Gulf state reportedly threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs.

“I had to make a decision just to have all UN operations, particularly humanitarian operations, continue,” former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said following the move.

“I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs,” he added.

The 2016 report found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of all recorded child deaths and injuries.

This pattern has only continued as Save the Children and Watchlist documented the killing and maiming of more than 120 children.

In one incident, multiple airstrikes on a market in Hajjah in March 2016 left 25 children dead and four injured.

Multiple bombings of schools and hospitals have also been recorded, including attacks on two different Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported hospitals.

Beyond the immediate and devastating effects on children, such attacks have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the country including the “world’s worst cholera outbreak.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children under the age of 15 account for 40 percent of the almost 300,000 suspected cholera cases and make up a quarter of cholera-related deaths.

The 1.8 million acutely malnourished children under five are particularly vulnerable to such communicable diseases.

However, the health system remains unable to respond to the needs of the population as only 45 percent of health facilities remain with limited functionality.

“As war grinds on and children’s lives are blighted not just in Yemen but around the world, the Secretary-General’s annual list has rarely been more important,” the organisations said in a briefing.

“It offers an opportunity to stand up for children caught in today’s brutal conflict to say that their lives and rights have value,” they continued.

In order to hold perpetrators accountable, the list must be “executed without fear or favour” where every party to the conflict that has committed grave violations is included, they added.

Though listing the SLC is not an end in itself, failure to include a key party to the conflict will set a “dangerous precedent” that others around the world will take note of.

“It would also betray the families whose loved ones were killed, the children who suffered life-changing injuries in airstrikes last year…Yemen’s children deserve accountability for the attacks committed against them,” Save the Children and Watchlist concluded.

The coalition is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan. Because of an ongoing diplomatic rift, Qatar is no longer a part of the SLC.

More than 4,000 children have been killed or injured by all sides of the conflict.

The post No Justice, No Peace for Yemeni Children appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Pope Francis Donates to FAO for Drought, Conflict-Stricken East Africa

21 July 2017 - 9:45am

Children in the town of Embetyo, Eritrea. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Connell

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 21 2017 (IPS)

As an unprecedented gesture, Pope Francis has donated 25,000 euro to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s efforts supporting people facing food insecurity and famine in East Africa.

Pope Francis said the funds are “a symbolic contribution to an FAO programme that provides seeds to rural families in areas affected by the combined effects of conflicts and drought.” See: East Africa’s Poor Rains: Hunger Worsened, Crops Scorched, Livestock Dead

Pope Francis speaking at FAO in 2014. Credit: FAO

The Pontiff’s remarks were contained in a letter addressed to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva by Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN food agencies in Rome.

Pope Francis’ gesture stemmed from a pledge he made in a message to FAO’s Conference on 3 July 2017 and was “inspired also by the desire to encourage Governments,” Monsignor Chica stated in the letter.

Famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February and while the situation has eased after a significant scaling up in the humanitarian response, some 6 million people in the country are still struggling to find enough food every day.

Meanwhile the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in five other East African countries – Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – is currently estimated at about 16 million, which marks an increase of about 30 per cent since late 2016.

Pope Francis, who has made solidarity a major theme of his pontificate, is set to visit FAO’s headquarters on 16 October to mark World Food Day.

This year the event is being held under the slogan: “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”.

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