Interpress News Service

Can the SDGs be financed?

29 March 2017 - 10:26am

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's 2014 World Investment Report estimated that developing countries would need US$2.5 trillion annually until 2030 to achieve their SDGs. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

Investment in the least developed countries (LDCs) will need to rise by at least 11 per cent annually through 2030, a little more than the 8.9 per cent between 2010 and 2015, in order for them to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations’ World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2017 focuses on the difficulties in securing sufficient financing for the SDGs given the global financial system and current economic environment.

Big financing gaps
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s 2014 World Investment Report estimated that developing countries would need US$2.5 trillion annually until 2030 to achieve their SDGs. According to UNCTAD’s 2016 Development and Globalization: Facts and Figures, to close the large infrastructure deficit in developing countries, spending must reach US$1.8–2.3 trillion per year by 2020, compared with the current US$0.8–0.9 trillion.

These UN estimated financing gaps have been corroborated by others, such as the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum (WEF). For example, the estimated annual investment needed to attain the SDGs, according to the WEF, is US$3.9 trillion against the current average of US$1.4 trillion, a shortfall of US$2.5 trillion yearly.

Avoidable financing gaps
Unfortunately, the financing gap is not due to global shortages, but rather, to problems of allocation due to global economic governance and geopolitics, influencing investors, donor and developing countries. The current global environment – characterized by weak economic growth, slow trade expansion, soft commodity prices and volatile international capital flows – has made things worse.

If rich countries had met the 0.7% aid target from 2002, developing countries would now been at least US$2 trillion better off. But overall aid has never ever reached even half the target since the 1960s and currently stands at 0.30%. The aid gap for 2014 alone was more than US$192 million. Furthermore, refugee spending is reducing country programmable aid.

Meanwhile, developing countries are losing a great deal to tax havens, and transfer pricing, or trade mis-invoicing, by transnational corporations (TNCs). As the Panama papers revealed, tax-havens not only enable TNCs to evade taxes, but also launder ‘dirty money’.

Illicit financial flows (IFFs) from developing and emerging economies between 2004 and 2013 were estimated at US$7.8 trillion, greater than combined aid and FDI flows to poor countries. Between 2010 and June 2012, OECD countries froze US$1.4 billion of corruption-related assets, but only returned US$147 million to the countries of origin! Thus, preventing or even reducing IFFs and returning the confiscated resources can help close the funding gap.

Generating revenue
Imposition of a small tax on short-term capital flows – known as the ‘Tobin tax’ – can not only reduce their volatility, but also the risk of financial crises. This can reduce the need for holding foreign reserves for protection, and enhance the development impact of capital flows. A global Tobin tax could generate between US$147 billion and US$1.6 trillion annually depending on the rate and coverage. Similarly, a global financial transactions tax (FTT) system could generate very significant resources, at least as much as aid, if not more. .

Institutional investors hold trillions of dollars in liquid assets, instead of investing in long-term projects. For example, pension funds hold around US$34 trillion in assets, with the largest ones holding 76 per cent of their portfolios in liquid assets. Meanwhile, sovereign wealth funds hold most of their funds in liquid financial assets in developed economies, with less than 5 per cent in direct investments. Rising political risks have made raising long-term investments particularly challenging.

The only bright spot is improvements in developing countries’ domestic resource mobilization. Developing countries have increased tax revenue collection over the last 15 years as tax incidence has become more regressive. The largest increases in revenues were in LDCs, economies in transition and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. But their domestic resources still remain far short of development finance needs.

Debt crisis threat
As most types of capital inflows decline, more developing countries are borrowing externally, resulting in a rising foreign debt-GDP ratio, reversing the trend in the last decade. Although modest, the recently rising external debt-GDP ratio is more pronounced in low-income countries, increasing from 31 to 35 per cent of GDP during 2014-2015.

Twenty low-income countries are at high risk of debt distress, compared to 13 in April 2015; three of them are considered to actually be in debt distress. The sharp fall in commodity prices, rising US interest rates and protracted slow growth are likely to worsen the situation, particularly for LDCs and small island developing states.

Greater vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters will further exacerbate their sovereign debt problems. Developing countries often get stuck in debt crises because there is no internationally agreed framework for timely, orderly and fair sovereign debt work-outs.

UN response
It has also supported developing countries’ call for an internationally agreed legal framework for timely, orderly and fair sovereign debt work-outs. It endorses developing countries’ call to strengthen international efforts to combat illicit financial flows, and continues to remind developed countries to meet their aid commitment.

The UN has long argued for the reform of global economic governance in line with changing global economic circumstances and to better serve developing countries’ interests. It has also called for a truly international reserve currency (e.g., Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs) not linked to any country’s currency, and for the fair allocation of newly issued SDRs for international development finance.

France Hosts Major Exhibition on Jamaican Music

29 March 2017 - 9:26am

Danny Coxson (left) and Sébastien Carayol. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

It’s one of those movie-like spring days in Paris, where blue skies and brilliant sunshine lift spirits after a long, wet, grey winter. Many people are outdoors trying to catch the rays, but Jamaican artist Danny Coxson is not among them.  He’s inside a museum in a northeastern neighbourhood of the French capital, with a brush in his hand and tubs of vivid paint beside him, focusing on finishing a portrait of a deejay named Big Youth.

Coxson’s artwork – colourful and precise renditions of Jamaica’s best known musicians – is the “common thread” that links the vast range of items on display in Jamaica Jamaica!, France’s first major exhibition on the history and impact of Jamaican music.

Born in Trench Town, like Bob Marley, 55-year-old Coxson has been painting since he was a young man, but he says he didn’t take it seriously until he was in his early thirties, when he lost three fingers through a machete incident in 1991. Since then, he has devoted his career to painting murals of Jamaica’s singers, producers and sound engineers, holding his paintbrush in the remaining fingers of his right hand.

Through a grant from the Institut français cultural agency, Coxson has been artist-in-residence in Paris since February, painting murals and portraits for the massive exhibition. On this day, he’s an island of calm in the museum, as workers rush around, finalizing the display for the public opening on April 4.

“This exhibition is a good thing for us Jamaicans,” Coxson tells IPS. “But we have to wake up about our own culture because sometimes we don’t value it enough. And look at how people come from so far and take it up.”

Jamaica Jamaica! is France’s first major exhibition on the history and impact of Jamaican music. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Jamaican music and artistic production have contributed greatly to the island’s cultural and economic development, but this is sometimes overlooked, Coxson says. Artists like him don’t receive enough official support, but perhaps the international spotlight will lead to greater local recognition of the role the arts play in development.

The Jamaica Jamaica! show is being held at the Philharmonie de Paris, a cultural institution at Paris’ immense Cité de la Musique complex. The Philharmonie focuses on music in all its forms and comprises state-of-the-art auditoriums, exhibition spaces, and practise rooms. It had long wanted to host an exhibition about Jamaican music, says Marion Challier, exhibition project manager.

“But we wanted to show the culture as well as the music and to show that Jamaican music is an important part of the history of the Black Atlantic,” she tells IPS. “There are so many stereotypes about the music and so many stigmas attached and we wanted to go beyond that.”

For the organizers, including curator Sébastien Carayol, it was important to show the African roots of the music and to shine a spotlight on its early forms, such as kumina and mento, as well as on ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall. “It was essential for us that the exhibition wasn’t just about Bob Marley,” Challier says.

Items about Jamaica’s most famous musician and his band The Wailers naturally form a significant part of the exhibition, but the show delves into the island’s “complex history” and the role that music has played throughout.

According to the organizers, “The branches of Jamaican music reach as widely as those of jazz or blues, and its roots dig deep into the days of slavery, tracing back to traditional forms of song and dance inherited from the colonisation of the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Still, “what many people don’t know is that since the 1950s, inventions in Jamaican music – born out of the ‘do-it-yourself’ ingenuity pulsing through the ghettos of Kingston – have laid the foundations for most modern-day urban musical genres, giving rise to such fixtures of todayʼs musical lingo as ‘DJ’, ‘sound system’, ‘remix’, ‘dub’, etc.”

The Philharmonie adds that: “Jamaican music is anything but one-dimensional. Often placed under the heading ‘World Music’, it is so popular around the globe that it could be called the ‘World’s Music’”.

Carayol, the curator, says that a particular interest for him was to show the “legendary sound systems” that have been an intrinsic part of 20th-century Jamaican culture. The exhibition has assembled original “sound-system” speakers dating from the 1950s and 1960s, for instance. Many of these had been discarded, and it was thanks to collectors who “rescued” them that they can now be displayed.

In fact, one huge speaker box was being used as a bench in somebody’s yard when a collector from the United Kingdom spotted it and managed to get it renovated, according to Carayol. It’s currently back in working order.

These sound systems lend themselves to the interactive nature of parts of the exhibition. Visitors are invited, for instance, to take a stint as the “selector”, to spin records, “turn up the volume and feel” their own sound “delivered by a world-class sound system custom built by sonic master Paul Axis”.

In other spaces, visitors get to learn about the famed Alpha Boys School, where orphans or other disadvantaged youth were groomed to become musicians at an institution run by Roman Catholic nuns in Kingston.

“This exhibition is a good thing for us Jamaicans but we have to wake up about our own culture because sometimes we don’t value it enough. And look at how people come from so far and take it up.”
The School has had its own band since the 1890s, and its alumni have influenced the development of both ska and reggae, according to historians. The four founding members of the Skatalites group (Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore and Lester Sterling) were “Alpha boys”, and the exhibition includes a vibrant mural of the group – painted by Coxson.

“These young men overcame their beginnings and became truly proficient musicians,” says Carayol. “That story is very important to me. It’s a universal story.”

The School will have tee-shirts on sale to raise funds for its continued operation, following fears that it would have to be closed in the future.

Jamaica Jamaica! also includes paintings of personalities often mentioned in reggae lyrics, such as Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, and visitors can listen to records that mention these political figures.

“Through installation, artwork, recordings, film – we’re trying to explain who everyone is,” says Carayol.

Asked why he, a Frenchman, was the curator of the exhibition, Carayol said the “simple” reason was: “You spend three years writing a project and it has to be written in French.”

Beyond that he has the “interest and the expertise,” he said, having spent years researching and directing films about the music. “The last thing I want is to be an outsider looking in and telling Jamaican people about themselves. I’m here for them to teach us and not the other way around. That’s my main focus,” he told IPS.

For Jamaicans who lived through the turbulent 1970s, an aspect of the exhibition that will strike a particular chord is the connection between the music and politics, and this is presented in a number of ways. There are the songs that came out of that period, the film footage, and iconic photographs of the famed One Love Peace Concert, when Marley tried to bring together warring factions aligned with politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga.

The so-called “rod of correction” used by then prime minister Manley is on display too. Manley gained support from the island’s Rastafarian community partly by claiming that Haile Selassie had given him this rod, or walking stick. And though that claim was later debunked, the “rod” remains the stuff of legend.

Both Manley and Marley are depicted in artwork throughout the exhibition, in paintings by some of Jamaica’s most celebrated artists, including the late Barrington Watson. Many pieces are on loan from the National Gallery of Jamaica and from private collectors on the island and in the United States and Britain.

“One of the big surprises was learning about the art,” Carayol says. “It’s an evocation of the music, and I want to show these artists to people who don’t know about them.”

The expected 150,000 visitors probably won’t forget Coxson, as his paintings of the island’s musicians and of renowned Jamaican poet Louise Bennett puts these personalities resolutely centre stage. (ENDS)

The Challenge Ahead: Harnessing Gene Editing to Sustainable Agriculture

29 March 2017 - 8:51am

Nteranya Sanginga is the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

By Nteranya Sanginga
IBADAN, Nigeria, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

The role of genetic engineering in agriculture and food has generated enormous interest and controversies, with large-scale embrace by some nations and wholesale bans by others.

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Many studies have been done and much research remains to be done on the impact genetically modified organisms (GMO) can have on broader food systems.

Fast-moving developments, however, suggest that lines drawn in the sand both for or against the broader use of GMOs risk becoming a distraction, particularly in Africa.

The major novelty is the emergence of CRISPR, which stands for “Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” and is popularly called “genome editing”, which amounts to a much faster way to alter genomes. The method sharply lowers costs and amounts to a revolution for seeds.

The second development springs from the first: Genetic engineering can now be deployed on a far vaster array of organisms, and with more bespoke goals such as drought resistance or nutritional enhancement. Many GMOs in the market are for insect and/or herbicide resistance, as has been the case for many biotechnology products of the past.

While formulating national policies on GMOs is the responsibility of governments, informed debate entails that we recognize these developments change the game.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture,– and the Food and Agriculture Organization considers biotechnologies as potential tools in the toolbox, meaning they may be appropriate. Our primary interest is in boosting food production, food security, nutrition, climate resilience, and rural employment.

At any rate, vast monocultures of cash crops such as maize, soy and cotton – the main GMO varieties in the world today – are not our utmost priority. But CRISPR and related new approaches open the door to many more applications.

To cite a few examples, all very recent: Researchers have developed a transgenic maize variety that keeps aflatoxin out of kernels, thus tackling one of the world’s single-largest food problems and source of farm-based agriculture loss.

Elsewhere, scientists in Ghana have developed a GM cowpea that survives pests – or needs less pesticide – is advanced and might be available at a commercial scale as early as next year. Currently, the Maruca pod-borer destroys a hefty share – often more than half – of cowpeas grown in West Africa.

Or take cassava, which is one of IITA’s favorite crops and is the second-most important source of calories consumed in sub-Saharan Africa. A recent exploratory review found 14 potential genetic pathways that could improve the crop’s yield which has proven stubbornly stable for decades. One of them involved optimizing the plant’s photosynthesis in the same way that has worked well with tobacco and other plants. The goal is to adjust the plant’s canopy so that more of its energy goes into actual storage roots rather than stems. Another potential path is to tweak the cassava so that it can thrive better in soils with lower phosphorus, to which it is notably more sensitive than other major staple crops.

Working with Nigeria’s National Root Crop Research Institute, IITA is conducting research on a disease-resistant cassava with higher vitamin A content. Nigeria is also running confined field tests for GMO sorghum fortified to produce more iron, zinc, protein and vitamin A and to demonstrate greater nitrogen efficiency while growing. These and other hypothetical developments – think salt-tolerant rice, or zinc-enhanced cassava, or zinc and iron-fortified pearl millet – may warrant pursuit.

Similarly several confined field trials of GMOs are occurring in Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda

African governments are taking cautious steps. South Africa grows GMO corn and soybeans, while non-food crops are legally cultivated in Sudan.

Last month, Kenya’s parliament authorized local crop researchers to start growing GMO cotton, although instructed not to let related by-products enter the human and animal food chain. Lawmakers also welcomed experimental genetic trials aimed at solving endemic national problems affecting sweet potato and cassava crops, and suggested they’d look at legalization on a case-by-case basis. Ghana recently authorized GMO guidelines – a bill allowing them is not yet law – and other countries including Nigeria and Burkina Faso have moved even further.

Opposition in the past has come for a host of reasons, including fears that GMO crops required expensive inputs provided by multinationals and posed environmental risks as they were often designed to be resistant to herbicides. Many of the new proposals come without such baggage, suggesting the policy debate will change.

Norway has adopted an interesting regulatory approach to genetic engineering, which requires safety reviews, farmer consultations, and a litmus test of whether alternatives contribute better to sustainable agricultural practices. That’s a far cry from the usually binary debate – stoked by stories about creating designer human babies – about GMOs.

The subject matter is complex and the science even more so. It appears we are on the brink of a deluge of new discoveries – engineering beneficial soil microbes may soon be a booming research arena – many of which may not need the kind of capital-intensive agricultural operations where GMOs were first developed and can instead directly address the needs of smallholders in developing countries and the specific food and nutrition security and climate change challenges they face.

Genome editing can now economically be applied to the crop cultivars that farmers in a given locale prefer, consisting of highly targeted interventions that can address specific challenges, and don’t take years of breeding to consolidate.

It’s a new world. Let’s have a new debate, not the old one.

Late to Walk

29 March 2017 - 5:13am

By Charmaine Taylor Rietman
OTTAWA, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

I have two children. A daughter who just turned six and a son who just turned three. My daughter was late to walk. My husband and I were pretty worried about why it was taking so long for her to stop ‘bum scooching’ — her preferred method of movement. I consulted Google on more than one occasion to see if other parents had children doing the same. I felt anxious when I read that 18 months was considered very late. She didn’t start until she was 22 months after a few months of physiotherapy.

My son followed in his sister’s footsteps, but being the second child, we were much more relaxed about his late motor development and repeatedly said, ‘he’ll get there.’ But by the time he was 22 months he wasn’t even close to taking his first steps. His pediatrician referred him to the same physiotherapist who helped accelerate our daughter’s walking. When my son was about to turn two, the physiotherapist, recommended that we get his name on the long waiting list to see a Developmental Pediatrician for a neurological exam because it could take between 6-9 months to get in. If there was an issue, we needed to find out sooner than later.

She also thought he was displaying some signs of Autism.

Autism? What did she mean? I didn’t understand.

He engaged with his peers and his family. He was cuddly and lovable. He reached out to be picked up or held. He made eye contact with us. He smiled when we smiled. He responded to his name and asked for things he wanted. He got upset if his sister was crying or if another child got hurt. He waved and was able to look at things we pointed to. He had a really good, clear command of language early on. He never regressed in any way.

Our seemingly normal child has ASD. His pediatrician doesn’t believe the diagnosis. We had a hard time accepting it ourselves, but it is what it is. It is up to us, as parents, to help guide our children and lead them into the world. The same goes for our son, so he can have a life just like anyone else. Our son is going to be okay.
When I researched the signs of Autism he didn’t display any of them. Except, from a very young age, he would move his arms when he was excited and happy. Like a little bird. We didn’t think anything of it, we thought it was adorable.

When I did the intake for the neurological assessment I mentioned the hand ‘flapping.’ I hadn’t realized it was a flag for ASD. The wait didn’t take 6-9 months – he was on in two months.

About a week before the assessment, our son finally took a few steps on his own; he was beginning to cruise. We were thrilled! Then it became time for my husband and I to take him to his assessment. The doctors observed his behaviour and his interactions with us, while he played on the floor. They asked us a lot of questions about my pregnancy and his short life. There was a bit of hand flapping during our meeting. It took about two hours and at the end of the meeting, they sent us away for half an hour. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach: they’re going to think he has Autism. My perfect boy was going to receive the label. I just knew it.

The doctors went over his results. They were pleased he was walking, so there was no issue neurologically, but they wanted to invite him back to be assessed for ASD because he was displaying a few signs. I told them we would do anything for him, but I was aware that the spectrum had broadened and that the medical community loves to label kids.

Five weeks later we returned to the hospital for his test. The week before he was to be seen he finally started to walk on his own. The test, in our minds, seemed skewed to give the doctors the results they wanted. They played with him and it seemed like he was engaging the way a toddler should. After they were done, they sent us away again — the way they did the first visit. When we returned they informed us that we had a very special boy who shared a loving and deep connection with both my husband and myself. They told us that after scoring his results he just made the cut off for being on the ‘spectrum.’

Our son had Autism.

To this day, I don’t know if I can describe how that felt.

After that day, I spent hours and hours researching Autism; trying to make sense of Autism Spectrum Disorder; trying to figure out where he fit on this spectrum. Like most people, when I heard the word Autism, I envisioned a non-verbal child who preferred to be alone, who was disengaged and super quirky.

This was not our son.

We hated that he had been given this label that would instantly cause people to think of ‘Rainman’ or the weird, eccentric kids we all grew up with who were never diagnosed. The ones who never had friends because they didn’t know how to socialize or have normal conversations. The kids who obsessed over things and sometimes rocked back and forth or hummed incessantly.

This was not our son.

It’s been almost a year since he was diagnosed. He attends pre-school and whilst there is a bit of a difference between him and his peers, he’s in it, wholeheartedly. He loves playing with his sister and having play dates. He loves people, his grandparents and dogs. He loves music and laughing and being goofy. He loves watching movies while cuddling on the couch. He could talk your ear off about all six Star Wars movies, Spiderman or diggers and dumpers. He’s picky about foods, but getting more adventurous. He is a toddler through and through, but more often than not, when he does something we wonder, is this a toddler thing to do or is this ASD?

The number of children being diagnosed with ASD continues to rise every day. If there is one thing I have learned in this whole process, it’s that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need their parents to be their advocates. The spectrum seems so wide and so full of misinterpretation, it is a veritable challenge to navigate. Every child is a unique human being. Yet every child who is diagnosed with ASD falls into an undefineable spectrum and continues to be misunderstood because of the label.

Our seemingly normal child has ASD. His pediatrician doesn’t believe the diagnosis. We had a hard time accepting it ourselves, but it is what it is. It is up to us, as parents, to help guide our children and lead them into the world. The same goes for our son, so he can have a life just like anyone else. Our son is going to be okay. He will be given the tools he needs to make it in this world and my husband and I will be right beside him the entire way.

* The writer is a mother who chose not to disclose her real identity

 

How to Stir up a Refugee Crisis in Five Steps, Trump Style

28 March 2017 - 9:28pm

The US/Mexico Border is becoming more dangerous. Credit: Hans Maximo Musielik/Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman
MEXICO CITY, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

The sight of one of the most infamous borders on earth – roughly 1,000 kilometers of porous metal fence dividing lives, hopes and dreams between the USA and Mexico, is undoubtedly overwhelming, but not in the way we expected it to be.

While it has been one of the most talked about issues since last year’s USA election campaign, the stretch of land that separates the USA and Mexico now lies eerily quiet.

The stream of men, women and children US President Trump predicted would be flooding the area are nowhere to be seen. There is no one working on the “big, powerful wall” Trump promised to build along the entire length of more than 3,000 kilometers of the border. The 5,000 additional border patrol agents that are meant to be “increasing security” in the area have yet to be deployed.

What we recently witnessed along the border, however, is increasing confusion and utter fear. As many advocates described it “the quiet before the storm”. This is not a new situation, things have been building up in the area but they are likely to get devastatingly worse.

Many of these people are seeking protection as they are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries.

Because although President Trump’s promises have not yet been fully acted upon, the machine has been set in motion, building up on years of bad policies and practices along the border. The potential impact the most recently enacted border control measures will have on the lives of thousands of people living in terror of being sent back to extreme violence is becoming notable.

This is how the Trump administration is stirring up what could dangerously become a full blown refugee crisis:

  1. Sow a discourse of hate and fear

Since the start of his campaign for the Presidency, Donald Trump has repeatedly described migrants and asylum seekers, particularly people from Mexico and Central America, as “criminals and rapists”.

He has failed to acknowledge the plight of the thousands of women, children and men who live in “war-like” situations in some of the most dangerous countries on earth, particularly El Salvador and Honduras, and who are effectively forced to flee their homes if they want to live.

Credit: Hans Maximo Musielik/Amnesty International

  1. Pass confusing orders with no advice on how to implement them

In the initial raft of Executive Orders passed by President Trump during his first days in office, the administration effectively sought to close the borders to immigrants, including asylum seekers looking for a safe haven in the USA.

The Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order of 25 January aims at ensuring that the process of detaining and expelling migrants and asylum seekers is as swift as possible – fully ignoring the fact that some of these people face mortal danger if sent back to their countries.

Furthermore, since the order was issued, it appears border agencies have been left in the dark about how to implement it. We arrived in Arizona just two days after the Department of Homeland Security had released its 20 February Memo detailing how to roll out Trump’s border security executive order. We were told that at least one high-level member of border control had received the memo the same time as the press had, and was none the wiser as to how to implement it.

  1. Turn people back, no questions asked

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people from Central America and other countries around the world cross Mexico’s land border with the USA to seek safety and a better life. As well as Mexicans, many of these people are seeking protection as they are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries (including El Salvador and Honduras).

But we received multiple reports and evidence that rather than allowing people to enter the USA and seek asylum in order to save their lives, US Customs and Border patrol are repeatedly refusing entry to asylum seekers all along the border.

From San Diego, California to McAllen, Texas, we were told that even before Trump arrived on the scene, from as early as 2015, border agents have been known to take the law into their own hands by turning back asylum seekers, telling them they cannot enter. This is not only immoral but also against international legal principles the USA has committed to uphold and USA law itself, which stipulates the right and process to ask for asylum.

One human rights worker on the Mexican side of the border with Arizona, told us how a border patrol agent scorned her for accompanying Central Americans to the border to ensure that their rights were not violated. “How do you feel, aren’t you ashamed to be helping ‘terrorists’?” she was asked.

  1. Turn a blind eye to criminal groups terrorizing asylum seekers

Crossing into the USA without papers means risking your life, as it makes people more vulnerable to gangs and drug cartels who control the border area and are primed to profit from people in desperate situations.

We have received many reports that people smugglers have hiked their rates dramatically since Trump was elected. US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly recently announced that since November 2016 the rate charged by people smugglers in some areas along the US southwest border has risen from US$3,500 to US$8,000. Yet what Kelly fails to recognize is how this will put people’s lives at further risk. People will not stop fleeing their countries and moving north in search of safety, despite Trump’s border control measures. Criminal groups will only gain more power once the border wall is built, charging vulnerable people fortunes to leave their country and make their way to the USA.

  1. Outsource the responsibility

Multiple questions remain regarding the USA’s plans to further militarize its southern border and deny entry to asylum seekers. One of the biggest questions involves Mexico’s role in this equation.

In recent weeks, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray announced that Mexico would not receive foreigners turned back from the USA under Trump’s 25 January Border Control Executive Order. Yet no one we spoke to on the border understood what this would look like in practice. Would Mexico start raids along its border? Would it carry out more deportations? Or, would Mexico’s refusal to host migrants lead to even more people locked up in immigration detention centres on the US side? Or, would we see ad hoc refugee camps along the Mexican side of the border as asylum seekers wait for their claims to be heard in US immigration courts? Already acutely vulnerable people would be exposed to further harm and human rights abuses by both criminal groups.

Amnesty International spoke to four Mexican government officials stationed at border cities, and it was evident that confusion reigns. “We are going along with our work in a normal way,” one official in Tamaulipas told us. “I don’t think we have any plans regarding how to receive those being turned back,” another official in Chihuahua said.

In this climate of uncertainty and fear, migrants and asylum seekers are more vulnerable to coercion and violations of their rights to due process. Fearful of a USA government that appears quick to detain and deport them, and uncertain of their situation while on Mexican soil, the desperation of migrants and asylum seekers and the abuses they are forced to endure, are bound to rise.

Sri Lanka’s Small Tea Farmers Turn Sustainable Land Managers

28 March 2017 - 5:00pm

Small tea farmer Kamakandalagi Leelavathi harvests leaves in the Uda Haupe tea estate in Kahawatte, Sri Lanka. She is one of hundreds of farmers who are shunning herbicides and other chemicals. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
RATNAPURA, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the mercury rises higher, Kamakandalagi Leelavathi delves deeper into the lush green mass of the tea bushes. The past few afternoons there have been thunderstorms. So the 55-year-old tea picker in Uda Houpe tea garden of Sri Lanka’s Hatton region is rushing to complete her day’s task before the rain comes: harvesting 22 kgs of tea leaves.

“The rain is very unpredictible. Now there are downpours but it has been very dry the past few months,” says the daily wager who owns a one-acre marginal farm.

Yet at the Uda Houpe tea garden, the situation is much better, says Daurkarlagi Taranga, Leelavathi’s daughter and fellow tea farmer. “We have not been affected as badly as others. Here, the bushes are still full (of leaves) and the ground is moist thanks to the techniques we use,” she says.

These techniques are assorted green actions taken by small tea planters to manage their farmland in an eco-friendly way, explains Alluth Wattage Saman, manager of the Uda Houpe estate. The most important of these actions is minimising use of synthetic weed killer (herbicide), widely viewed as the main reason behind the degrading health of soil and tea plants in the region.

A tea picker in the Bearwell tea estate of Sri Lanka, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Climate threat to a lucrative sector

The tea sector of Sri Lanka is 153 years old and remain the largest industry today, providing employment to 2.5 million people. According to the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, the industry counts for 62 percent of all agricultural exports and brings home 1.6 billion dollars in foreign currency each year. Contributing to this huge business is a 400,000-strong small tea farmer community.

However, the lucrative tea economy of the island nation has been witnessing growing environmental challenges – the biggest of them being severe land degradation.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), there is high rate of land degradation across the tea growing region in Sri Lanka. The biggest reason is that farmers here have used synthetic weed killer on the plantations for several decades.

They also paid little attention to protecting the water sources and biodiversity around the plantations. This has gradually affected the health of the soil, decreasing its fertility level, making it more acidic and also causing soil erosion.

While the degradation has affected the entire industry, the livelihoods and food security of the small tea growers are particularly threatened, says Lalith Kumar, project manager at the Tea Small Holding Development Authority (TSHDA) in Ratnapura, a region that produces over 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s tea.

Harvesters in Sri Lanka’s Bearwell tea estate, which has adopted sustainable land management along its supply chain. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Greening the Small Farms

The TSHDA is a government agency working with small tea growers in the country. According to Kumar, there are 150 small tea farms (less than 10 acres of land) in the Ratnapura region alone which provide livelihood to about 100,000 farmers. Climate change has worsened the situation with recurring droughts, erratic rainfall, and increasing soil erosion and acidification.

As a result, tea bushes are withering and moisture from the topsoil is evaporating, leaving the soil hardened and plant roots weak and damaged.

To help the tea farmers deal with this, TSHDA is currently working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on a project to minimise herbicide use in the small tea farms and reverse the processes of degradation by sustainably managing the land.

According to a document by Global Environment Facility (GEF), the funder of the 2.9 million project, the goal is to “improve farm management practices, so that existing production land becomes more productive and forests, rivers, streams and other biologically important land situated on or adjacent to tea production areas are protected from negative impacts.”

A major step taken by the TSHDA is to train the farmers to manage their land in a sustainable way with minimum or no herbicides.

“We have started to train small farm managers in sustainable land management techniques that are simple, yet effective,” Kumar said. A lot of weeds grow around the tea bush, but only some of them are harmful.

“We train them in identifying the weeds and removing the harmful ones either by uprooting or cutting them at the roots. The weeds are then used as a bed of mulch, applied in between the two rows of tea plants. This helps retain the moisture on the land,“ he explained.

Training the Community

Saman, the manager of the Uda Haupe, is one of the 300 small tea growers who have been trained by TSHDA so far. It was an informal, hands-on training, reveals Saman, which included a day-long visit to a progressive and sustainably managed farm – the Hapugastenne tea estate.

There Saman saw small farmers like him managing their land without any synthetic weed killer or pesticides. He also learned to use organic manure, protect the water sources like natural springs within the plantation, as well the shedy trees, so birds and other animals can also survive. Finally, he learnt that the yield of the farm had increased almost by 60 percent since they adopted those techniques.

The visit, says the tea planter, helped him realize “small steps can bring bring big changes in a farm”.

The result has been encouraging: “I earlier spent 35,000 on herbicide every year, now I am saving that amount. My overall profit has gone up to 75,000 rupees,” says Saman, who has shared the newfound knowledge with his workers.

Some Unplugged Gaps

Saman and other small tea farmers in the area like Leelavathi sell their harvest to Kahawatte Plantation, a tea estate owned by corporate tea giant Dilmah. Early this month, the plantation received a Rainforest Alliance certificcation which recognizes that the estate maintains sustainability standards all along its supply chain, including the farms from where it buys the tea. This has already boosted the price of the estate’s produce, but suppliers like Saman are not aware of either the certification or its economic benefits such as higher market value.

“Nobody has told us about this,” Saman says.

Others want the government to help them with monetary incentives to better deal with climatic challenges.

At present, TSHDA offers a 50 percent subsidy to farmers who want to do a replantation on their farm – a complex and costly process that involves complete uprooting of all the tea plants, re-preparing the soil and replanting the saplings.

This is done when the yield in the farm drops dramatically due to either age (normally 30 years) or severe degradation of the land that cripples productivity. However, there are no other subsidies or incentives provided to the farmers right now for adopting sustainable land management – a policy that small tea growers like Leelavathi would like to see change.

“Since the use of the mulch, I began to save 700 rupees every month on herbicide and my total income rose to 15,000. But because of the growing droughts, I have to use most of it on fertilizer. If the government gives a subsidy, it will be very helpful. Or else I may have to migrate to another estate to earn more,” she says.

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Syrian Regime Survives on Russian Arms & UN Vetoes

28 March 2017 - 12:25pm

Syrian conflict. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

As the devastating civil war in Syria entered its seventh year last week, President Bashar al-Assad has continued to survive— despite faltering efforts by the United States and the UN Security Council (UNSC) to rein him in, or impose sanctions on his beleaguered regime.

Assad, who did his post-graduate studies in the UK and was trained as an ophthalmologist in London, is not your average, run-of-the mill Middle East dictator.

Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch calls him an “Arab dictator 2.0” – technologically upgraded from the likes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, both of whom died in the hands of their captors.

“He is a different kind of blood thirsty dictator who shops online on his I-pad,” says Houry, describing Assad as more dress-conscious and technologically sophisticated in an age of the social media.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “For six years now, the Syrian people have been victims of one of the worst conflicts of our time” – and under Assad’s presidency.

The death toll is estimated at nearly 400,000, according to the United Nations and civil society organizations monitoring the conflict.

And the Syrian President’s political survival has depended largely on three factors: Russian vetoes in the Security Council (aided occasionally by China) protecting his presidency; a wide array of Russian weapons at his command; and the sharp division among multiple rebel groups trying unsuccessfully to oust him from power.

Assad, however, is not unique in the protection he receives from a divided Security Council. Israel continues to be protected by the US and Morocco by France.

After losing Iraq and Libya — two of its former military allies who were heavily dependent on Russian weapons– Moscow has remained determined to prevent any Western-inspired regime change in Syria.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS: “Although the harsh U.S. criticism of Russia and China for the abuse of their veto powers is in itself quite reasonable, it should be noted that while Russia and China have now vetoed six resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Syria, the United States has vetoed no less than 43 resolutions challenging violations of international legal norms by Israel.”

Though the Russian and Chinese vetoes of these modest and quite reasonable resolutions on Syria have been shameful, Assad would probably still be in power regardless, he said.

“None of these resolutions allowed for foreign military intervention or anything that would have significantly altered the power balance. The opposition is too divided and, despite the regime’s savage repression, it still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given popular fears of a takeover by Salafist radicals if Assad was overthrown,” he noted.

Furthermore, even the Assad regime’s harshest Western critics have never appeared ready to dramatically escalate their support for Syrian rebels or their direct military intervention regardless of whether or not they had UN authorization to do so, said Zunes who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

In a statement last week, the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee [Democtat-California] pointed out that “President Trump recently deployed 400 troops to Syria and reports indicate that the Pentagon is planning to send 1,000 additional troops in the coming weeks, marking the latest front in this endless war.”

The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is currently involved in a fifth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, described as “Geneva V”.

A coalition of civil society organizations, however, warned last week that Geneva IV failed to deliver tangible progress to improve the lives of our people. “Unless there are consequences for the continued killing of civilians, Geneva V will suffer the same fate.”

“As this new round of talks begins, we appeal to you to bring leverage to the table – otherwise your presence does nothing to increase the chances of success. We know what we want for our future and how we should get there. We need what we can’t deliver and what has always been missing: pressure on and leverage over the regime and its allies to enforce Security Council resolutions, which are clear and explicit.”

In a guest editorial in the current issue of the magazine published by the UN Association of UK, Lakhdar Brahimi, who served as UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria from 2012 until 2014, said: “Yes, the UN failed to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but a deeper understanding is needed of why the UN fails when it fails, and why the UN succeeds when it succeeds.

Asked about the continued vibrant military relationship between Syria and Russia, Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the Syrian conflict is seemingly intractable.

Bashar al-Assad has remained in power, despite a conflict that has persisted since 2011. She said Russian support, including arms transfers, has helped President Assad stay in power.

“The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has documented small quantities of weapons transfers to Syria from China, Iran, and North Korea, as well as possible transfers from Belarus. But over the last 15 years, Russia has been by far the Assad regime’s dominant arms supplier.”

President Assad has remained in power, but at great cost, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues

Russia has remained the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, and badly in need of refurbishing or replacements. As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

Goldring said Syria is yet another example of the costs of proxy warfare. Continued arms transfers fuel the conflict, and the Trump Administration’s plans for US forces in Syria magnify this risk. She said the pattern of the conflict suggests that a military solution is unlikely.

When one group has been able to attain an advantage, it has been temporary, as another group has responded. “Rather than perpetuating the conflict through weapons transfers, the suppliers should stop supplying weapons and ammunition to ongoing conflicts, including in Syria,” said Goldring.

Singling out the role of the United Nations in resolving international crises over the years, Zunes told IPS “the Syrian dictator is not the only autocratic Arab dictator to have received support from a divided Security Council.”

He pointed out that Moroccan King Hassan II and his successor Mohammed VI’s ongoing occupation of Western Sahara, and refusal to go ahead with the promised referendum on the fate of the territory, has put Morocco in violation of a series of Security Council resolutions.

But France—and, depending on the administration, the United States as well—has prevented the United Nations from enforcing these resolutions through Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

As with Indonesia’s 24-year occupation East Timor, he pointed out, Morocco’s permanent member backers have never had to formally exercise their veto power as has Syria’s allies, but the threat of a veto has prevented the United Nations from carrying through with its responsibilities to uphold the right of Western Sahara, as a legally-recognized non-self-governing territory, to self-determination.

Today, more than four decades after the UNSC initially called on Morocco to pull out and allow for self-determination, the occupation and repression continues, he noted.

“If anything, the case for UN action in Western Sahara is legally more compelling. While the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Syria is far worse, it is primarily an internal conflict taking place within that country’s sovereign internationally-recognized borders, while Western Sahara—as an international dispute involving a foreign military occupation–is clearly a UN responsibility,” Zunes declared.

“Though the Russian and Chinese vetoes of these modest and quite reasonable resolutions on Syria have been shameful, Assad would probably still be in power regardless.”

“None of these resolutions allowed for foreign military intervention or anything that would have significantly altered the power balance.”

He said the opposition is too divided and, despite the regime’s savage repression, it still has the support of a substantial minority of Syrians, particularly given popular fears of a takeover by Salafist radicals if Assad was overthrown.

Furthermore, even the Assad regime’s harshest Western critics have never appeared ready to dramatically escalate their support for Syrian rebels or their direct military intervention regardless of whether or not they had UN authorization to do so, he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Costa Rican Town Fears That the Sea Will Steal Its Shiny New Face

27 March 2017 - 9:03pm

Reynaldo Charles and Ezequiel Hudson talk with Eliécer Quesada (left to right) about the state of the breakwater on which they are standing. This is the part where the waves reach closest to the houses, and at high tide the water crosses over the new bicycle lane and the street and reaches the homes, in the town of Cienaguita on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
CIENEGUITA, Costa Rica, Mar 28 2017 (IPS)

Two years have gone by since the new government initiative which subsidises community works changed the face with which the coastal town of Cienaguita, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, looks out to the sea.

In place of a battered path between the beach and the first houses, the investment allowed the construction of a paved coastal street with a bicycle lane, playgrounds for children and a sports space where groups of young people exercise around mid-morning, since March 2015.

“The boulevard has brought about a 180-degree change in this part of the community,” 67-year-old community leader Ezequiel Hudson told IPS about the new recreational spaces available to the 5,400 inhabitants of this town next to the city of Puerto Limón, in the centre of the country’s Caribbean coast.

However, the 2.5 million-dollar investment is threatened by coastal erosion and the rise in the level of water in the sea, which occasionally floods the new street.

Local residents of Cienaguita are worried about the effects that climate change may have on their town.“We have documented a rise in the sea level and in wind and wave speeds.” -- Omar Lizano

The most conservative estimates put the sea level rise between 20 and 60 centimetres by 2100, but new studies point to a still higher increase, which would irremediably damage the life of the whole town, whose inhabitants make a living fishing or working on the docks of Puerto Limón.

“A few days ago the sea rose, and covered the whole street,” said Reynaldo Charles, head of the town’s Association for Integral Development, on a mid-March tour through the area with IPS.

Community leaders and local residents are afraid that the waves will erode the foundations of the road and bicycle lane and end up destroying the new streeet, which everyone is so proud of. Charles and Hudson report that most of the almond trees that adorned the avenue have already disappeared.

The impact is uneven. In some places, the beach is full of sticks that the tide has washed up, and in the most critical areas, the waves have completely devoured the sand and stop just a dozen metres from the first houses.

It was not always like this. Local residents say that until a few years ago, the beach was 50 metres wide and children used to play there and adults would fish, in this town located 160 kilometres east of the capital, which is reached by a long, steep road which winds its way across the Cordillera Central mountains.

But now, the waves reach the doors of the houses at high tide and residents have to protect their homes with sandbags.

“This has to be solved now or in a matter of a few years, because this is a question of prevention,” 68-year-old retiree Eliécer Quesada told IPS, while looking at the breakwater that stops the Caribbean sea just a few steps from his house.

In front of him there is practically no beach, just the constant breaking of waves against the rocks placed there a few years ago by the state power utility, ICE, to protect underground cables.

However, ICE has moved the internet cables inland to protect them and local residents worry that they will receive no more help from the power company in the future.

“Go see what it’s like in the Netherlands or Belgium, with huge breakwaters and dikes which even have roads running along them,” said Quesada, who worked as a sailor his whole life and visited ports around the world.

The rest of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline has similar problems with erosion, said oceanographer Omar Lizano, of the University of Costa Rica’s Centre for Research in Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR).

“This phenomenon is happening all along our Caribbean coast and I suppose that the same thing will happen in Nicaragua, Panama and in the entire Caribbean region,” the expert in waves and ocean currents told IPS.

For several years, Lizano has been monitoring the beaches on the Caribbean and observing how the waves have gained metres and metres of sand.

This Central American country of 4.7 million people has coastline along the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean sea to the east.

“We have documented a rise in the sea level and in wind and wave speeds,” said the CIMAR expert.

In Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coastal region, for example, the Cahuita National Park has lost dozens of metres of turtle nesting beach, which poses a threat to the turtle populations that spawn in the area.

A study published in 2014 by the Climate Change and Basins Programme of the Center for Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE) determined that the sea rises on average two millimetres per year along the coast of the eastern province of Limón, which covers the country’s entire Caribbean coast, and whose capital is Puerto Limón.

The report analysed the climate vulnerability of the coastal areas of Central America’s Caribbean region and concluded that the Costa Rican districts overlooking the sea have a high to very high adaptation capacity.

This is partly thanks to the level of community organisation, with groups such as the one headed by Charles, and the institutional support which translates into concrete actions, like the breakwater built by ICE and another one built nearby by the Council of Port Administration and Economic Development of the Atlantic Coast.

The people of Cienaguita are asking for more resources to design new protective structures, which could even be transformed into a seaside promenade for the community. Quesada advocates mitigating the erosion with tetrapods, a very stable tetrahedral concrete structure used as armour unit on breakwaters.

Lizano said the situation is not sustainable for much longer. Other countries can invest in infrastructure to protect their people, such as breakwaters or seawalls, or fill in the beaches to buy time, but this is not feasible for Costa Rica because of the high costs.

“If we can’t afford to do this, the only thing we can do is move to higher ground. This is our adaptation measure,” said the oceanographer.

Community leader Charles said he has asked for help from Puerto Limón municipal authorities and from national agencies, but they all claim that they do not have the necessary funds.

Costa Rica is in the initial stages of its National Adaptation Plan, a broad document that will define the path that the country will take to protect itself from the worst impacts of climate change, and urban settlements and coastal areas shall be priorities.

“I think we need to start to talk very seriously about the vulnerability of coastal communities like Cienaguita or Chacarita (on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast),” Pascal Girot, the head of climate change in the Ministry of Environment and Energy, told IPS.

This can lead to more concrete actions, he said. “They will be badly affected by the rise in the sea level,” said Girot, who will lead the national climate adaptation process.

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Caribbean Faces Forecast for Prolonged Drought

27 March 2017 - 8:02pm

A manmade rainwater catchment on a farm in Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

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

The Caribbean Drought & Precipitation Monitoring Network (CDPMN) is warning countries in the region that the same abnormal climate conditions they have experienced over the last few years, which resulted in some of the worst drought in two decades, could continue this year.

Several Caribbean countries, particularly in the eastern Caribbean, experienced a drier than normal February, and in some cases both February and January were relatively dry, CDPMN said."In my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes.” --Donovan Stanberry

The Barbados-based network also said that although there is some uncertainty over rainfall during the March to May period in some parts of the Caribbean, concerns remain for the western Caribbean/Greater Antilles for both short and long term drought, and in the southern portion of the eastern Caribbean for long term drought.

“Some models also suggest the possibility for the return of El Niño, and drier than normal conditions late in 2017,” Chief of Applied Meteorology and Climatology at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), Adrian Trotman told IPS. “The CDPMN will continue to monitor this situation.”

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly in the eastern tropical Pacific every two to seven years. When the trade winds that usually blow from east to west weaken, sea surface temperatures start rising, setting off a chain of weather impacts.

In 2015 and 2016, a powerful El Niño drove up global temperatures and played a role in droughts in many parts of the world.

The so-called “Super El Niño” is said by experts to have had a role in driving global temperatures to record highs.

CDPMN said apart from portions of Barbados and Dominica that were slightly wet, the islands of the eastern Caribbean were normal to below normal regarding rainfall for the month.

It said Trinidad and Tobago was normal to slightly dry; Grenada, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, St. Maarten, St. Thomas normal; while Barbados was normal to slightly wet with St. Vincent extremely dry and St. Lucia moderate to extremely dry.

The French island of Martinique was reported to be moderate to severely dry, while Dominica was slightly wet in the southwest to severely dry in the northeast.

Antigua was exceptionally dry and St. Kitts moderately dry. The CDPMN said that the Guianas ranged from normal to very wet, with greatest relative wetness in interior areas.

Beginning in 1997-1998, drought forced water restrictions across the Caribbean, and resulted in significant losses in the agriculture sector.

Caribbean countries have been implementing water rationing to deal with shortages of the resource, with St. Kitts being the latest country to implement the measure.

On Jan. 25, the Water Services Department announced the resumption of water rationing in the capital Basseterre, Bird Rock, Half Moon and the South East Peninsula. Daily rationing occurs during the hours of 10 pm to 5 am.

The Water Services Department said although rainfall for 2016 was more than in 2015, it was still significantly below average, and therefore the country is still in drought.

“We are approaching the Dry Season and are already experiencing reduced inflows from our surface water sources and storage in our wells. The recent showers only improved the situation slightly,” acting general manager Dennison Paul said.

“We are also experiencing technical difficulties with one of our wells in the Basseterre Valley Aquifer, which has compounded the problem. Our drilling programme is ongoing and should bring relief to consumers when commissioned.”

In 2015, St. Kitts experienced island-wide water rationing as a result of drought conditions. Coming off traditional rainfall levels of around 20.63 inches per year, the island saw an average 9.87 inches in 2015.

Officials have implemented several water-saving measures to help mitigate the upcoming dry period.

These include asking all residents, government and private institutions to make the repair of leaks a priority; asking residents without cisterns to explore purchasing large storage containers  of 500 gallons or more; businesses implementing a water management contingency plan which should involve daily monitoring of water meter; government ensuring that critical institutions such as hospitals and schools, have onsite standby water storage receptacles, based on vulnerability; there should be no washing of vehicles with water hoses; mandatory no watering of grass; no water delivery to cruise vessels; and fines or disconnection of service for violation, where applicable

In addition to other measures taken to improve the supply of water to consumers, Public Works Minister Ian Liburd indicated in July 2016 that a company, Ocean Earth Technologies, had been contracted to locate and bring on-stream new wells in the Basseterre area.

He said they had identified seven sites north of the airport where wells were to be drilled.

Barbados has also been grappling with chronic water shortages while the St Lucia government, in 2015, declared a “water-related emergency” as some communities, particularly in the north, continue to deal with dry weather conditions affecting water supplies across the Caribbean.

At the fifth Regional Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Montreal earlier this month, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Donovan Stanberry called for greater focus to be given to the impact of drought on agriculture in the Caribbean.

“I think that for a long time we have been focusing on hurricanes in the Caribbean and really we have taken our eyes off drought mitigation. And in my view for agriculture, drought is a more serious threat to us than in fact hurricanes,” Stanberry said. “After a hurricane, you can get up the next morning and start producing again; the drought tends to be prolonged.

“The overwhelming majority of our farmers, particularly our smaller ones, really depend on rainfall; and with climate change we are seeing wide variation in rainfall patterns. We are seeing extremes; in some months we have too much rain and for the last three four years, you can almost bet your bottom dollar, that there is going to be a drought and the drought tends to be prolonged,” Stanberry added.

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UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingya

27 March 2017 - 4:03pm

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

The Failure of the Happiness Index

27 March 2017 - 2:09pm

By Biru Paksha Paul
Mar 27 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

My next-door neighbour in upstate New York was an old woman named June. Her husband Herbert was housed in a care centre for the elderly. They had grown-up kids living in different states of the US from where they made rare visits to their parents. June was more attached to my wife and kids. She loved us very much. We used to invite her anytime we had some kind of festivities. As I came to know later, one midnight June had chest pain but did not want to disturb anyone. She braved to drive the car to the nearby hospital, where she breathed her last. My family could not resist a tearful outburst when we came to know that June left us silently. How happy was June living in a country like the US that ranked 14th in the latest Happiness Index 2017?

The death of June was akin to that of Sharatchandra’s Devdas, who had no one at his side to shed tears for him when he was departing the world. Poor Devdas was unfortunate because he was deprived of Parvati’s love. Poignant isolation and dry individualism — common features in Western societies — deprived June of love. We will see many Junes in countries like Norway, Denmark, and Iceland that ranked number 1, 2, and 3, in that so-called happiness index. Bond and love are the main ingredients of happiness — a subject area of literary thinkers, psychologists, and philosophers — but suddenly hijacked by some economists like Richard Easterlin some 40 years ago and later on, mishandled terribly by his disciples.

The concept of ‘happiness’ in economics has drawn little attention in the years since, and probably no curiosity from mainstream economics because defining the richer as happier violates some principles of diminishing marginal utility. However, the recent happiness ranking by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and surprisingly by the United Nations has added some fun to an otherwise dry world of economics. It is hardly different from the UNDP’s human development index (HDI), which is much superior in its treatment to the word, ‘development.’ The ranking in the HDI has a consistent pattern of evolution for countries without adding any sarcastic rise and fall of countries. Seeing Pakistan as a much happier country than Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and even India is nothing but a joke.

In economics, utility or satisfaction cannot be measured like money, rather it can be ordered. Although happiness is linked to satisfaction, the properties to measure utility do not necessarily apply for happiness. One property of utility says that more of two goods, say, x and y, will deliver a higher level of utility. This is not necessarily true for happiness, which is based on subjective perception and thus is quite individualistic. Therefore, measuring a country’s happiness is a silly desperation. The index makers are trying to sell the concept of economic prosperity in the name of happiness. While austerity may be a preference for happiness in many superscripts, India’s Charvaka philosophy advises to be happy at any cost even by borrowing from others to purchase ghee — a tilt toward consumerism.

What the happiness index-makers could do is to rely on perception through surveys instead of adding a bunch of prosperity criteria: income, life expectancy, having someone to count on, generosity, freedom, trust, health, and good governance. Happiness resides in simplicity. A complicated array of variables may show their econometric acumen, but they fail to capture the real flavour of happiness. In our school life, we read the poem of Alexander Pope who said ‘Happy the man’ who treasures simplicity with peace of mind. Some five thousand years ago as mentioned in Mahabharata, Yudhishira defined a happy man as the one who has no loan or indebtedness and who is not a migrant — lives in his/her motherland. Pope echoed the same note by saying, “Content to breathe his native air in his own ground.” Bengali poet D. L. Roy defines the happy feeling of a patriotic man who desires to die in the same land he/she was once born.

Rabindranath Tagore warns that your happiness may evaporate if you are venturing for love with the craving for happiness. In the story, “How much land does a man need?” Leo Tolstoy showed how hankering after too much wealth not only damages happiness, but also ruins someone’s life. Let happiness be there in the lap of literature or in the sublime domain of human psyche. Economists need not encroach on all areas like Dhaka’s land grabbers. My American neighbour June had a high per capita income, but did not have anyone to count on in time of troubles. Rather, the poor girl Durga of Pather Panchali had at least her mother beside her bed while dying from high fever. Who is happier? What is the role of good governance here?

It does not mean that we do not advocate for proper institutions and good governance. They may explain affluence or the level of prosperity. But they do not directly interpret happiness. Nor does social support guarantee a higher degree of happiness. Japan with excellent institutions and marvellous social support has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The Golden Gate of San Francisco — a sign of prosperity — once turned into a launching pad for suicides. Did they ‘happily’ commit suicide?

Are not these people of the super-rich nations less happy than the poor boatmen in the rivers of the Padma or Meghna — who struggle to live happily every day? How societies with high divorce rates — particularly evident in richer nations — can be happier than societies with high family ties? Is divorce a source of happiness? It is surprising to see how economists no less than Jeffrey Sachs and John Helliwell are invading the territory of psychiatrists. Economists had never been that predatory; nor was economics this diluted in the past.

On disembarking from the flight, I get my luggage at John F. Kennedy after, say, 15 minutes. However, I get the same luggage at the Dhaka airport after, say, 120 minutes (on a lucky day). It does not mean I am [120/15 =] 8 times unhappy in Dhaka’s case. My rational expectations operate in such a way that I feel like a prince once I get my luggage back after 2 hours and I feel like a king if I find the locks unbroken. Thus, a state of institutions may not necessarily translate everything mechanically and proportionately into happiness. People redefine happiness adaptively and dynamically.

My son once drew my attention to a story which showed that couples who got married during the Great Depression hardly resorted to separations. Why? They were more committed to the bond that embraces genuine feelings, constant adjustments, sacrifice, and deeper love — the unfailing recipes for happiness, which the so-called index cannot capture at all.

The writer is visiting fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and guest faculty at the Institute of Business Administration at Dhaka University. E-mail: birupakshapaul@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Food Security in the Middle East Sharply Deteriorated

27 March 2017 - 11:41am

An Egyptian farmer feeding cows fresh fodder. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME/CAIRO, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

Food security and nutrition levels in the Near East and North Africa have sharply deteriorated over the last five years, undermining the steady improvement achieved before 2010 when the prevalence of undernourishment, stunting, anaemia and poverty were decreasing, a new UN report warns.

According to the FAO Regional Overview of Food Insecurity in the Near East and North Africa, issued on March 27, the deterioration is largely driven by the spreading and intensity of conflicts and protracted crises.

The assessment made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) shows that the prevalence of severe food insecurity in the adult population of the Near East and North Africa was close to 9.5 per cent in 2014-2015, representing approximately 30 million people.

“The region is facing unprecedented challenges to its food security due to multiple risks arising from conflicts, water scarcity and climate change,” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa. “War and conflicts are the worst enemies of food security, ” Graziano da Silva

Countries of the region need to implement long-term and comprehensive sustainable water management to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030, he added. “A peaceful and stable environment is an absolute pre-condition for farmers to respond to the challenges of water scarcity and climate change.”

“Wars, Conflicts, Worst Enemies of Food Security”

José Graziano da Silva, FAO director general, said in a recent visit to Lebanon, “We are reminded once again that war and conflicts are the worst enemies of food security.

“Our own reports and other have described, sometimes in rather horrible detail, the unrelenting process through which the conflicts in the region are destroying people’s lives and livelihoods, disrupting agriculture production, increasing food prices, stoking fears and insecurity and triggering large-scale displacement of people and alarming flows of refugees.”
Lebanon, a small country that has itself suffered the misfortunes of war and internal conflict, has courageously and generously hosted more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, da Silva added.

“To put that in perspective, that’s the third of the country’s population, the proportional equivalent of the European Union taking in more than 170 million people… The unprecedented influx of refugees has put extraordinary pressure on Lebanon’s economic and social infrastructure, its food security and its social cohesion.”

According to FAO, the Syria crisis in particular has deepened during the period 2015-2016, leaving more than half of the population in need of food assistance and 4.8 million refugees, mostly in neighbouring countries. The numbers of food insecure and the internally displaced are also rising in Iraq and Yemen.

The Water Factor

Beyond conflicts and crises, the report argues that water scarcity and climate change are the most fundamental challenges to ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030.

Workers cleaning up the main Al Jazeera irrigation canal as part of a project to resupply water for agricultural production in Iraq. Credit: FAO

Water scarcity is the binding factor to agricultural production in the Near East and North Africa region and the driver of the region’s dependency on food imports.

Building on the evidence accumulated in the framework of FAO’s Regional Water Scarcity Initiative in the Near East and North Africa, the report shows that climate change is expected to affect food security in terms of availability, access, stability and utilisation. Most of the impacts of climate change will affect water availability.

The FAO Regional Overview underlines the urgency to develop and implement strategies for sustainable management of water resources and to adapt to the impact of climate change on water resources and agriculture.

It documents several positive experiences in sustainable management of water resources and climate change adaptation in the region and highlights the importance of accelerating investments aimed at improving water efficiency and water productivity as well as the need for a shift in cropping patterns towards less water-consuming crops.

The report explores other major options for the adaptation to climate change impacts on water and agriculture, including the need for designing and implementing social protection measures for building resilience of farmers to extreme events, cutting food losses and improving trade policies.

The report stresses the importance of building a strong evidence base for assessing the impact of climate change on food security and for the formulation of sound and flexible water adaptation measures and agricultural policies.

It calls for strengthened regional collaboration to face the massive challenge of water scarcity and climate change, building on the strong political will expressed by the leaders of the region and building on the positive experiences in many countries.

Ould Ahmed noted that, “sustainable agriculture and water management should include strategies and policies to improve irrigation efficiency, establish sustainable ground water management, promote incentives for farmers to shift to crops with higher economic returns per drop, cut food losses and waste, and enhance resilience of vulnerable population and farmers to climate-induced shocks.”

“Achieving food security is still at hand, provided we take concerted efforts and make the right moves now.”

Slaves

27 March 2017 - 7:33am

Young women in Colombia forced into sexual exploitation. Credit: UNICEF/Donna DeCesare

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history. Slavery is, nevertheless, far from being just a chapter of the past—it still there, with estimated 21 million victims of forced labour and extreme exploitation around the world–nearly the equivalent to of the combined population of Scandinavian countries.

According to the UN report 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, issued in late-December, victims of trafficking are found in 106 of 193 countries. Many of these are in conflict areas, where the crimes are not prosecuted. Women and children are among the main victims.

The legacy of slavery resounds down the ages, and the world has yet to overcome racism. While some forms of slavery may have been abolished, others have emerged to blight the world, including human trafficking and forced and bonded labour.

Add to all the above, the crime of human trafficking, which once more affects millions of women, and girls, who fall prey to sexual exploitation, another form of slavery.“79 per cent of all detected human trafficking victims are women and children,” UN

In fact, millions of women and girls are sold for sexual exploitation and slavery, according to this new report elaborated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Just as tragically, 79 per cent of all detected trafficking victims are women and children.

From 2012-2014, UNODC estimates that more than 500 different trafficking flows were detected and countries in Western and Southern Europe detected victims of 137 different citizenships.

These figures recount a story of human trafficking occurring almost everywhere.

In terms of the different types of trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour are the most prominent.

The report also shows that trafficking can have numerous other forms including: victims compelled to act as beggars, forced into sham marriages, benefit fraud, pornography production, organ removal, among others.

A young woman from a fishing community in West Bengal in eastern India. She comes from a village that is known for high levels of trafficking of women and girls to other major cities. Credit: UN Women/Anindit Roy-Chowdhury


The United Nations estimates the total market value of illicit human trafficking amounted to 32 billion dollars in 2005, a figure that most likely has doubled, or even tripled, in view of the massive waves of persons who have been forced to either migrating due to the growing poverty caused by climate change or the deepening inequality, or fleeing brutal armed conflicts.

Human Rights First, a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organisation based in New York, Washington D.C., Houston, and Los Angeles, says that human trafficking is a “big business”.

In a detailed report, Human Rights First informs that human trafficking earns profits of roughly 150 billion dollars a year for traffickers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The following is a breakdown of profits, by sector:
– 99 billion dollars from commercial sexual exploitation
– 34 billion dollars in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities
– 9 billion dollars in agriculture, including forestry and fishing
– 8 billion dollars is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labour

While only 22 per cent of victims are trafficked for sex, sexual exploitation earns 66 per cent of the global profits of human trafficking, reminds Human Rights First.

And adds that the average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude (100,000 dollars) is estimated to be six times more than the average profits generated by each trafficking victim worldwide (21,800 dollars), according to the Organization for Security and Co operation in Europe (OSCE).

OSCE studies show that sexual exploitation can yield a return on investment ranging from 100 per cent to 1,000 per cent, while an enslaved labourer can produce more than 50 per cent profit even in less profitable markets (e.g., agricultural labour in India).

A close-up from the memorial on the legacy of slavery. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz


Meanwhile, the United Nations marks every year on 25 March, the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade that, it says, offers the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system.

The Day also aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

“We must never forget this dark chapter of human history,” UN secretary general António Guterres on March 24 told a General Assembly meeting to commemorate the abolition of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, ahead of the Day.

“We must always remember the role played by many of our countries – including my own country of Portugal – in carrying out the largest forced migration in history and in robbing so many millions of people of their dignity and often also of their lives,” Guterres said.

The legacy of slavery resounds down the ages, and the world has yet to overcome racism. While some forms of slavery may have been abolished, others have emerged to blight the world, including human trafficking and forced and bonded labour, he stressed.

And Peter Thomson, the president of the UN General Assembly, called for the protection of human rights and an end to racism, xenophobia and modern forms of slavery, including human trafficking, forced labour and child labour.

The consequences of slavery had not ended with emancipation, but continued to this day, he emphasised. Some were negative, but others positive, he said, underscoring the contributions made by descendants of slavery to shaping multicultural societies.

Shortly before, on March 21, the UN marked the InternationalDay for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination under the theme: Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.

Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination, the UN reminds, while adding that the rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law.

“Yet in many parts of the world, discriminatory practices are still widespread, including racial, ethnic, religious and nationality based profiling, and incitement to hatred.”

Racial and ethnic profiling is defined as “a reliance by law enforcement, security and border control personnel on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin as a basis for subjecting persons to detailed searches, identity checks and investigations, or for determining whether an individual is engaged in criminal activity,” according to a recent report to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

“Refugees and migrants are particular targets of racial profiling and incitement to hatred.”

In the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016, United Nations member states strongly condemned “acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants, and committed to a range of steps to counter such attitudes and behaviours, particularly regarding hate crimes, hate speech and racial violence.”

This and so many other Declarations, treaties, conventions, etc., are systematically signed by most of world’s countries—not least the US and Europe. Are these countries seriously committed to honour them? When?

UAE unveils first National Strategy for Children with Disabilities

26 March 2017 - 12:37pm

By WAM
ABU DHABI, Mar 26 2017 (WAM)

The UAE Cabinet approved a national strategy to promote the rights of children with disabilities and maximise their well-being, and a strategy for motherhood and childhood, as part of the Strategic Plan for the Rights of Children with Disabilities 2017-2021, and the National Strategy for Motherhood and Childhood 2017-2021.

Both Strategies were prepared under the directives of H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, as a key reference for decision makers.

“People with disabilities represent an integral component of UAE’s society and have the right to enjoy a happy and dignified lifelike other community groups,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai. “The UAE attaches special importance to supporting children with disabilities and enabling them to play a constructive and effective role in the development and the achievement of UAE national agenda and vision for 2021,” His Highness added.

The Strategic Plan for the Rights of Children with Disabilities 2017-2021 is derived from the UAE vision 2021, notably the provisions of a long healthy life, an optimal education system and an integrated lifestyle. The plan was developed following a study which involved a number of relevant organisations across the UAE.

The strategic plan aims to provide the best quality medical care and social services to children with disabilities and contribute to their integration into society. It will solidify efforts to support children with disabilities and improve related services and facilities in the country.

The National Strategy for Motherhood and Childhood 2017-2021 was also approved by the Cabinet in line with the government commitment to promote and protect mothers’ and children’s rights.

The first draft of the strategy was prepared based on recommendations included in a study included data on groups of children and adolescents in the areas of health, education and other related issues. The team conducting the study also consulted with forty-five federal and local entities including the Ministry of Health and Prevention, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Community Development, Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, Ministry of Education, Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, Abu Dhabi Health Authority, Dubai Health Authority among other international organisations.

The strategy is the first of its kind at the federal level and it represents a national framework for programs and services available to mothers and children to ensure coordination and cooperation among all concerned parties. A national task force will be set up to develop action plans and coordinate the implementation of the strategy and its initiatives.

Trinidad Pushes for Shift to Cleaner Fuel

26 March 2017 - 12:20pm

CNG fuel signs at the NP Ramco service station, on the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway, Orange Grove, Trinidad. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Mar 26 2017 (IPS)

The Trinidad and Tobago government has invested about 74 million dollars in the first phase of a 295-million-dollar project to encourage more drivers to use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), described by experts here as a preliminary step in the country’s transition to using more sustainable forms of energy.

Use of CNG would represent a major behavioural shift for Trinidadians and Tobagonians whose country’s economy has relied heavily on exports of major fossil fuel reserves, giving it one of the highest per capita incomes in Caricom as well as placing it among the top ten emitters of carbon per capita in the world.The economic downturn has made maintaining generous fossil fuel subsidies an unsustainable proposition.

The shift to CNG “starts a certain behaviour because [CNG] is the cleanest fuel Trinidad and Tobago has which is affordable,” said the president of NGC-CNG, Curtis Mohammed.

In 2013, the government mandated the National Gas Company(NGC) to promote the sale and use of CNG. NGC formed NGC-CNG in January 2014 to carry out the mandate. In keeping with its mandate NGC-CNG has offered substantial incentives to both public and private vehicle owners to retrofit their vehicles for the use of CNG, including thousands of dollars in free CNG to school buses and taxis. The government has also given substantial tax incentives to buyers of CNG-fuelled vehicles.

Mohammed said the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC), which is Trinidad and Tobago’s government-run bus service, has plans to eventually convert its entire fleet to CNG vehicles. The country’s Finance Minister Colm Imbert in his 2016-2017 Budget report also said that the association representing the privately owned public service vehicles, known as maxi taxis, has committed to introducing approximately 1,200 OEM CNG vehicles over the next three years.

However, “while CNG offers a cheaper and cleaner option for transportation fuel, it is to be recognized that it is a transitionary fuel and the deployment of renewable energy sources are more sustainable…the 10% renewable energy target signals Government’s intention to gradually move away from traditional fuels to more sustainable sources,” explained head of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements Unit, in Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Planning and Development, Kishan Kumarsingh, in an e-mail interview.

Though CNG has been an option under consideration for many years, a combination of factors over the past couple of years has increased interest among citizens in shifting from heavy domestic use of fossil fuels to the use of CNG for transport and eventually to renewables.

The government had for decades provided generous fuel subsidies that made owning and driving a vehicle in the country affordable for a large portion of its population. However, the government saw its revenues decline by 35 per cent between 2014 and 2016, that is, from 8.4 billion dollars in 2014 to 5.5 billion in 2016.

“Because of the collapse in oil and gas prices, we have lost 20 billion in annual revenue since 2014,” Minister Imbert was reported as saying in his 2016-2017 budget speech.

Thus, the economic downturn has made maintaining the generous fuel subsidies an unsustainable proposition and the government has gradually removed most of them.

Retrofitting to use CNG is a cheaper alternative for drivers who travel substantial distances. CNG retails at 15 cents per litre, compared to 46 cents per litre for super gasoline, 85 cents per litre for premium and 25 cents per litre for diesel. The government still subsidises the price of diesel which is used by public transport.

Another factor is Trinidad and Tobago’s active engagement over the years in initiatives to combat climate change, with the country being a signatory to the 2015 COP21 Paris agreement.

“The country has adopted a National Climate Change Policy and is currently implementing a range of projects aimed at addressing climate change nationally such as reducing emissions and assessing climate vulnerability. Trinidad and Tobago has taken a proactive approach and was the first Caribbean country to submit its NDC [Nationally Determined Contributions] to the UN as well as among the first countries to formulate and adopt a National Climate Change Policy,” Kumarsingh said in an e-mail.

Included in government’s plans are “a feed-in-tariff to allow for renewable energy to be generated and to be fed into the national power grid,” he said. However, “the current legislative and policy structure limits the wide deployment of renewable energy mainly due to very old legislation.”

Kumarsingh said, “As a first step, the enabling environment from a policy and legislative perspective has to be in place. Once that policy and legislative framework is established, opportunities for installation of generation capacity from renewable energy sources, and therefore opportunities for job creation and income generation, can be more fully explored.”

The members of the Energy Chamber, representing more than 400 oil and gas companies in Trinidad and Tobago, also see opportunities opening up with the removal of the fuel subsidy. Dr. Thackwray Driver, CEO of the Energy Chamber said, “You would see opportunities for electric vehicles as well. Trinidad’s electricity is very cheap…Because of the decreasing price of renewable energy we might reach a point where…electricity vehicles would be more attractive.”

He said there was “a lot of interest” in energy efficiency and renewable energy among Energy Chamber members.

Dr Driver said the Chamber had always advocated for the removal of subsidies because they encouraged “wasteful use of valuable resources which could be sold on international markets…In other countries you see people are less wasteful in using fuel. When there are higher prices to pay for it, they buy cars that are more fuel efficient, they tend to make more fuel-efficient decisions. People in Trinidad do not worry about fuel efficiency.”

With regard to renewables becoming a major source of energy locally, Dr Driver said, “I think given the structure of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy, it will remain relatively small for the next decade:” He added that the domestic sector was likely to see a 10-15 per cent uptake of renewables in the next decade or two.

Meanwhile, “I think right now the biggest interest is in energy efficiency, because there is a huge opportunity in the electricity sector to improve energy efficiency…Once we get energy efficiency up that is where we will see the deployment of grid-scale renewable energy,” Dr. Driver said.

Related Articles

Ending Gender-Based Violence Key to Health and Well-Being

24 March 2017 - 3:54pm

Survivors of gender-based violence need dignity for themselves and their families. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Natalia Linou
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

Physical injuries are some of the more visible, and at times most deadly, consequences of gender-based violence (GBV). But the long-term mental health consequences are often invisible and left untreated. Similarly, the reproductive and sexual health needs of survivors from rape and sexual violence – to reduce the risk of HIV and STIs, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe terminations, and long-term reproductive complications – are often unmet, stigmatised and under-reported.

But it is not only health needs which must be met. GBV is a consequence and reflection of structural inequalities that threaten sustainable development, undermine democratic governance, deepen social fragmentation and threaten peace and security. This week, UNDP and the Republic of Korea hosted an event at the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women on “Gender-based violence, health and well-being: Addressing the needs of women and girls living in crisis affected context” bringing together government officials, practitioners, and academics.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment. Multi-sectoral approaches which can meet these distinct, but inter-connected, needs are often the most effective. Research has demonstrated co-benefits of combining economic and health interventions, including for the reduction of intimate partner violence. However, even where services are available, serious barriers to accessing them exist. As Ambassador Oh Youngju of Korea stressed: “survivors of violence are often deterred from seeking help or reporting the incidents due to stigma and a lack of accessible services or ways to report safely, receive help and be treated with dignity”.

A common message emerged: survivors need dignity for themselves and their families, they need immediate health services and legal services, livelihood support and economic empowerment.

And the data can be daunting. Deputy Minister Wardak of Afghanistan shared some sobering statistics from her country: almost one in two women age 15-49 reporting physical violence in the last 12 months, with the majority who have experienced physical or sexual violence (61%) not seeking help or telling anyone about the violence.

So is there any room for optimism?

Kelly, director of the Women and War program of Harvard’s Humanitarian Initiative, stressed that while conflict is a time of trauma, it is also a time of potential transformation. Changing social norms which perpetuate violence can be linked to peace and recovery processes. And successful initiatives can be scaled up. UNDP’s Dhaliwal, shared some good practices. In South Sudan, UNDP is working in partnership with the Government, the Global Fund and the International Organization for Migration to address gender-based violence as part of mental health and psychosocial support programmes. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP supported the establishment of multipurpose community centres, where survivors of GBV are provided with legal assistance and offered livelihoods training, after medical and psychosocial treatment is given by other partners. And in Afghanistan, efforts to increase the number of female healthcare workers, while not directly focused on survivors of violence, can offer culturally appropriate services and safe-spaces.

Tatsi, Executive Director in the Office for the Development of Women in Papua New Guinea shared both successes – strong alignment across civil society and government in bringing about a coherent strategy to end GBV, and challenges – the need for additional financial and technical support and called on donors to work with government for long-term, sustainable, and transformational change. And Devi of UNFPA stressed how a “continuum approach” is necessary across prevention and response efforts, as well as across the humanitarian-development nexus.

Ending GBV, and particularly violence against women and girls is an important end itself. It is also critical for the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 3 -Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and the commitment to ‘leave no one behind.’ While more evidence on preventing violence and supporting survivors is needed, the time for action is now.

The World Faces a Historic Opportunity to Ban Nuclear Weapons

24 March 2017 - 1:26pm

On Monday 27 March, UN talks will begin on a global nuclear ban treaty. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Beatrice Fihn, Martin Butcher, and Rasha Abdul Rahim
VIENNA/Oxford/LONDON, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

Nuclear weapons are once again high on the international agenda, and experts note that the risk of a nuclear detonation is the highest since the Cold War.

As global tensions, uncertainty and risks of conflict rise amongst nuclear-armed states, nuclear weapons are treated as sabres to rattle, further heightening the risks of intentional or inadvertent use.

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in terms of the scale of the immediate devastation they cause and the threat of a uniquely persistent, pervasive and genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they would cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

But while the nuclear-armed states are implementing policies based on unpredictability, nationalism and weakening of international institutions, the majority of the world’s states are preparing to finally outlaw nuclear weapons.

Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of Hiroshima, described the nuclear bombing as blinding the whole city with its flash, being flattened by a hurricane-like blast, and burned in the 4,000-degree Celsius heat. She said a bright summer morning turned to a dark twilight in seconds with smoke and dust rising from the mushroom cloud, and the dead and injured covering the ground, begging desperately for water, and receiving no medical care at all. The spreading firestorm and the foul stench of burnt flesh filled the air.

A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people and cause catastrophic and long-term damage to the environment. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would be cataclysmic, severely disrupting the global climate and causing widespread famine.

Strikes of this kind would invariably violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law, yet, these weapons are still not explicitly and universally prohibited under international law. Nine states are known to possess them and many more continue to rely on them through military alliances.

The alarming evidence presented by physicians, physicists, climate scientists, human rights organisations, humanitarian agencies, and survivors of nuclear weapons attacks have been successful in changing the discourse, and opened space for greater engagement from civil society, international organisations, and states.

Because the humanitarian and environmental consequences of using nuclear weapons would be global and catastrophic, eliminating such dangers is the responsibility of all governments in accordance with their obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

The world is now facing a historic opportunity to prohibit nuclear weapons.

In October last year, a majority of the world’s states at the United Nations General Assembly agreed to start negotiations of a new legally binding treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, in line with other treaties that prohibit chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

As we’ve seen with these weapons, an international prohibition has created a strong norm against their use and speed up their elimination.

The negotiations will start at the United Nations in New York on 27-31 March, and continue on 15 June-7 July, with the aim of concluding a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Amnesty International, Oxfam and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) believe that it is time to negotiate a treaty that would prohibit the use, possession, production and transfer of nuclear weapons, given their indiscriminate nature. No state, including permanent members of the UN Security Council, should possess nuclear weapons.

This is the moment to stand up for international law, multilateralism and international institutions. All governments should seize this opportunity and participate actively in the negotiations of a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in 2017.

A Carbon Law to Protect the Climate

24 March 2017 - 10:48am

The immediate must-do “no-brainer” actions to be completed by 2020 include the elimination of an estimated 600 billion dollars in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

The Carbon Law says human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced by half each decade starting in 2020. By following this “law” humanity can achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century to protect the global climate for current and future generations.

A “carbon law” is a new concept unveiled March 23 in the journal Science. It is part of a decarbonization roadmap that shows how the global economy can rapidly reduce carbon emissions, said co-author Owen Gaffney of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, one of international team of climate experts.“Coal power plants under construction and proposed in India alone would account for roughly half of the remaining carbon budget.” --Steven Davis

To keep the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, emissions from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050. This is what the world’s nations agreed to at the UN’s Paris Agreement in 2015. Global temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees C.

“After the Paris agreement we began to work on a science-based roadmap to stay well below 2C,” Gaffney told IPS.

The “carbon law” is modelled on Moore’s Law, a prediction that computer processing power doubles every 24 months. Like Moore’s, the carbon law isn’t a scientific or legal law but a projection of what could happen. Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction ended up becoming the tech industry’s biannual goal.

A “carbon law” approach ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happen sooner not later, which reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget, Gaffney said.

This means global CO2 emissions must peak by 2020 and then be cut in half by 2030. Emissions in 2016 were 38 billion tonnes (Gt), about the same as the previous two years. If emissions peak at 40 Gt by 2020, they need to fall to 20 Gt by 2030 under the carbon law. And then halve again in 2040 and 2050.

“Global emissions have stalled the last three years, but it’s too soon to say if they have peaked due largely to China’s incredible efforts,” he said.

Source: N. CARY/SCIENCE

The Science paper, “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, notes that China’s coal use swung from a 3.7 percent increase in 2013 to a 3.7 percent decline in 2015. Although not noted in the paper, China’s wind energy capacity went from 400 megawatts (Mw) in 2004 to an astonishing 145,000 Mw in 2016.

“In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050,” says lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil between 2040-2045 according to their “carbon law”. They propose that to remain on this trajectory, all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb.

“We identify concrete steps towards full decarbonization by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Elements of these roadmaps include doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.

The immediate must-do “no-brainer” actions to be completed by 2020 include the elimination of an estimated 600 billion dollars in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries and a moratorium on investments in coal. Decarbonization plans must be in place for all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world.

Rapidly growing economies in India, Indonesia and elsewhere should receive help to take a green path to prosperity. They cannot use coal as China did because CO2 emissions are cumulative and there is little room left in the global carbon budget, said Gaffney.

This is an extremely urgent issue. India is already on the brink of taking the dirty carbon path.

“Coal power plants under construction and proposed in India alone would account for roughly half of the remaining carbon budget,” said Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine about his new study that will be published shortly.

Davis, who was not involved in the carbon law paper, agrees that rapid decarbonization to near-zero emissions is possible. Cost breakthroughs in electrolysis, batteries, carbon capture, alternative processes for cement and steel manufacture and more will be needed, he told IPS.

All of this will require “herculean efforts” from all sectors, including the political realm, where a cost on carbon must soon be in place. Failure to succeed opens the door to decades of climate catastrophe.

“Humanity must embark on a decisive transformation towards complete decarbonization. The ‘Carbon law’ is a powerful strategy and roadmap for ramping down emissions to zero,” said Nebojsa Nakicenovic of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria.

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Under Fire, Journalism Explores Self-Preservation

24 March 2017 - 9:50am

Journalists call for the freeing of a colleague at a UNESCO colloquium in Paris. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

With widespread attacks on professional journalists and the rise of a fake-news industry, media experts agree that journalism is increasingly under fire. But how can the press fight back and ensure its survival?

Judging by the stubbornly defiant tone at a one-day colloquium held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on March 23, there may still be reason for hope in a media landscape ravaged by the killings of journalists, verbal abuse of reporters, job losses, low pay and “alternative facts”.The business model that has long served the press in general is changing, and the sector is universally scrambling to adapt in ever-transforming terrain.

“When [U.S. President] Trump said that the media is the enemy of the people, it’s perfect for journalism,” said Vicente Jiménez, director-general of the Spanish radio network Cadena SER. “We can eradicate some bad practices. It’s a great opportunity.”

Jiménez was one of several media professionals calling for journalists to clean up and protect their own sector, during the colloquium titled “Journalism Under Fire: Challenges of Our Times”.

“Journalism used to be a pillar of democracy,” Jiménez said. “But that model is changing with social media.”

He said the dependence on “clicks” for on-line-media income was leading to “stupid” and “vile” stories, and he told participants that the three most-read stories in Spain over the past year were fake ones. He warned that the media would lose its relevance if this situation continued.

Carlos Dada, co-founder and editor-in-chief of El Faro digital newspaper, based in El Salvador, stressed that a distinction had to be made between “media” and “journalism”. As an example, he said that during a certain period in his country, journalism was under fire while media companies grew rich, partly by being politically compliant and going about business as usual.

Dada said that technology was “not only a threat” but that it was also a “huge opportunity” in areas such as using data in investigative stories, for which El Faro is known in Latin America.

Still, the business model that has long served the press in general is changing, and the sector is universally scrambling to adapt in ever-transforming terrain, participants pointed out.

According to UNESCO, “technological, economic and political transformations are inexorably reshaping” the communications landscape.

“Major recent elections and referenda have raised many questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism, with global significance,” the agency said.

In organizing the colloquium, UNESCO said it hoped to “strengthen freedom of expression and press freedom, since modern societies cannot function and develop without free, independent and professional journalism”.

As some panellists noted, however, many journalists work under political dictatorship – in countries that are United Nations member states – and they “pay with their lives” or with their liberty for telling the truth, as one speaker put it.

UNESCO statistics show that more than 800 journalists have been killed over the past decade, and although the agency has been working with governments and the press on ways to end impunity for the killers of media workers, attacks on journalists continue on a daily basis.

Yet killing, imprisoning or abusing the “messenger” is only one aspect of the assault on professional journalism. The dissemination of so-called fake news, with “mainstream” media companies sometimes involved, has led to confusion among the public about what is real and what is false and contributes to the overall distrust of the press.

While critics have particularly slammed social media company Facebook for its role in spreading false news stories, the company is adamant that the responsibility lies with its users.

“You’ll see fake news if you have signed up to fake news sites,” said Richard Allan, a former politician and Facebook’s Vice President of Policy for the European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, who participated in the colloquium.

Explaining how the company’s “algorithm” works for showing content, Allan said that the “vast majority” of what users saw in their feed was the “sum” of material to which they connected.

He told the colloquium that Facebook was trying to address the issue of fake news, but he added: “We don’t want to be the world’s editor.”

If Facebook is unwilling to be a gatekeeper, who would take action though, asked Maria Ressa, a former CNN correspondent and now editor-in-chief and CEO of on-line news site Rappler in the Philippines.

“We have not only misinformation … we have disinformation,” she said, describing the deliberate spreading of false stories in targeted attacks against individuals, groups or policies.

For Serge Schmemann, a New York Times writer and editor, “fake news is more a symptom than the real problem”. A crucial issue is how journalists are now expected to produce news, with often too little time or resources to work on an in-depth story.

But, said Schmemann, “We will adapt, we will survive… We have to remain honest reporters.”

A key to survival may be getting the public involved, according to David Levy, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In an interview on the sidelines of the colloquium, he told IPS that for professional journalism to continue, it will have to get people to value the service enough to pay for it.

“Sometimes ordinary people see journalists as part of the problem, rather than the solution, and journalists have to change this image by getting rid of bad ethics and practices,” he said.

Financial support is already a possibility through crowd-funding, subscriptions and philanthropy, Levy said. In addition, the proper functioning of publicly funded media – where politicians refrain from interference while still holding the media accountable – was an essential part of the solution, he added.

Despite all these views and the organizing of one conference or colloquium after another (there will be a slate of them on World Press Freedom Day, May 3), the outlook remains troubling, even dire, for many journalists in the field.

“We don’t have jobs. We’re badly paid,” said Paris-based Burundian journalist Landry Rukingamubiri. “Then there’s fake news and pretend-journalism. Where do we go from here?”

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Great ideals are ghost lights at night

24 March 2017 - 5:20am

By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Mar 24 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

An increase in elevation lowers air pressure, which makes breathing difficult for a climber. The underwater world becomes increasingly blue and eventually black as a diver goes deeper. Great ideals in their height or depth similarly vary, conception changing when it approaches perfection, and perfection changing when it approaches conception. In the end, neither is like how either appears to be.

Source: Nature

The ideals are archetypes associated with the human condition. Beauty is the ideal of sensory state; duty is the ideal of action. Likewise, freedom is the ideal of movement, and happiness is the ideal of emotional state. Justice is the ideal of interaction, and virtue is the ideal of personality.

But the ideal exists in the real world in the same manner a dew drop wobbles on the tip of a leaf. The difference between God and His creatures perhaps draws the closest parallel to the difference between the highest forms of values and their actual manifestations. Humans have set lofty but unattainable moral goals for themselves.Not an overreach to say that the measures of existing human values are made of non-existing scales.

In that sense, we all worship virtues that are invisible like deities, and forever live in the twilight zone between the actual and the imaginary. And, that dichotomy is prevalent in the disappointing duplicity that we don’t practice what we preach. Hypocrisy is lodged in human nature as naturally as oxygen in the air we breathe.

This is the reason why every human civilisation collapsed at its peak. According to German philosopher Oswald Spengler, “civilisations” are decadent phases of highly developed cultures. He characterised the social and intellectual patterns of a great people or empire in its prime as a “culture”. When that culture passed its primeand became ossified or fixed, he called it a “civilisation”.

Decadence setting in the culmination of a culture is proof that ideals ultimately don’t stand it in good stead.And every civilisation has this truth buried in its ruins. Even worse, most civilisations were destroyed by the barbarians, which started with the earliest known civilisation of Sumer, in Mesopotamia. It collapsed under the strain of recurring invasions in the second millennium B.C.

Which amounts to the nightmare of a manicured lawn trampled by depraved beasts. The finest human emotions and beliefs stand helplessly before dishonesty, incompetence, hatred and violence. Rape during wars, persecution of citizens under dictatorships, ruthless killing in civil wars, and all of those happening ensemble during an invasion more than exemplify that the human condition is a contradiction in terms.

All humans are made of two instincts: animal and rational. Their condition in itself is a struggle between these two instincts that goes back and forth with more of one or the other. Thus the human condition is a struggle inside a struggle, as the physical constantly seeks alignment with the spiritual. It works like a weight-driven clock where the canon pinion drives a minute wheel and pinion. The latter drives an hour wheel, which carries the hour hand.

God may have made man in His own image, but the wheels and pinions that drive man are certainly not of the same industrial grade. Man’s life is short, his means are scarce and his capacity to ingest eternity is immensely limited. Ideals are clumsy adventures of man to fit hismortal feet into God’s shoes.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that human beings are uncomfortable and sloppy in their walk through life. The cycles of crime and punishment, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, hope and despondency, sympathy and vengeance, guile and gumption, compassion and aggression, so on and so forth keep repeating as the ideal falters through the realspewing imperfections. This dynamics is comparable to energy passing through water and creating waves.

Since the dawn of mankind, the quest for perfection has changed the style not the substance. The hunters and gatherers are still the hunters and gatherers, their tools and clothing transformed by the paroxysm of inventions and discoveries. But their primitive instincts have been honed even further either by rationalising animality or animalising rationality. Today’s humans are devoid of humanity. They cling to their virtues to hide their vices like pre-historic men used fig leaves to cover modesty.

Idealism is thus a double jeopardy, at once misleading humans in their confused journey. This undertaking is difficult because wrong assumptions are incessantly driving wrong conclusions. What happens between womb and tomb is an ever-repeating experiment in whichthe finite is inexorably tested against the infinite.In that process, an idealistic individualis merely a parody of his destiny.

Great ideals are the ghost lights in the dark nights, and some travellers take them seriously. Those who sacrifice their livesfor greatcauses remain unaware that dying for a cause is just another cause of death.

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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