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Gov’t Actions, Not Religion, ‘Tipping Point’ for African Youths Joining Violent Extremism

25 September 2017 - 3:45am

Credit: UNDP

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

Government action, rather than religious ideology, is a stronger predictor for radicalization in Africa, according to a two-year landmark study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A comprehensive report on the study, recently launched at the UN, highlights crucial aspects in the journey towards extremism in Africa.

Far less is known about the causes and consequences surrounding violent extremism in Africa, when compared to other regions – a fact that necessitated the study.

Drawing from interviews with 718 people aged between 17 and 26, 495 of whom were voluntary recruits in some of Africa’s most infamous extremist groups such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, the study revealed that 71 percent of the recruits attributed their final decisions to join the extremist groups to some form of government action.

Examples of these ‘tipping point’ government actions include the killing or arbitrary detention of a family member or friend, according to the study.

Asked about African government actions as drivers to extremism, Cheryl Frank, the head of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Transnational Threats and International Crime Programme, told IPS that, “factors such as weak access to political and economic participation and corruption drive individuals to join extremist groups.”

Significantly, a majority of the interviewed recruits believe that their governments only cater to the interests of a few, and over 75 percent generally distrust the politicians and public security systems in their countries.

Other key findings from the study, which focuses on the incentives for recruitment into extremist groups, indicate that deprivation and marginalization, bolstered by weak governance and corruption, are the main factors pushing many African youths into violent extremism.

“A majority of the recruits are from borderlands and peripheral areas that are largely isolated…more than half the population living below the poverty line including many chronically under-employed youth,” said UNDP’s Africa Director, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, at the launch of the report at the UN.

Facing a shortage of economic prospects and lack of civic engagement in these areas, several of the marginalized youth, who are also prone to less parental involvement, are constantly lured into violent extremism.

Employment is ‘the most acute need’ at the time of joining an extremist group, according to the study’s researchers.

Despite a hardened discontent for their governments, hope or excitement was recorded as the most common emotion among recruits when they joined extremist groups, based on the study.

Anger or vengeance came in third or fourth place.

Asked about this significant finding, Mohamed Yahya, UNDP’s Africa Regional Programme Coordinator, told IPS that “recruits see the extremist groups as a ladder towards transformation…by joining these groups, they are eager to improve their impoverished and frustrating situations and only later do they realize the reality and turn to anger.”

UNDP urges for a stronger development focus to security challenges in Africa. “Delivering services, strengthening institutions, creating pathways to economic empowerment – these are development issues,” said Dieye.

Although more than half of the recruits cited religion as the reason for joining an extremist group, 57 percent of the same recruits also admitted to having little to no understanding of the group’s religious doctrine.

Additionally, the study indicates that six years of religious schooling lowered the likelihood of a person joining an extremist group by about 32 percent. This suggests that an actual understanding of one’s religion can be a pull factor from, rather than a push factor towards, extremism.

“Religious education, in conjunction with secular education, tends to provide resilience towards joining these groups,” said Yahya.

Another driver of extremism in Africa, aside from government disaffection, marginalization, deprivation, unemployment and religion, is the lack of identification with one’s country- a common trait among the interviewed recruits.

The journey to extremism is significantly marked by a fractured relationship between the state and its citizens, according to the study.

Notably, recruitment processes in Africa mainly occur on a local and word-of-mouth level rather than via the internet, as is common in other regions. However, this may be subject to change as connectivity expands.

“This study sounds the alarm that as a region, Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening,” said Dieye.

There is a need for intervention at a local level, the report indicates. This involves supporting community-led initiatives and amplifying the voices of trusted local actors, with the singular goal of social cohesion.

“What we know for sure is that in the African context, the counter-extremist messenger is as important as the counter-extremist message…the trusted local voice is also essential to reducing the sense of marginalization that can increase vulnerability to recruitment,” said Dieye.

Further, concerning a commitment to human rights law, the report appeals to African governments to reevaluate excessive militarized responses to extremism.

“Government responses that do not adhere to the rule of law or due process may accelerate violent extremism,” said Yahya. Such responses risk joining the ‘tipping point’ government actions that push youths towards these groups.

Asked about alternative government strategies to curb extremism, Frank told IPS that “governments should focus on criminal justice approaches…the suspects should be pursued, investigated, prosecuted and punished appropriately rather than being killed or captured, often in secret operations.”

“This brings the rule of law to the core of actions,” said Frank.

Demonstrating justice in relation to extremist groups helps prevent its members from portraying themselves as soldiers and martyrs, a potentially admirable quality to recruits, rather than criminals.

An estimated 33,300 people in Africa have lost their lives to violent extremist attacks between 2011 and early 2016, according to UNDP.

Sustained action to prevent and respond to violent extremism is urgently needed.

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Torturing Detainees Is Immoral and Ineffective, Says UN Human Rights Chief

25 September 2017 - 3:00am

Eritreans protesting in Tel Aviv. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS

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

A Manual for Investigative Interviewing to abolish torture among detainees suspected of crime is in the pipeline, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today.

At an event held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Al Hussein slammed the practice of torture and called upon countries to abolish it entirely. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that information obtained through torture is not reliable, and from the interrogator’s perspective, even counterproductive. This is in part because flagrant abuse of human rights provokes anger among communities.

“This destruction of public trust is profoundly damaging. When added to the perception that police abuses and humiliation of specific communities is tolerated – based on economic, geographic, ethnic, religious or other distinctions – it will certainly exacerbate tensions and may lead to serious violence,” Al Hussein said.

Al Hussein did not shy away from mentioning psychological abuse and waterboarding, which had been practised by many countries, including the United States, in its “war on terror”.

Citing an example of a recent case he reviewed, in which a detainee had died from dehydration before his trial, the chief human rights commissioner cited the gaps between police actions and legal principles.

“Officials required to enforce the law should not undermine the rule of law,” he added. “If police break the law in pursuit of law enforcement, the message is one of capricious and abusive power. The institution which should protect the people becomes unmoored from principle; unresponsive to the law, it is a loose cannon.”

This is why a manual, which will be used by UN police officers, is necessary, he said. The Convention against Torture Initiative and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights are also preparing similar guidance.

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Lanka’s Nuclear Policy Unclear

24 September 2017 - 7:43am

By the Sunday Times editorial team
Sep 24 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday, spoke of Sri Lanka being a good UN member-state abiding by its treaties and obligations. And yet, while in the city all week, neither he nor his Government signed the Nuclear Treaty that the country voted for.

The signature book was open all week at the UN headquarters in New York, but Sri Lanka’s apparent volte-face (being one of the 122 countries that voted for it) remains unexplained up to date. A request to the Foreign Secretary for a comment more than a week ago has gone unanswered. Why?

The world right now is resonating with the buzz of a nuclear war exploding around the Korean peninsula. And yet, the ‘UN Week’ when leaders from around the globe descend on the headquarters of the world body – there were 77 heads of state and 38 heads of government –to make speeches on peace and prosperity, saw no support for nuclear disarmament. The treaty aims to prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and promote nuclear disarmament.

The US President went a step further suggesting he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it started a nuclear war, something peace activists compared to “putting out the fire with gasoline”. In addition, he pledged to roll back the deal struck with Iran on its nuclear programme. A UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of yesteryear is now history, and so it seems the latest treaty.

At Wednesday’s signing ceremony of the new edition of the NPT prohibiting nuclear weapons, the UN Secretary General said survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to remind the world of the devastating humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and this new document, is the first multi-lateral disarmament treaty in more than two decades. He pointed to the “increasing concerns” of the existence of some 15,000 doomsday nuclear weapons that endanger the world and the risk of nuclear fallouts.

Unfortunately, like Sri Lanka, not all the countries that voted for the treaty signed it this week. Not even Japan, the only country so far to have faced a nuclear bomb, nor South Korea which has a belligerent neighbour threatening war – both, clearly arguing that they cannot defend themselves without nuclear power when North Korea is threatening to use it – the same argument the world over.

That is why at the UN, they just cannot walk the talk. But Sri Lanka’s position, its silence, is deafening, to say the least. The questions seem to be which super (nuclear) power or powers twisted our arm not to sign the treaty, or who were we trying to please. Was the President adequately briefed about Sri Lanka’s position, and if so, wouldn’t he look a bit silly when he says in New York that Sri Lanka abides by all UN treaties – and yet, doesn’t sign this treaty. Is there good reason, bad reason or no reason to do so?

It cannot be that Sri Lanka wants to be a nuclear power itself. Against whom would Sri Lanka use a nuclear bomb? On the other hand, there have been Government Ministers who have articulated the need for Sri Lanka to go ‘nuclear’ for peaceful purposes, especially to boost its energy capacity. That is what all nuclear powers start off by saying and justify their membership in the nuclear club.

Many countries in the economically developed world are moving away from nuclear powered energy because an accident at a reactor can cause irreparable human and environmental harm. Notwithstanding these worries, India is on a nuclear building programme, while Germany has a policy to phase out all its nuclear power plants.

This non-placement of Sri Lanka’s signature on the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear programmes cannot be an oversight. Not only did this newspaper run the story of Sri Lanka’s absence from the list of signatories but the normal UN channels communicated the invitation for the ceremony. No doubt, the signing can be done on a later date, but what is the Government’s stand on this? No one knows.

One only hopes it is not a precursor to Sri Lanka’s departure from an independent foreign policy and signalling a dance to the tune of any one, or more foreign powers.

PC elections: Missing the forest for the trees
The Government was determined to postpone the impending Provincial Council elections by the 20th Amendment – or by a bill gathering dust in the Legal Draftsman’s Department.

And so, with the Supreme Court determination on the Constitutionality of the 20th Amendment (which was to hold all PC elections on a single day) being torpedoed by calling for a Referendum of the people, the Government came up with ‘Plan B’ – i.e. to delay the elections by constituting electorates within a province. It would be a delimitation process that could see months-on-end delays, even though time limits were solemnly given in Parliament, just like what the Government has done with electoral reforms delaying Local Government polls.

The Government’s fear of mid-term elections is patently, and manifestly clear. Of the two partners within the National Unity Government, the UNP-led UNF is at a distinct advantage given the SLFP-led UPFA being split down the middle. The biggest nightmare President Maithripala Sirisena harbours is if the UPFA that he leads comes a poor third in an electoral contest to the UNP and the UPFA faction led by his predecessor and nemesis, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

All this dust pitifully revolves around elections to Provincial Councils, as if elections are the panacea to all the ills of these nine costly ‘white elephants’. Both factions of the SLFP took to the streets when laws were introduced in 1987 to establish these PCs. Now, at least one faction sees virtues in it for no other reason than one-upmanship over the other. The Rajapaksa Administration used these elections to demoralise the Opposition UNP by repeatedly defeating it, only to come a cropper at the ‘big race’.

If the Government had wanted to put off these elections come-what-may, a better alternative would have been to reconsider this entire system that was forced down Sri Lanka’s throat in 1987. Alas, the All Party Constitutional Steering Committee drafting a new Constitution seems to say that PCs have come to stay.

Today, these PCs are viewed, not so much as the decentralisation of power or the nurseries for future political leaders, but through tinted political glasses. Are they all missing the forest for the trees?

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

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Indigenous Land Conflicts Finally Garner Attention in Argentina

22 September 2017 - 12:36pm

An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders.

It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who on Aug. 1 participated in a protest in the southern Patagonian province of Chubut by Mapuche indigenous people, who were violently evicted by security forces. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

This mobilised broad sectors of society, and brought out of the shadows a conflict that in recent years has flared up into violence on many occasions, but which historically has been given little attention.

“I hope the sad incident involving Santiago Maldonado will help Argentina understand that it is necessary and possible to find legal and political solutions for theindigenous question,” said Gabriel Seghezzo, director of the Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) .

“It is imperative to work to defuse conflicts, because otherwise, the violence will continue,” added the head of Fundapaz, anorganisation that works to improve the living conditions of communities living in the Argentine portion of the Chaco, a vast subtropical forest that extends to Paraguay and Bolivia.

Fundapaz was one of the organisations that worked for more than 20 years on a territorial claim of rural lands in the northwestern province of Salta, which ended in 2014, when the local government transferred ownership of 643,000 hectares to the families that lived there.

Communal ownership of over 400,000 hectares was recognised for members of the Wichi, Toba, Tapiete, Chulupí and Chorote indigenous peoples, while the rest was granted in joint ownership to 463 non-indigenous peasant families.

The case, however, was merely one happy exception, since the vast majority of the country’s indigenous communities still do not have title to their lands.

Ten years ago, the government launched the National Programme for the Survey of Indigenous Territories, in which 1,532 communities were registered. To date, only 423 of them have been surveyed, although they do not yet have title deeds, while there are another 401 in process.

According to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), these 824 communities are demanding that 8,414,124 hectares be recognised as their ancestral lands. That is bigger than several countries in the continent, such as Panama or Costa Rica, but it is only about three percent of the 2,780,400 square km of the Argentine territory.

In the remaining communities, the survey has not even started.

This means the constitution, which recognises “the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples” and guarantees not only “respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education”, but also “the communal possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy,” is not being fulfilled.

These principles were incorporated in the constitution during the latest reform, in 1994, and marked a tremendous paradigm shift for a nation that has historically seen native people as an alien element, to be controlled.

“Where is he?” That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In fact, up to 1994, Argentina’s laws actually instructed the authorities to “preserve the peaceful treatment of Indians and promote their conversion to Catholicism.”

However, the extraordinary progress on paper seems to have brought few concrete improvements for native people, whose proportion in the Argentine population is difficult to establish.

In the last National Census in 2010, 955,032 people identified themselves as belonging to or descended from an indigenous group, which represented 2.38 percent of the total population at that time of 40,117,096.

But the number of indigenous people is believed to be higher, since many people are reluctant to acknowledge indigenous roots, due to the historical discrimination and stigma that native people have suffered. The largest indigenous groups are the Mapuche in the south, the Tobas in the Chaco region, and the Guarani in the northeast.

“Since the constitutional reform that recognised indigenous peoples’ rights, we have had 23 years of absolute failure of public policies to solve the indigenous question. There has been a terrible postponement of the issue by all government administrations in this period,” said Raúl Ferreyra, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Buenos Aires.

For Ferreyra, “land disputes have clear roots in the uncontrolled advance of soy monoculture in the north of the country, and the passage to foreign hands of vast swathes of land in the south.”

“What we need is dialogue, but there is a lack of will and of tools,” he told IPS.

What happened with the land question is a good example of the gap between rules and reality.

In November 2006, the national Congress passed Law 26,160 on Indigenous Communities, which declared an “emergency with regard to the possession and ownership of indigenous territories” for four years.

During that period, which was to be used to determine which are the ancestral lands of the communities, as a preliminary step to the granting of title deeds, evictions were banned, even if a court order existed.

However, little progress was made on the survey, despite the fact that Congress voted for an extension of the original term of four years twice, for a total of 11 years.

The latest extension expires in November and dozens of social organisations across the country have called for its renewal until 2021, while Congress will begin debating the fate of the law on Sept. 27.

The demand was backed by hundreds of intellectuals, in a public letter in which they pointed out that “in Argentina, the recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their ancestral territories is increasingly irreconcilable with the expansion of profitable lands for capital.”

According to a study by global rights watchdog Amnesty International, there are 225 conflicts in the country involving indigenous communities, nearly all of them over land.

In 24 of them there were acts of violence with the intervention of the security forces, and even deaths. One case was the 2009 murder of Javier Chocobar, the leader of a Diaguitacommunityin the northwestern province of Tucumán, which is still unsolved.

“In all these years, many judges have continued to order evictions of indigenous communities despite the law prohibiting it. That is why we believe that if the emergency is not extended, the situation will get worse, “explained BelénLeguizamón, coordinator of the Indigenous Rights area of the Lawyers Association for Human Rights and Social Studies in Northwest Argentina (ANDHES).

In her view, “the law is an umbrella with holes, but an umbrella nonetheless.”

“The survey of Argentina’s indigenous territories should already have been completed, and today we should be studying the granting of title deeds on lands. We have to work against the strong discrimination that not only exists on the part of authorities and the mainstream media, but also among some sectors of society,” Leguizamón told IPS.

As an example, she noted that “schools in Argentina still teach that indigenous people belong to a past that no longer exists.”

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Parliamentarians a “Fourth Pillar” of Sustainable Development

22 September 2017 - 7:56am

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME/NEW DELHI, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

Investing in youth and the population dividend, women’s health, sustainable development objectives, and the key role of parliamentarians to promote transparency, accountability and good governance to achieve the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development topped the agenda of a two-day conference of Asian and African lawmakers in New Delhi last week.

Of course, these are not easy challenges. But according to the discussions of a representative group of around 50 legislators and experts from the two most populous continents, parliamentarians – as representatives of the stakeholders themselves – must be the “fourth pillar” to promote the 2030 Agenda, along with government, private enterprises, and civil society."If our countries can work together, our distinctive attributes can make a meaningful contribution to achieving sustainable development.” --Teruhiko Mashiko, Vice-Chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population

“It is not just simply a question of adopting particular legislation and budgetary measures,” said Teruhiko Mashiko, Vice-Chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), in his keynote speech.

“Equally vital will be possession of an overarching vision and the conduct of oversight to ensure that the work is being implemented properly. Promoting the global partnerships that have been discussed to date will also be crucial. That is precisely the role that parliamentarians in every country are to fulfill. It is furthermore a role to be fulfilled by parliamentarians both within regions, and between regions.

“Given the law and tax system reforms that will be needed if we are to achieve the SDGs, parliamentarians will have an extremely big role to play,” Mashiko stressed.

Jointly organised by the Japan-based Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) — which is the Secretariat of the JPFP — and the Indian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (IAPPD), the conference approached what has been considered as the key challenge: the linkage between population issues, in particular youth, and the global sustainable development agenda, also known as the SDGs.

Youth

No wonder — while youth in the African continent of 1.2 billion inhabitants face extremely high rates of unemployment, in Asia and the Pacific, nearly 40 million youth – 12 per cent of the youth labour force – were unemployed in 2015. That year, for example, the youth unemployment rate was estimated at around 12.9 per cent in South-East Asia and the Pacific, 11.7 per cent in East Asia and 10.7 per cent in South Asia.

However, despite these apparently moderate youth unemployment rates, young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts, and as much as 5.4 times in South-East Asia (over four times in Southern Asia).

This region also faces a big gender gap. In South Asia, low female participation (19.9 per cent) is estimated to be nearly 40 percentage points lower than among youth males (53 per cent). And this gender gap in labour force participation rates has been widening over the last decade in South Asia.

“Building societies where every person can live with dignity - this is the essential principle of our parliamentarians’ activities,” Mashiko said.

“One of the principles of the SDGs is that ‘no-one is left behind’. From that perspective, ensuring equality of opportunity to young people, despite their differences in birth and wealth, has a definite meaning. So to that end, ensuring education and employment opportunities ought to be treated as priority issues.”

Population Growth

Growing populations across the world are the biggest hurdle in the path of equitable development, said India’s Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, adding that in order to achieve the SDGs, it is of “utmost importance” for all the countries to take care of their populations.

He stressed that there is a need for large-scale awareness on population issues, and that increasing population has created problems around the entire world regarding sustainable development, employment opportunities and health services.

Ena Singh, the India Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that his country, India, has registered a rapid decline in fertility rates since its Independence and that currently the average fertility rate is 2.2 children, with the challenge now to bring down the total fertility rate to 2.1.

For her part, Marie Rose Nguini Effa, MP from Cameroon and President of the Africa Parliamentary Forum on Population Development, emphasised the Forum’s readiness to work with APDA to promote investment in youth, “which is critical to Africa’s development and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.”

The Inter-Linkage

New Delhi’s meeting is the latest of a series of dedicated Parliamentarian conferences focusing on the inter-linkages between population issues and the 2030 Agenda, examining ways in which both developed and developing countries as equal partners serve to be the driving force to address population issues and achieve sustainable development.

According to the meetings of Parliamentarians organisers, the fundamental underlying concept is that addressing population issues is imperative to attain universal health coverage (UHC), turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend, achieving food security, promoting regional stability, and building economically viable societies where no one is left behind.

Bigger than the Whole African Population

“India is the world’s largest democracy and home to 1.3 billion people, which is bigger than the whole African population. Being a highly diverse country with a multitude of cultures, languages and ethnicities, India now enjoys one of the fastest economic growth rates,” according to the organisers.

The country’s serious investment in young people is the driving force behind such growth; the pool of well-educated, skilled young people is making the country an IT capital, they said, adding that the Indian economy also has a great influence on the African continent, especially East Africa, due to long-standing historical, cultural and commercial connections between them.

“Furthermore, with its longstanding history of democracy, the power and role of the Parliament of India is well-established and fully exercised, and its democratic system has contributed to promoting unity of diversity and national development.”

Given that addressing population issues calls for an approach to help people to make free and informed RH choices, parliamentarians as representatives of the people have a crucial role to play in this regard as well, they conclude.

The Arab, Asian Youth Bulge

Lawmakers from the Asia and Arab region had gathered last July at a meeting in Amman under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs.”.

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population, the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development convened on 18-20 July in the Jordanian capital to analyse these challenges and how to address them.

Since its establishment, APDA has been holding an annual Asian Parliamentarians’ Meeting on Population and Development to promote understanding and increase awareness of population and development issues among Japanese, Asian, and Pacific parliamentarians.

APDA sends Japanese and Asian parliamentarians overseas to observe projects conducted by the United Nations Population Fund, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japanese Government.

Similarly, parliamentarians from selected countries are invited to Japan to visit facilities in areas such as population and development, health and medical care.

Through exchanges between lawmakers from Japan and other countries, the programme aims to strengthen cooperation and promote parliamentarians’ engagement in the field of population and development.

“Japan is embracing its aging society, where individuals in every age group are finding uses for their particular skills and attributes, and is planning to build a vibrant society which makes the maximum use of what its older citizens can offer and helping to achieve sustainable development, which is what humanity should be striving for,” Mashiko concluded.

“This may possibly apply equally everywhere throughout the world. Given their population structure and social systems, the situation in the countries from Africa, the Arab world and Asia represented at this conference will be very, very different. However, the very presence of such differences means that if our countries can work together, our distinctive attributes can make a meaningful contribution to achieving sustainable development.”

*With inputs by an IPS correspondent in India.

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Africa Moves Towards Third Industrial Development Decade

22 September 2017 - 6:52am

Technical training in Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire. Credit: UN Photo/Abdul Fatai

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

Since the turn of the century, much of Africa has achieved impressive economic growth. Sixteen African countries were among the world’s top 30 fastest growing nations. Last year, the 10 fastest growing African economies posted GDP growth rates exceeding 5 per cent.

On the flip side, continued commodity-dependence – coupled with fluctuations in commodity prices – makes African economies vulnerable and hampers their ability to create decent jobs and effectively tackle poverty.

Hence the need for African countries to take further action to advance inclusive and sustainable industrial development. This is the reason behind the proclamation by the General Assembly last year of the third Industrial Development Decade for Africa. The Decade represents a global initiative in support of African industrialization.

Through it, the international community acknowledges the important link between industrialization and development, and takes note of Africa being the least industrialized, poorest and the most vulnerable continent, in spite of its immense economic and social potential.

The Decade is not an isolated undertaking, but complements other key development initiatives, such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, and various bilateral, regional and multilateral initiatives.

There are many requirements needed to make industrialization efforts bear positive outcomes.
Reliable financing is vital, and Africa and its development partners need to mobilize and prudently deploy the necessary funds.

Countries also need to design and implement comprehensive industrial policies, promote industrial entrepreneurship, advance innovation and technology, enhance energy efficiency, and promote climate change resilience.

Fund mobilization for the Decade needs to build on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which recognizes the importance of industrial development as a critical source or economic growth, economic diversification, and value addition.

It also highlights several key avenues for financing development initiatives. Equally important is the need to effectively leverage markets through regional integration.

Greater regional integration has the potential to support industrialization by increasing intra-African trade and intra-African investments, through the free movement of capital.

Our goal must be to provide jobs and opportunities, particularly for Africa’s growing population of youth. Industrialization can and must also be a tool for women’s empowerment and gender equality.
For this we must invest in appropriate vocational and skills training and closing the digital divide.

No single country or institution is fully equipped to tackle the challenges of African industrial development on its own. The implementation of the third Industrial Development Decade for Africa requires concerted efforts from a wide range of stakeholders.

Apart from intra-African partnerships, Africa needs to leverage the full potential of its development partners through appropriate bilateral, regional, inter-regional, and multilateral arrangements.

South-South, North-South and triangular co-operation are all necessary. The United Nations system is a key partner, along with the public and private sectors, financial institutions, civil society organizations, academia.

The Programme for Country Partnership approach by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization should be leveraged to explore funding opportunities and to devise concrete projects.
It provides a strong platform for multi-stakeholder partnership to support inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

It will help build partnerships with various stakeholders, including Development Finance Institutions and the private sector, to mobilize resources on a larger scale to achieve greater development impact. To that end, pilot programmes have already been initiated in Ethiopia and Senegal.

As we deliberate on the practical aspects to guide the implementation of third Industrial Development Decade for Africa, I appeal to all partner institutions to use their influence and expertise to promote industrialization and inclusive sustainable development that will benefit all the nations and people of Africa.

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Monitoring Progress on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

22 September 2017 - 1:57am

Abby Maxman is the President and CEO of Oxfam America

By Abby Maxman
BOSTON, Massachusetts, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

Two years ago, world leaders joined together to endorse a new and ambitious agenda not to reduce poverty but to eradicate it, not to lessen hunger but to end it once and for all, and not to overlook inequality but jointly to attack it.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) broke new ground in the fight against poverty by moving beyond social development targets to better protect our fragile planet, reduce economic and social inequalities, and promote human rights. Today, the hard work to achieve this ambition is just beginning.

Delivering on the development goals will not be a technocratic exercise. Systematic and efficient monitoring, including good quality data, is crucial to tracking progress, but action on this front has been too slow.

Let’s look at inequality, for example. The importance of a global goal specifically aimed at tackling income inequality cannot be overstated. Extreme economic inequality has been shown to impede poverty alleviation, slow economic growth, compound gender inequality, drive inequality in health and education outcomes, undermine economic mobility over generations, fuel crime, undermine social cohesion, and harm democracy.

But turning the inequality goal into a reality requires a fundamental change of approach on how governments take on vested interests, and how resources are shared.

Earlier this year, we at Oxfam’s pointed out that just eight men own the same wealth as half of humanity, the poorest 3.6 billion people. Worse yet, the gap between rich and poor is growing in countries across the world, in countries rich and poor.

At the same time, there are no shortage of tools proven to reduce the gap between rich and poor. What we need then are transparency, data, and accountability to ensure governments are using them.

Oxfam’s contribution to the effort is a global index that ranks 152 countries by the policies they have in place to reduce economic inequality, including fair and effective taxation, spending on health, education and social protection, as well as fair labor policies.

Our first version of this index, which we launched in July, found that the vast majority of governments – three quarters of those in our index – are doing less than half of what they could be doing to tackle inequality.

Sweden, Belgium and Denmark top the index because of high levels of social spending and good protections for workers. Nigeria, Bahrain and Myanmar come in at the bottom of the index because of exceptionally low levels of government spending on health, education and social protection, extremely bad records on labor and women’s rights, and a tax system that overburdens the poorest in society and fails to tax its wealthiest citizens.

But this is not a clear-cut story of rich country good, poor country bad.

The US, for example, ranks 23rd out of 152. That may not sound too bad, but it is not great for the richest country on earth. In fact, the US comes at the bottom among G7 countries when it comes to fighting inequality, and ranks 21st out of 35 OECD countries.

And even those countries at the very top of the list could do more. For example, Belgium’s corporate tax incentives allow big business to avoid paying their fair share, and Denmark has cut taxes for the richest. Worse yet, many countries at the top effectively export inequality by acting as tax havens.

More than $100 billion in tax revenues are lost by poor countries every year because of corporate tax dodgers — enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children.

Our hope with this Index is to build a public conversation about how to tackle this inequality crisis. Governments need to build fairer tax systems, uphold the rights of workers, and invest more money in our public services. We will only achieve the SDGs if our economies work for all of us, not just a few.

While achieving the SDGs will indeed be expensive, the world has enough resources. Now it’s up to governments to find the political will to allocate these resources towards ending extreme poverty, realizing human rights, and achieving sustainable development that truly leaves no one behind. And it’s up to us to hold them accountable to do so.

No doubt about it, we have much work ahead of us. And given everything else that’s going on in the world, it certainly feels like a rather daunting task. But together, we can be the generation that ends extreme poverty once and for all.

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Strong Compacts on Refugees and Migrants Urgently Needed

21 September 2017 - 6:46pm

Filippo Grandi (right), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Louise Arbour (left), Special Representative for International Migration, speak to journalists following a special event on the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

One year ago, the international community agreed to work together to protect and save refugees and migrants. However, many are concerned over the lack of progress to make this noble goal a reality.

Adopted in September 2016, the historic New York Declaration reaffirms the rights of migrants and refugees and lays out a foundation of bold commitments agreed upon by all 193 member states.The conflict in South Sudan has fueled the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and has contributed to the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp.

During an event to mark the occasion, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reminded governments of their commitments as the world faces record numbers of displaced persons and a rise in complex migration.

“The scope and severity of global refugee crises which led to the adoption of the Declaration a year ago have not abated one bit,” he told delegates.

“We have a collective and moral responsibility to strengthen our response to refugee movements, while redoubling efforts to address their causes,” Grandi continued.

He particularly pointed to the exodus of refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine state which has surpassed 400,000 in just three weeks as Rohingya Muslims flee persecution and deadly violence.

“[It] is a chilling reminder of the catastrophic human consequences that ensue when the conflicts and human rights violations that compel refugees to flee their homes go unchecked,” Grandi said.

Among the pledges in the Declaration are increases in humanitarian financing, resettlement slots, and responsibility sharing.

It also calls upon the creation of two global compacts—one on refugees and the other on safe, orderly, and regular migration—to be adopted in 2018.

With negotiations for the draft compacts currently underway, Grandi and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration Louise Arbour urged the international community to ensure the new global compacts are robust.

“Our ability to better manage human mobility rests on both compacts being as strong as possible: widely supported by member states and with the needs of the most vulnerable firmly at their heart,” said Arbour.

She noted that the compacts must be grounded in reality, including the recognition of the benefits of migration, and warned against false rhetoric.

“Discourse which is detached from this reality, grounded in stereotypes and predicated on fear, a discourse which demonises migrants or disparages their contributions not only risks fuelling intolerance but it also obscures the very real challenges we face today.”

Though some countries have stepped up to the challenge, Oxfam America’s new president Abby Maxman told IPS that progress towards the protection of refugees has been insufficient, particularly by wealthy nations.

“No one can resolve this situation on their own. It requires a real sense of interdependence, collaboration and commitment,” she said.

According to Oxfam’s analysis, six of the wealthiest countries host less than 9 percent of the world’s refugees.
Though Germany has welcomed far more refugees than the other richest nations, a major gap remains as low and middle-income countries continue to provide for the vast majority of refugees.

Assistance to such countries has also been lacking, leaving refugee-hosting nations alone to shoulder the costs.

As conflict rages in South Sudan after a peace agreement fell apart in July 2016, over one million refugees have flocked to the neighboring nation of Uganda.

It is the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide and has contributed to the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp.

Strained for resources, Uganda requested two billion dollars for the immediate crisis and long-term development solutions. However, world leaders have thus far contributed less than a quarter of the appeal.

“Seeing the state of the crisis, clearly there needs to be a systemic approach to ending the conflict but also commitment to providing support,” said Maxman, who just returned from a trip to South Sudan.

She also pointed to the United States, which has seemingly abandoned its commitments to refugee protection.

One of President Trump’s first actions upon taking office was to issue an executive order that severely restricted immigration from several Muslims countries, suspended all refugee admission for 120 days, and barred all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Since then, the Trump administration reduced its refugee admission cap from 110,000, set by the previous administration, to 50,000. The figure is the lowest since 1986 when former President Reagan set a cap of 67,000, and the administration is threatening to reduce the cap even further.

President Trump also proposed cutting the Refugee Assistance budget from 3.1 billion dollars to 2.7 billion for next year.

As the North American nation was one of the largest donors to refugee assistance, Maxman expressed concern that the U.S. stepping back will impact the realization of the Declaration’s commitments.

“If responsibility sharing and access to durable solutions continue to remain ad hoc or severely delayed, we will see dramatic psycho-social-economic-educational implications of people living in limbo and that has long-term consequences,” she told IPS.

Maxman expressed hope that the ongoing UN General Assembly will cast a spotlight on the urgency to look for solutions and increase participation by wealthy nations.

“Now it’s time to act,” she said.

Grandi echoed similar sentiments, urging government not to underestimate the task ahead to make the New York Declaration concrete.

“The seeds for change have been planted, but the shoots beginning to emerge need nourishment…We have a collective responsibility to strengthen our response to refugee movements with a new sense of urgency, and redouble our efforts to address their causes,” he stated.

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The Crisis of Refugees and Their Sufferings Call for a Solution

21 September 2017 - 12:06pm

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Sep 21 2017 (IPS)

The pursuit of international peace and security has been on the agenda of international decision-makers ever since the establishment of the League of Nations on 10 January 1920. There has been a constant ambiguity about the way this commitment has been translated to practice. The Covenant of the League of Nations committed itself “to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security”: nevertheless, the eruption of violence and geopolitical confrontations lead to another major confrontation two decades later. This reinforced the determination of the world community to redouble its efforts to promote peace and security. The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue said that the UN Charter – adopted on 26 June 1945 – did not prevent the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki less than two months later. The disastrous consequences of the Second World War was a terrible reminder of humanity’s ability to bring the world close to apocalypse. Partly for such reasons more than 60 million people continue to be forcibly displaced today and peace continues to be so elusive.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

This year’s annual theme for the 2017 International Day of Peace “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” draws the attention of the need of the world community to unite its forces in support of people up-rooted and separated from their kith and kin. Dr. Al Qassim noted that the refugee and migrant crisis have become the symbol of the world’s inability to live up to the ideals of the Founders of the UN to promote peace and justice worldwide. Foreign invasions exacerbating resort to terrorist violence keep peace in jeopardy. So does the simultaneous rise of right-wing populist parties in the West which has become the driving force of xenophobia, bigotry, racism and marginalization of the Other. The combination of these elements once the symbol of a world undermining the peace that its peoples yearn for.

The Chairman has also concluded that the Arab region has been adversely affected by the rise of violent extremism and the proliferation of local and international conflicts. The civil wars and/or internal upheavals in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Iraq have resulted in the forced displacement of millions of people. In total, more than 13 million people have been forced to leave their home societies owing to the lack of security and the surge of violence. Millions of people have embarked on perilous and hazardous journeys over the unpredictable Balkan route. As the latter is being sealed off, they engage on the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa. Walls and fences have been built – and even detention camps – to respond to the unprecedented rise of people on the move. These liberal societies which cursed the Berlin Wall cordoning off the free flow of ideas now advocate new walls to cordon off the free flow of people in distress. He asked: How come that Europe cannot accommodate displaced people counting for less than 1% of Europe’s total population when certain countries in the Middle East provide protection to refugees and migrants accounting for more than 20% of their own populations? Making matters worse, Islamophobia is also on the rise in Southeast Asia where the ominous policy of ethnic cleansing has reared its head once again.

Guided by the vision of promoting peaceful societies and addressing the plight of people on the move, the Geneva Centre will be organizing a panel debate on 15 December 2017 entitled “Migration and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region.” He hoped that the debate will further promote a joint response of stakeholders from the Global North and the Global South responding with one voice to the injustice that is targeting people on the move in the Arab region and in other regions of the world. He called upon decision-makers should remain guided by the principles of international solidarity and justice in addressing the plight of refugees and migrants. We can no longer remain indifferent to a crisis that has become the symbol of the world’s inability to promote peace and justice.

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UN Report Falls Short on Humanitarian Crisis Around Lake Chad

21 September 2017 - 11:09am

Fishing boats, Lake Chad. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS

By Florian Krampe
STOCKHOLKM, Sweden, Sep 21 2017 (IPS)

It is encouraging to see that the United Nations Security Council is beginning to acknowledge the transboundary dimensions of fragility and conflict, as demonstrated by its newly launched Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region. The report, which was presented in the Security Council on 13 September 2017, emphasizes the need for regional responses and enhanced cooperation of different UN and humanitarian agencies as an important step to addressing the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

However, while a regional response to address the regional security challenge is desirable, the report would have been stronger if it had highlighted the underlying environmental contributions of the region’s fragility.

Multiple stressors converge in the Lake Chad region, which lies at the southern end of the Sahara desert. In the region around the lake–which borders Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria–unemployment, poverty and conflict interact with environmental change and degradation. The mismanagement of water resources, for instance in form of increased water withdrawal for irrigation from the lake’s tributaries, as well as prolonged severe droughts, have contributed to a 90 per cent shrinking of Lake Chad in the past 40 years.

In addition, the ongoing insurgency by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria further exaggerates the reduction of livelihood security for communities in the region. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the conflict with Boko Haram has caused over 10 000 deaths between 2009 and 2016.

The military interventions of the Multinational Joint Task Force and armed forces of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria achieved a sizeable reduction in Boko Haram’s activities. Nonetheless, according to the newly published report: “From April to June 2017, 246 attacks were recorded, resulting in the deaths of 225 civilians.’

The ongoing insurgency and the continued shrinking of Lake Chad, which is the main source of livelihood for millions of inhabitants, is causing a massive humanitarian crisis and intensifies the fragile security situation and increased cross-border displacement of populations.

The Report of the Secretary-General points out: ‘Some 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region currently need humanitarian assistance, including 8.5 million in Nigeria.’ According to the report, 7.2 million people currently suffer severe food insecurity, of which 4.7 million are located in the north-eastern part of Nigeria.

The food and water insecurities caused by environmental change and mismanagement have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency. Although there is a lack of consistent monitoring around Lake Chad, the available data clearly indicates that the region has experience significant environmental changes.

For every year since 2000, the annual temperature anomaly, based on the 1961 to 1990 average temperature, was continuously above 1°C. Research agrees that environmental degradation—and especially the predicted impacts of climate change—will further exacerbate these pressures on the states and societies around Lake Chad.

During the 2017 Stockholm Forum, experts from the region outlined the complex dependencies of local livelihoods on natural resources, in particular the Lake Chad ecosystem, and how important ecological factors are to understanding and addressing the regions vulnerability and fragility.

As Sweden’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, pointed out during the Security Council debate on 13 September: ‘The effects of climate change and its links to the stability and security are evident. We cannot hide from this reality if we want to truly address the challenges in the region. The lack of follow-up in this area in the Secretary-General’s report once again underlines the need for improved risk assessments and risk management strategies by the UN, as clearly highlighted by the Security Council in Resolution 2349 (2017): ‘The Council must remain alert to the threats to stability as a result of the adverse effects of climate change.”

By acknowledging the adverse effect of climate change in the Lake Chad Basin region, the UN report should have emphasized the inevitable pathways for addressing the current crisis. Managing natural resources sustainably is one of the key factors to achieving regional stabilization, reducing people’s vulnerability, increasing resilience and thereby thwarting the fertile grounds for insurgent group recruitment.

This is only possible when the UN Security Council and other peacebuilding agencies begin to integrate the linkages of environmental, social, and political issues in their peacebuilding efforts in the Lake Chad Basin.

About Resolution 2349:
At the end of March 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously issued a Resolution 2349 against terrorism and human rights violations in the Lake Chad Basin. It recognized the role of climate change in exacerbating human insecurity—particularly around food insecurity and livelihood vulnerabilities—which are linked to the Basin’s complex conflicts: ‘the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the Region’.

The resolution was initiated by the Security Council member states’ travel to the Lake Chad region earlier in 2017. The resolution tasked the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to provide an assessment of the situation. A direct mention of climate and environmental change is absent in the newly published report.

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International Response to the Mexico Earthquake

21 September 2017 - 3:32am

Earthquake in Mexico. Credit: UN Photo/Jean Claude Constant

By Tony Redmond
MANCHESTER, UK, Sep 21 2017 (IPS)

Until this week, it had been 32 years since Mexico City suffered its last major earthquake. That was of 8.0 magnitude, which was approximately tenfold greater than Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude. Over 5000 people died, and outside assistance was offered and received.

Much has improved in the local, regional and international responses worldwide since then, particularly in strengthening the local capacity to respond. Mexico is no exception, and will have significant capacity to respond, fully supported by its neighbours and the Pan American Health Organisation’s (PAHO) disaster response.

It’s possible that specific outside help, beyond the region may not be asked for, but if it is, the medical help will be through the Emergency Medical Teams system at WHO/PAHO, coordinated through its Emergency Medical Teams Coordination Cell.

This will embed with the national ministry of health, and through its online ‘virtual on-site operations coordination centre’, will liaise with those registered international teams who have indicated their willingness to deploy and with government, choose who is best suited to the needs they have identified.

This ensures that assistance is targeted on identified need, coordinated, and in the case of medical practitioners, that they are appropriately trained, qualified and can be officially authorised to practice in Mexico.

The WHO registration and classification system ensures minimum/core standards are adhered to and that all teams are fully self-sufficient, in order not to add a further burden to the affected country.

When thinking about what might be needed to assist, international teams must consider how long it will take to get there and become fully operational. This will shape the type of assistance they can give.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, volunteers from San Blas Atempa help remove debris and clear the streets of San Mateo del Mar affected by the earthquake. Credit: UNICEF/Solís


For example, lifesaving surgery is done in the first few hours, so surgical assistance that takes days to arrive will be too late for this. However, it can be focused on the further management of complex injuries in the survivors if the local surgical capacity for this has been overwhelmed.

Rehabilitation is often overlooked, but providing this type of support can free up beds by facilitating the early discharge of patents and provide much-needed support to them and their families in their homes.

Any major disaster diverts health care personnel from their day-to-day tasks, but unrelated emergencies still continue to occur, and other non-disaster related health conditions still require care and treatment. Support to this less glamorous aspect of disaster response and maintaining essential emergency health care is still important to those affected.

When thinking about international search and rescue, bear in mind that most victims of earthquakes are rescued by their fellow survivors and some by local and regional teams. Very few are rescued by international teams, as it simply takes them too long to get there.

There were hundreds of international search and rescue personnel who responded to the earthquake in Nepal – and they saved 13 people. Everyone else was saved by the Nepalese.

*Addressing Global Inequalities is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons – examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet.

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The Shifting Dynamics of Rhino Horn Trafficking

21 September 2017 - 2:22am

White Rhino at sanctuary in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. Credit: Jennifer McKellar/IPS

By Julian Rademeyer
PRETORIA, South Africa , Sep 21 2017 (IPS)

Recent raids in South Africa have uncovered disturbing evidence of the changing dynamics of rhino horn trafficking from Africa to Asia.

On 12 June 2017, police raided a house in the Johannesburg suburb of Cyrildene and discovered a home workshop where rhino horn was being processed into beads, bracelets, bangles and other commodities. A quantity of drugs, ammunition and bones – believe to be lion bones – were also found. Two Chinese citizens and a Thai woman were arrested at the scene.

“Pendants, Powder and Pathways*—A rapid assessment of smuggling routes and techniques used in the illicit trade in African rhino horn”, a new report by TRAFFIC, released September 18, documents a number of recent cases in which police have discovered rhino horn processed into jewellery. Bags of rhino horn powder have also been found.

The cases are particularly worrying: they signify an apparent shift in the modus operandi of the organized criminals trafficking horn. Prior to these cases, seizures have typically comprised whole horns, or ones simply cut into two or more pieces. Cutting tusks into smaller items may make sense if you are attempting to try and conceal them in order to smuggle them to the other side of the planet, but the implications are potentially far more serious.

In China, TRAFFIC’s routine monitoring of e-commerce sites has found a number of instances of rhino horns beads, bangles and other items for sale, and while the rhino horn powder—the by-product of rhino horn processing—may well be sold for medicinal usage, it appears rhino horn trafficking is morphing into a luxury product trade.

Similarly, investigations by the Wildlife Justice Commission in the village of Nhi Khe, a traditional craft village 20km south of Hanoi, Viet Nam, found “clear and irrefutable evidence of an industrial-scale crime hub” where rhino horn bracelets, beads and bangles were manufactured, primarily for Chinese buyers.

Over the past decade, more than 7,100 rhinos have been killed for their horns in. South Africa, home to 79% of Africa’s last remaining rhinos, is the centre of the storm, suffering 91% of the continent’s known poaching losses in 2016.

Facilitated by resilient, highly-adaptive criminal networks and endemic corruption in many countries along the illicit supply chain, demand for rhino horn is driven by consumers in Asia, with Viet Nam and China identified as the dominant end use markets and the implications of a newly emerging and potentially vast market for luxury products, and the poaching-fuelling demand are indeed serious.

Enforcement authorities in South Africa are already struggling to cope with the traffickers who exploit weaknesses in border controls and law enforcement capacity constraints to provide a steady supply of rhino horn to Asian black markets. Their routes span multiple airports, borders and legal jurisdictions, taking advantage of fragmented law enforcement responses that are hamstrung by bureaucracy, insufficient international co-operation and corruption.

It is estimated that between 2010 and June 2017, at least 2,149 rhino horns, weighing more than five tonnes, were seized by law enforcement agencies globally. This is a fraction of the estimated 37.04 tonnes of rhino horn obtained from the 6,661 rhinos officially reported to have been killed by poachers in Africa between 2010 and 2016 and doubtless entering illegal trade.

While efforts to detect and deter criminals have been hampered by a lack of international co-operation, the new aspects of horn trafficking pose yet further complexity: along the trade routes between Africa and Asia, enforcement officers are focused solely on detecting horns or pieces of horns and nobody is really on the lookout for rhino horn products.

Smuggling methods are infinitely versatile, limited only by imagination and opportunity. As new smuggling methods are identified by law enforcement agencies, trafficking networks adapt and refine their tactics, finding new methods of concealment and new weaknesses to exploit.

The smugglers’ efforts are sometimes crude; wrapping horns in aluminium foil, smearing them with toothpaste and shampoo to hide the smell of decay, or coating them in wax. Over time, more sophisticated methods have emerged; horns disguised as curios and toys, hidden in bags of cashew nuts, wine boxes and consignments of wood, or concealed in imitation electronic and machine parts. Circuitous transit routes, luggage drops and exchanges are used to confuse the trail.

The added complication of seeking out small commodities makes the task of detection even harder. To counteract the newly emerging threat, enforcement agencies need more resources, while it is also vital that investigations do not stop at seizures of illicit wildlife products. Rather, seizures should be regarded as a first step in broader, targeted investigations focusing on the networks and key individuals facilitating the trafficking of rhino horn and other wildlife products.

Unless such measures are taken, the already troubled future for Africa’s rhinos looks bleaker than ever.

*Pendants, Powder and Pathways was produced by TRAFFIC under a project aiming to Reduce Trade Threats to Africa’s Wild Species and Ecosystems. The project is funded by Arcadia—a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

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Mexico’s Disaster Response System Severely Stretched by Quake

20 September 2017 - 7:51pm

The Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake toppled nearly 50 buildings in Mexico City, and left many uninhabitable. Fire fighters carry out an inspection the day after in an apartment building that is still standing but will have to be demolished, in a neighbourhood in the centre of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

Central Mexico faced Wednesday the challenge of putting itself back together after the powerful 7.1-magnitude quake that devastated the capital and the neighbouring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla the day before.

In Mexico City the air smells of dust, destruction, death, panic and hope, brought by the quake, whose epicenter was in Morelos, 120 km to the south of the capital. So far the official death toll is 230, with hundreds of people injured and 44 collapsed buildings in Mexico City.

“Everything is cracked, everything’s about to fall down. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Verónica, who lived in a new building on the verge of collapse on the south side of the capital, told IPS with tears in her eyes.

The mother of three, who preferred not to give her last name, was living alone for the last two years. She managed to salvage a few important things, like documents, jewelry and a TV set. She is now staying with one of her daughters in another part of greater Mexico City, which has a population of nearly 22 million people.

In Mexico City, the municipalities of Benito Juárez and Cuauhtémoc – two of the 16 “delegations” into which the city is divided and which together are home to nearly one million people – were hit hardest, along with parts of the states of Morelos and Puebla.
The capital is built on a dried-up ancient lakebed, which makes it more susceptible to earthquake damage.

On Tuesday, the interior ministry declared a state of disaster in the capital and 150 municipalities in Guerrero, Morelos and Puebla that were affected by the quake, to free up funds from the National Fund for Natural Disasters (FONDEN).

Berenice Rivera works as a seamstress, and she and her co-workers were evacuated from the building as soon as the first tremors were felt. “I ran to pick my kids up at school and went home to check if everything was ok,” the mother of two told IPS.

Given the structural damage to a tall nearby building, Rivera does not believe she can continue to live in the housing complex where she lives along with some 80 neighbours. “We’re going to pull things out and see where we can move to, what else can we do?” she sighed.

Construction workers were among the first to get involved in the effort to rescue survivors, leaving the buildings where they were working and using their hands to remove rubble to find people who might be trapped underneath. It was the start of a wave of citizen solidarity and support that continues to grow along the streets and avenues of the city.

A rescue worker attempts to secure the perimeter of a building toppled by the Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake, to keep former residents from trying to get inside – something that has happened in many buildings knocked down or badly damaged by the quake in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Gody/IPS

Just like after the 8.0-magnitude quake that left 25,000 people dead in Mexico City – according to unofficial figures – on Sept. 19, 1985, people mobilised en masse to remove rubble in the search for survivors, in a brave and often disorganised show of solidarity.

Although basic public services have been restored, economic, commercial and educational activities have come to a halt. The work is focused on finding survivors under the rubble, assessing the damage to buildings, and depending on the result, demolishing them and relocating the residents while planning the reconstruction effort.

But more buildings are at risk of collapse because of the damage suffered. In addition, the quake – which happened on the 32nd anniversary of the worst quake in the history of Mexico, during a drill on how to deal with a disaster of this kind – will have environmental and health effects.

“The situation is very difficult,” Mexican-American Juan Cota, who has been living in the capital since 2011 and works in the financial sector, told IPS. “There are damaged buildings that could collapse.”

Cota was in a café on the south-central side of the city when the quake began. His apartment survived, but some of his neighbours were not so lucky.

The Mexico City government has opened at least 41 shelters for survivors throughout the capital.

Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, tweeted that the United Nations would head the rescue and aid efforts.

According to its model for estimating earthquake damage, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) predicted up to 1,000 fatalities and economic losses between 100 million and one billion dollars.

The USGS stated that “Extensive damage is probable and the disaster is likely widespread. Estimated economic losses are less than 1% of GDP of Mexico. Past events with this alert level have required a national or international level response.”

The quake has further stretched the country’s disaster response system, already overwhelmed by the 8.1-magnitude quake that hit on Sept. 7, with an epicenter off the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, and which also affected the state of Oaxaca and Mexico City.

Over two million people were affected by that quake, including some 90 people who were killed, according to government statistics.

In August, the World Bank Group issued its largest ever catastrophe bond to Mexico.

The bonds are divided into three categories of insurance: Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, Pacific Ocean hurricanes and earthquakes, providing Mexico with financial protection of up to 360 million dollars against losses.

Similar bonds were issued in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Each year, this Latin American country dedicates some 1.5 billion dollars to the reconstruction of public infrastructure and social housing affected by natural disasters. Between 2014 and 2015, FONDEN disbursed 137 million dollars to address the damage caused by hurricanes, heavy rains and flooding.

The earthquake has fanned the flames of the debate about the construction standards in force in Mexico City, which were upgraded after the 1985 tragedy. “They say they’re stricter, but look at that building. It’s new and it’s about to come down,” said Verónica.

Cota believes the standards are not always enforced, mainly because of corruption. “They ignore them…they have to be revised and enforced, because the earth will continue to shake and there will be more damage,” he said.

Tuesday’s earthquake occurred near the area where the Cocos Plate, off Mexico’s Pacific coast, is pushing underneath the North American Plate – a phenomenon that points to further quakes.

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A Trump Doctrine of Hypocrisy

20 September 2017 - 3:38pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

In his first address on the global stage of the General Assembly, United States’ President Donald Trump touted an “America First” approach at the very institution that is meant to inspire collaboration between nations.

Donald J. Trump. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

During his 45-minute speech, President Trump praised national sovereignty, referencing the concept a whopping 21 times.

“Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values,” he told world leaders.

“As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”

But in a global world that relies on each other on issues such as economic growth and environmental protection, can a “me first” approach work?

Peace Action’s Senior Director of Policy and Political Affairs Paul Kawika Martin says no.

“To say one country first over the other certainly is not going to deal with these issues,” he told IPS.

Though the President highlighted the need to work together to confront those who threaten the world with “chaos, turmoil, and terror,” his actions seem to imply otherwise.

Starting with withdrawing from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement to tackle global emissions to threatening funding cuts to not only the UN but also to its own State Department which handles diplomacy and foreign assistance, the U.S. seems to be far from working together with the international community.

As Trump received applause upon speaking of the benefits of the U.S.’ programs in advancing global health and women’s empowerment, he has also sought to eliminate such programs including the gender equality development assistance account ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues and has already withdrawn all funds to the UN’s Population Fund.

“Talk is cheap when you don’t fund the efforts you tout,” said Oxfam America’s President Abby Maxman.

“Mr. Trump continues on a path that will cost America its global influence and leadership,” she continued.

Martin echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “We talk about working together but we don’t seem to do the things that you need to do to work together, which is making sure you have the right diplomacy, supporting the UN, and supporting other international fora.”

He particularly pointed the U.S.’ refusal to participate and sign the new nuclear ban treaty.

Adopted in July, the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons is now open for signature and will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it.

Brazilian President Michel Temer was the first to sign the treaty.

However, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states including the U.S. boycotted the negotiations and announced they do not ever intend to become party to the document.

Instead, President Trump used his address to lambast both North Korea and Iran for their alleged pursuits of nuclear weapons and make war-inciting claims.

“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said.

“It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.”

Martin noted that no country would act kindly to threats of annihilation.

Such threats have instead only served to increase tensions.

Since Trump threatened “fire and fury” on 8 August, North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests.

The President continued to say that the Iran Deal is the “worst” and most “one-sided” agreements, threatening to withdraw from it.

As nuclear tensions continue escalate, Trump’s threats of war and unwillingness to cooperate gives security to none, particularly not Americans.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein criticized the President for his remarks and noted the hypocrisy in using the UN stage of peace and global cooperation to threaten war.

“He missed an opportunity to present any positive actions the U.N. could take with respect to North Korea…By suggesting he would revisit and possibly cancel the Iran nuclear agreement, he greatly escalated the danger we face from both Iran and North Korea,” she said.

“He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”

Martin highlighted the importance of diplomacy rather than intimidation.

“Diplomacy is the hardest thing. It is harder to get together at a table and work on a deal but that’s what needs to be done.”

President Trump did express his support for the UN and its work, citing former President Harry Truman who helped build the UN and made the U.S. the first nation to join the organization.

He referred to Truman’s Marshall Plan which helped restore post-World War II Europe, but still went on to urge nations to “embrace their sovereignty.”

However, it was Truman that spoke of a “security for all” approach during a conference which established the UN Charter in 1945.

He urged delegates to use this “instrument for peace and security” but warned nations against using “selfishly,” stating: “If any nation would keep security for itself, it must be ready and willing to share security with all. This is the price which each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

“Out of this conflict have come powerful military nations, now fully trained and equipped for war. But they have no right to dominate the world. It is rather the duty of these powerful nations to assume the responsibility for leadership toward a world of peace.

That is why we have here resolved that power and strength shall be used not to wage war, but to keep the world at peace, and free from the fear of war.”

Truman’s collective action approach helped prevent another devastating world war.

However, President Trump’s non-cooperation and combative words signal a darker future in global affairs.

The post A Trump Doctrine of Hypocrisy appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Poor Orphan Crops…So Valuable, So Neglected

20 September 2017 - 11:49am

A group of people heading towards Mangoky River (Madagascar) past Baobab trees. Baobab leaves and fruits are sources of food for people and fodder for animals. Credit: FAO/Aris Mihich

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

When ‘think-tankers’ in the mid-1990s formulated their famous “think global, act local” slogan, they probably did not expect humankind to require a couple of decades to implement such practical advice.

At least this has been the case for the so-called ‘neglected’, ‘under-utilised’, ‘minor’ or ‘promising’ crops, which have been forgotten over the last century.

Now scientists and policymakers are beginning to recognise the value of these colourfully dubbed ‘orphan’ crops, affirming what local communities have already known for generations.

What Are They?

But what are they all about? The United Nations leading food and agriculture agency provides the answer with some specific examples — the African Yam Bean and the Desert Date, and Ber, a stocky tree with a vitamin-rich berry.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) explains that the African yam bean, cultivated mainly for home consumption, is planted for its seeds, which are high in protein and low in calories, and are often eaten after being dried and ground into flour or simply boiled and seasoned.

The starch-rich, tuberous roots, similar to spindly sweet potatoes in shape, are consumed either fresh, cut into strips in salads, or dried and ground into flour. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten much in the same way spinach is.

The crop seems to be little affected by altitude, and flourishes at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,800 meters. It takes five to seven months to grow and produce mature seeds.

They appear on a vine growing to between 1.5 and 3 m in height, green in colour or pigmented red. The vines twine clockwise around the stakes or climb around other crops for support; indeed the African yam bean is often used as a living fence. Due to its attractive, large pink and purple flowers, the plant is also cultivated as an ornament.

Moringa seedlings at a nursery in Tanzania. All parts of the Moringa tree are edible. Credit: FAO/Daniel Hayduk


Special Qualities

The UN specialised agency relates some of this crop’s main qualities: typical of legumes, the African yam bean adds a natural nitrogen boost in the soil and reduces the need for fertilizers in areas where it is cultivated; the crop is highly adaptable and capable of growing even on acid and highly leached sandy soils of humid lowland tropics; it is usually intercropped with maize or cassava and also used in crop rotations, and it is mainly used as food for people, but is also used to feed animals.

The point is that the excessively long cooking time (4-6 hours), among other factors, limits the food use of the beans. However, this issue can be overcome using traditional cooking techniques, such as soaking the seeds in water from 4 to 8 hours – a practice that will reduce both the cooking time and the anti-nutrients.

Among others, FAO also explains, some of the nutritional value of the orphan crops are that African yam beans, for instance, have the advantage of producing both beans (pulse or grain) and an edible tuber; the small tuberous roots are white-fleshed, spindly and long like sweet potatoes, but contain more protein than sweet potatoes, cassava or yams, and the dried beans are also rich in protein (18.9 per cent), with a good amount of dietary fibre (16.7 per cent) and 1.5 per cent of fat.

Overlooked by Everybody…

In spite of their high value, they have been overlooked by researchers, extension services and policy makers; governments rarely allocate resources for their promotion and development, FAO underlines. That results in farmers planting them less often, reduced access to high quality seeds, and loss of traditional knowledge.

Why? Simply because these species have been overshadowed by those in greater demand. For example, of the 30,000 edible plant species, a mere 30 are used to feed the world.

“Yet these neglected and under-utilised crops can help to increase the diversification of food production, adding new species to our diets that can result in better supply of particular nutrients, i.e. essential amino acids, fiber, proteins.”

The UN agency also notes that, in addition to diversifying nutritional intake, orphan crops provide economic and environmental benefits–farmers can grow them on their own, as part of crop rotation systems or inter-plant them with other crops, protecting and enhancing agro-biodiversity at the field level.

And having a bigger number of species to choose from in a crop rotation system allows farmers to have a more sustainable production system, it adds. By changing species in a crop rotation system, the cycle of some pests and diseases is disrupted and probabilities of infestations are reduced.

“By expanding the portfolio of crops available to farmers, we can help build more diverse and resilient cropping systems,” FAO Assistant Director-General Ren Wang said.

Allanblackia tree in Kribi, Cameroon. Credit: AfricanOrphan Crops Consortium (AOCC)


In fact, the UN food and agriculture agency, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), among others, have agreed to work together to strengthen the capacities of FAO member countries and to better focus research and development, plant breeding and seed delivery systems.

Food Security, Nutrition…

“Imagine the positive impacts on food security, nutrition, health, safety and farmers income if crop varieties that rural African families, especially women, grow were more nutritious, higher yielding, and resilient from climate change, drought and pests.”

With these words, FAO announced what it called “an uncommon partnership” of 15 government organisations, scientific, agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural centres, devoted to improving the diets and livelihoods of the 600 million people who live in rural Sub-Saharan Africa, and they believe that this vision will be a reality.

In this partnership, the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) is the driver to generate the genomic resources for the selected crops. Approved by African Heads of State at the African Union Assembly and led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the AOCC is in fact sequencing the genomes of 101 African food plants.

They Know…

Smallholders and people living in rural areas in Africa grow a huge variety of edible plants other than rice, wheat or maize. These crops, including the African yam bean, have long been neglected although they represent an excellent alternative food supplement to most diets, FAO says.

Grown in pockets of tropical Central, West and East Africa, the African yam bean has great potential to contribute to overall food security and improve local diets. This crop is not to be confused with the other yam bean, the jicama, which comes from Latin America.

The African yam bean is a traditional crop, high in proteins and starch, is highly adaptable to adverse environmental conditions and can fix nitrogen in the soil, which means it does not require a large amount of fertilisers. It is usually grown together with maize or cassava, adds FAO.

In short, scientists and researchers are now discovering what farmers and rural populations have been aware of generation after generation. Better late than never.

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Macron Defends Globalist Approach at UN General Assembly

20 September 2017 - 9:59am

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a sombre speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, denouncing Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing,” and calling for better protection of refugees around the world.

Emmanuel Macron. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

While U.S. President Donald Trump’s own debut speech earlier that morning focused on national sovereignty and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, Macron took a more multilateral approach. He vowed to fight climate change with all other member countries and said that he would try to persuade Trump to reconsider his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

Macron, a centrist who ran his recent presidential campaign on open borders, kept in line with his advocacy for protecting refugees as a “moral duty.” He addressed human trafficking along the Mediterranean route, and said that greater checks and a “humanitarian infrastructure” should be put in place to stem blatant flouting of “fundamental human rights” by traffickers.

He added that migration and terrorism are political challenges, and “short-term” responses were not good enough to address critical issues of national security. He committed to contribute to developmental aid, and said that the process, for him, began with investing in education.

“We must give the opportunity to young boys and girl to obtain an education to choose their own future, not the future that is imposed on them by need but the future that they should choose for themselves,” he said.

He also put emphasis on freedom of expression, and called for a UN Special Representative for the protection of journalists across the world.

The U.S. president, on the other hand, touted topics that invoked a mainstream media frenzy, touching on nevertheless important national security issues. He reiterated his critical views of the 2015 deal lifting sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear programme, calling it an “embarrassment.”

Although Trump urged every country to put themselves first, he ultimately praised the UN body and its potential to bring deliberations at the world stage.

The post Macron Defends Globalist Approach at UN General Assembly appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Latest Major Hurricane Leaves Dominica “Devastated”

20 September 2017 - 9:07am

A tree felled by the outer bands of Hurricane Maria in Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

As Hurricane Maria continues to barrel its way across the Caribbean, details are slowly emerging of the number of deaths and the extent of the devastation left in its wake in Dominica.

Maria made landfall on the tiny island of 72,000 on the evening of Sept. 18 with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 miles per hour.“Our governments must redouble their determination to confront the naysayers of climate change, however big and powerful they may be." --Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Lester Bird

Hartley Henry, Principal Advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said he had spoken with the prime minister early this morning via satellite phone.

“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane,” Henry said in a message. “That figure, the Prime Minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today, Wednesday. The urgent needs now are roofing materials for shelters, bedding supplies for hundreds stranded in or outside what’s left of their homes and food and water drops for residents of outlying districts inaccessible at the moment.

“The country is in a daze – no electricity, no running water – as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities and definitely to landline or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite a while.

“In summary, the island has been devastated. The housing stock significantly damaged or destroyed. All available public buildings are being used as shelters; with very limited roofing materials evident. The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all.”

In a Facebook message a few hours after Maria’s arrival, Skerrit said the island’s immediate priority was to rescue people who were trapped and provide medical care to the injured.

“I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating… indeed, mind-boggling,” Skerrit said.

The Prime Minister had earlier posted that roofs were being torn off everywhere by the powerful storm’s winds. He himself had to be rescued from his official residence.

Following Skerrit’s social media posts, everything went silent. Communication with Dominica since then has been close to impossible.

According to Henry, “Little contact has been made with the outer communities but persons who walked 10 and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops.

“Urgent helicopter services are needed to take food, water and tarpaulins to outer districts for shelter. Canefield airport can accommodate helicopter landings and it is expected that from today, the waters around the main Roseau port will be calm enough to accommodate vessels bringing relief supplies and other forms of assistance.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Wednesday, “The last I’ve heard, which would have been this morning, is that there is widespread damage to property, there has been up to seven fatalities so far. I understand that there are some remote areas that they have been unable to get to.

“They are asking for supplies including tarpaulin, water, food cots. As you know, in the case of Antigua and Barbuda, we have some supplies here. We are awaiting the all-clear so that a chopper that we have on stand-by could fly into Dominica. They have not given any landing permission yet so we are just waiting to hear from them.

Browne added that he spoke with Skerrit the night of the hurricane until after he lost his roof.

Dominica was still in the recovery phase following Tropical Storm Erika which hit the island on Aug. 27, 2015, killing more than two dozen people, leaving nearly 600 homeless and wreaked damages totalling more than a billion dollars.

That storm dumped 15 inches of rain on the mountainous island, caused floods and mudslides and set the country back 20 years, according to Skerrit. The island was inadequately prepared for a storm such as Erika. Many roads and bridges were simply not robust enough to withstand such high volumes of water.

In a national address shortly following the storm, Skerrit said that hundreds of homes, bridges and roads had been destroyed and millions of dollars in financial aid were needed to help the country bounce back.

“In order to get back to where we were before Tropical Storm Erika struck, we have to source at least 88.2 million dollars for the productive sector, 334.55 million for infrastructure and 60.09 million for the social sectors,” Skerrit said.

Skerrit and his counterparts in the Caribbean have long argued that large industrialized nations are to blame for the drastic change in the climate and the more frequent and stronger hurricanes being witnessed in region.

“Climate change is real.  We are the victims of climate change because of the profligacy in the use of fossil fuels by the large industrialized nations,” Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne told IPS on his way to the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

“These nations, that have contributed to global warming and sea level rise, have an obligation to assist in the rebuilding of these islands. The funds required to rebuild is beyond their means and I join the clarion call of Sir Richard Branson, for a Marshall plan to rebuild the islands.

“Our common humanity, as citizens of a common space, called planet earth mandates a spirit of empathy and cooperation among all nations, large and small,” Browne told IPS.

Just over a week earlier, Browne’s own country Antigua and Barbuda suffered a similar fate as Dominica when Hurricane Irma decimated Barbuda, the smaller island of the twin-island nation.

A powerful Hurricane Irma, churned its way across the tiny island, killing a two-year-old child and leaving millions of dollars in damages.

When Irma’s core slammed into Barbuda, its maximum sustained winds were 185-mph, well above the 157-mph threshold of a Category 5 storm.

Browne estimates that it will take up to 300 million dollars to rebuild Barbuda, home to 1,800 people. All of the island’s inhabitants had to be evacuated to mainland Antigua after the hurricane.

At the time, Irma was one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, the first time since 2010 that three active hurricanes have been in the Atlantic, according to reports.

“The whole idea is to deal with this Barbuda situation and to speak to the issue of climate change,” Browne said of his attendance at the United Nations General Assembly.

“I don’t think they care,” Browne said when asked if he believed the United States in particularly would be listening very carefully to what he has to say.

“But we have an obligation at the same time to advocate on what is clearly an existential threat, one of the most significant threats facing the planet. And no matter what they think, I know that America think that their interest is first, second, third until they get to last but we have a common humanity, we all occupy a planet called Earth and as far as we are concerned we are all inter-dependent on each other and perhaps sooner than later they will come to that reality,” Browne said.

During a special sitting of Parliament to discuss the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma on Barbuda, former Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Lester Bird said it’s time the “naysayers of climate change” wake up and face reality.

“Our governments must redouble their determination to confront the naysayers of climate change, however big and powerful they may be, even when we have a President of the United States, who should really be chastised for withdrawing the United States from [the Paris Climate Agreement],” Bird said.

Although the United States remains part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in June this year President Donald Trump ceased all implementation of the non-binding Paris accord.

That includes contributions to the United Nations Green Climate Fund (to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change and expand clean energy) and reporting on carbon data (though that is required in the US by domestic regulations anyway).

“Hurricane Irma nails the lie to all who claim that climate change and global warming are fantasies,” said Bird, who served as the second prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, from 1994 to 2004.

“The increased heat of the sea fed Irma’s size and intensity. The world has never witnessed a hurricane of the strength and size of Irma when it stormed through Barbuda leaving destruction and devastation in its path. Little Barbuda stood no chance against such a gigantic force,” Bird said.

“That is why I urge the government to continue to fight in the international community for mitigation against climate change and for the means to build up resilience in our island states; not just Barbuda but all of the island states that are low level.

“The prospect of climate change could even bring Tsunamis and undermine the existence of these islands as is demonstrated in Barbuda,” Bird added.

Meantime, Bird said Caribbean civilization is under threat because of climate change.

“Barbuda now lies prostrate, dispirited and depressed, a mangled wreck as the Prime Minister [Gaston Browne] has said. It is positive proof that the very existence of our civilization is now under deadly threat,” Bird said.

“This is the first time since the 18th century that there is no human person legally living on Barbuda. Over 300 years of human habitation has been abruptly interrupted. That must not be the fate of our island communities. Our heritage, our civilization, our identity depends on it.”

Hurricane Maria is the third in a string of devastating hurricanes to sweep through the region in recent weeks.

Some 42 deaths have been blamed on Hurricane Irma which has decimated many countries in the Caribbean including Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and the Dutch and French island of St. Maarten / St. Martin.

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Bangladesh Needs to Shore up Its Flood Defence

20 September 2017 - 8:14am

The premises of a school inundated by floodwater. Shibaloy in Manikganj district, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/ IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country with floods hitting almost every year, leaving a trail of destruction despite having early warning systems. Now experts say it is time for the delta nation to think more seriously about how to deal with the recurring onslaughts of floods more effectively by strengthening its flood defence.

The recent severe floods in the country have killed over 140 people and displaced nearly 8 million and damaged some 100,000 houses. It also caused colossal damages to crops, forcing the government to go for the import of huge rice. Many flood-affected families in temporary shelters in the country’s northwest are still hesitating to return to their homes as hunger looms large.

On August 28 last, the Food Minister Quamrul Islam informed the country’s cabinet that 2 million tonnes of rice and wheat need to be imported to keep the market stable until January next year as the same amount of rice has been damaged by the floods in haor areas, creating an ‘unusual situation’ in the rice market.

The government has already started importing rice. Over 600,000 metric tonnes (mts) of rice have been imported from India under private arrangement, 250,000 mts from Vietnam. Besides, a process is underway to import 250,000 mts from Cambodia.

More than 5.7 million people in 27 districts have been affected while crops on 468,000 hectares damaged in the floods, according to government data.

The United Nations has said long-term food supplies are at risk in Bangladesh with so much farmland now ruined by floods.

Now experts say Bangladesh must take the flood issue more seriously as it is affected by climate change.

While talking to IPS, AKM Saiful Islam, a professor of the Institute of Water and Flood Management (IWFM) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), said, “As a flood vulnerable country, Bangladesh should take this issue much more seriously than the past. Due to global warming and climate change, flood peak magnitude will be much higher in the future (at the end of the century) with respect the historic peak floods.”

These humble homes, located on a ‘char’ in northern Bangladesh, were half-submerged by severe floods in August that left many river island-dwellers homeless. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS


He says human interventions in natural river systems, and the changes in the land-use pattern of their catchments make the hill slope steeper, and Bangladesh rivers are now carrying large amounts of sediments than ever before, causing frequent and destructive floods. “Urbanisation generates more runoff while encroachment of wetlands and embankment confine flood water inside the river channel which raises the flood peak. Moreover, excess sediments raise the bed level and further exacerbate the flood conditions,” Saiful added.

Citing a recent study of Buet conducted under a collaborative research project entitled ‘High-End Climate Impact and Extremes (HELIX)’ funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013, he says the floods in the Brahmaputra river basin of having 100-year return periods will carry more than 10%, 17%, and 24% more discharge during the 2020s (2011-2040), 2050s (2041-2070) and 2080s (2071-2100) than the pre-industrial periods (1851-1880).

“We’ve already observed that the 2017 floods broke the historic record crossing the danger levels in several stations of many tributaries of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna river systems such as Bahdurabad in Jamuna, Mohadevepur in Atrai, Badarganj in Jamuneswari, Kurigram in Dharala and Dalia in the Teesta. Due to sea level rise, the flood conditions might be prolonged in the future. As the water holding capacity of the atmosphere will be increasing with the rise of temperature, it is expected that more intense rainfall and flooding will be observed in the South Asia in the future under the changing climate,” he said.

Bangladesh has its own flood forecasting system. At present, Flood Forecasting and Warning Center (FFWC) of Bangladesh Water Development Board providing five days’ deterministic flood forecast and early warnings. Early warning messages were delivered by FFWC through email, SMS, website, fax to the concerned Ministries and government organizations like the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), Deputy Commissioners offices and Department of Agricultural Extensions. DDM has a role to disseminate flood warnings to the district, upazila (sub-district) and union levels through the heads of respective disaster management committees.

The current forecasting system is helpful in some ways, said Prof Saiful. He, however, stated that there is scope to improve this system and make the early warning user-friendly to the flood vulnerable communities.

The flood forecasting and early warning, he said, can be improved in a number of ways:
Establishing a High Computing National Centers like National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the USA composed of both meteorologist and hydrologist as an Independent Entity of the government; the signing of hydro-met data sharing protocol during flood season with neighboring countries; developing basin-wise flood forecast modeling including China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan; and developing a community-based early warning system in which warnings will be provided in a language which local people can understand.

Echoing Prof Islam, Mohammad Harun Ar Rashid, Deputy Secretary, Management and Information Monitoring (MIM) said, “Bangladesh has to think seriously about the long-term strategy regarding floods. Its flood control programme has been so far dominated by the embankment approach. According to this approach, it’s necessary to cordon off areas in order to protect them from flooding. Therefore, under this approach, the goal of flood control gets transmitted into that of flood-prevention.”

A classic example of this approach, he said, the Dhaka, Narayanganj, and Demra project, popularly known as DND project. Under this project, a tract of flood plain with Dhaka, Narayanganj, and Demra has been cordoned off from the adjoining Buriganga and Shitalkhya rivers by constructing embankments.

Aiming to deal with the worsening situation, the government in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has chalked out a six-year Climate Resilient Community Development (CRCD) project in the country’s northwest region with a greater focus on building flood defences for rural communities.

The potential range of interventions of the project include early warning about floods; strengthening community preparedness about floods and climate change by providing information; temporary floods shelter for people and livestock during severe floods, improving productivity and diversity of crops within the limits of quality of soil.

The project also looks for the construction of pre-fabricated modular houses so that they can easily be disassembled and transported; other public structure such as schools and markets can be built in similar fashion, construction of climate resilient rural roads both all-weather and submersible depending on specific locations; developing planned markets, providing irrigation services; promoting public-private investment when issues of natural disasters and connectivity issues are resolved.

With 230 rivers flowing over the country into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is a delta of about 144,000 sq. km. of area and most part of which is low-lying plain land made up of alluvial soil with hills in the southeastern and northeastern parts. Its main rivers are the Padma, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna.

As a world leader in adapting to living with floods, it is time for Bangladesh also explore some newer technologies developed in other parts of the world to shore up their flood defences. “There is a need to think about a long-term solution to it for building a more resilient Bangladesh,” says Prof Saiful.

The post Bangladesh Needs to Shore up Its Flood Defence appeared first on Inter Press Service.

An Almost Happy Country

20 September 2017 - 4:13am

By Rafia Zakaria
Sep 20 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The World Happiness Report operates from the premise that happiness can be measured, counted up via surveys, tabulated in statistics and then ranked by country. This year’s report ranks 155 countries in a master ranking of happiness. It also proves statistically what all of us have known tacitly: rich people are happier than poor people, more likely to describe themselves as “happy” and consequently rich countries, made up as they are of rich people, are happier than poor countries.

Rafia Zakaria

Of all the lucky and happy countries, the happiest and consequently the luckiest is Norway, ranked number one among the 155. Its other Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, are not far behind, all of them appearing in the top 10 happiest places in the world. With little threat of war, free healthcare and state support for unemployment or disability, Norwegians need not fret over the concerns that trouble the rest of us.

According to the report’s authors, however, Norwegians are happy not because of their country’s wealth but in spite of it; ever frugal, they drill their oil reserves sparingly and slowly invest the profits rather than frittering them all away. As a consequence, Norway’s economy is cushioned from sudden downturns and its people from common worries that are everybody else’s affliction. Those who save are rarely sorry and the case of Norway, the happiest country in the world, proves just that.

How you estimate Pakistan’s position depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

At number 80, Pakistan falls in the middle of the pack of countries ranked by the happiness index, not anywhere in the league of Denmark and Norway but beating both India and Bangladesh. At number 122, India fell four places in the happiness index between last year and this year’s rankings. One Indian publication blamed unemployment, malnutrition and poverty as possible causes, another threw the blame at the lack of vacation time, citing a study that ranked India as the fourth most vacation-deprived country in the world.

At number 79, China ranks higher than India but (rather surprisingly) sharp improvements in the standard of living of the Chinese over the past 25 years have not produced equivalent advances in levels of reported happiness. If the World Happiness Report is to be believed, the Chinese are absolutely no happier than they were in 1990 when per capita income was significantly lower than it is today. A possible cause for Chinese unhappiness could be the perceived lack of personal and political freedom, an indicator on which the world’s happiest countries rank very highly. More money, it seems, cannot entirely eliminate the misery produced by the constrictions and constraints of a repressive society.

The import of a World Happiness Report lies in the insights it can provide about the human experience as a whole — and there are some interesting ones in this year’s edition. Across all 155 countries, unemployment produces a huge drop in an individual’s estimation of their own happiness. Similarly, regardless of whether a country is rich or poor, the misery of mental illness is the single factor having the largest impact on happiness. It makes sense then that countries that have few resources to deal with mental illness and in which mental illness is stigmatised do not rank as highly on the happiness index as those where the mentally ill can be properly treated and are not subject to social exclusion and ostracism.

For all its insights, however, the World Happiness Report is yet another ranking according to whose parameters rich countries rank higher, seem better and hence establish a dominance of sorts over lesser nations. The happiness ranking, comprehensive and exhaustive as it may seem, does not reveal that the countries at the bottom of the list — the Central African Republic, Yemen and Syria amongst them — have all been the subject of troublesome meddling by richer, more powerful (and happier) Western nations. Invasion or intervention of this sort is not measured or interrogated by the authors of the happiness index, nor is it considered a possible cause for a lower happiness ranking.

The underlying premise of the World Happiness Report is that ‘happiness’ measured subjectively via a number of variables is the most coveted state of being in the world. Happiness, it is assumed, is the object of all human action and the consequently ultimate metric of well-being, more thorough and accurate than earlier tabulations that ranked the world’s nations on the basis of other measurements — the sum of their gross domestic product or the level of their economic growth. And yet even this metric of ‘happiness’ and its measurement using (at least in part) surveys of individuals may be unduly reliant on individualistic notions of self.

In societies where group identities are dominant, survey questions that demand subjective and individual estimations of happiness would be unusual, with survey respondents unaccustomed to considering their relative happiness or unhappiness independent of the consensus of family or clan or tribe. Similarly, some societies may prioritise piety or unity over individual happiness, making the latter a less than ideal measure of their well-being in relation to others.

At almost exactly halfway down the happiness index, how you estimate Pakistan’s position depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, inclined to see the glass half full or half empty. In either case, improvement is always possible: the Central American country of Nicaragua, beset with just as many challenges as Pakistan, came in at number 43, making it the most improved country in the entire set of rankings. What’s possible for Nicaragua may be possible for Pakistan, a climb from the bottom half into the upper half, a transformation from an almost happy country to a truly happy one.

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

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The post An Almost Happy Country appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Guarding Against a Communal Narrative

20 September 2017 - 4:06am

A large plume of smoke is seen on the Myanmar side of the border from Teknaf, September 15, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Moyukh Mahtab
Sep 20 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The outpouring of help for Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh has been heart-warming. For a country itself plagued by scarcity, people from all walks have come forward to help them in whatever capacity they have. Buddhists in this country have set up camps to donate blood to Rohingyas who need it and Muslims here have come out to help both Muslims and Hindu refugees from Rakhaine. Now, Sikh volunteers from India have arrived in Teknaf to set up a community kitchen for the refugees. And, as befits a nation that constitutionally guarantees the rights of every citizen, irrespective of race and religion, some Muslim alems have come out saying that now, it is the duty of Islamic leaders here to ensure that no one harasses minorities in this country through misappropriation of the plight of the Rohingyas.

This is timely. There have already been reports of a few isolated incidents. Last week, a woman studying in university, was forced out of a bus she was travelling in as she was a Buddhist from the Chakma community, and by some twisted logic to some people, responsible for the atrocities in Myanmar. Prothom Alo reported on September 14 how a Buddhist monk who had just arrived in Bangladesh was picked up by three youths from a shop when he went there to buy water, and threatened. On September 15, Sammilito Bouddho Somaj held a press conference, denouncing the atrocities on the Rohingya in Myanmar, but also pointed out how a certain group was engaged in inciting communal hatred within Bangladesh. As precaution—and the state deserves praise for this—to ensure security of Buddhists here, police has increased vigilance around monasteries in Chittagong.

We have seen before how simplistic narratives of persecution of minorities can give rise to further communal tensions.

A little history of Myanmar, and how communalism works in general, is relevant. The religious nationalism that fuels the ethnic cleansing that is happening today in the Rakhine State is not something that suddenly flared up. Communalism is the use of a supposed religious identity as the basis of a political and social ideology. It seeks to categorise human beings as distinct communities along religious lines. It’s the expression of political and economic power through the use of religion. As Saskia Sassen recently highlighted in her article, the persecution of Rohingyas “might be partly generated by military-economic interests”—land grabbing and the greed for natural resources in Rakhine. (Is Rohingya persecution caused by business interests rather than religion?, Guardian, 2017) As for politics, the use of religion to consolidate support against some “other” is not new to this subcontinent. In this context, how we explain and generate public and international opinion on the Rohingya issue matters. The Rohingya issue cannot be described as an either/or: it is an entangled mess of religion, race, ultra-nationalism and business interests—to name only a few dimensions."Hearing of the horrors the Rohingya faced from those who survived, it is easy to fall prey to that same sentiment. Worse still, are those who intentionally use the horrors against the Rohingya to strengthen their brand of hate. The Buddhists of Bangladesh are not complicit to the crimes of Myanmar, as all Muslims should not be targeted for the crimes of those who intentionally misrepresent Islam.

Myanmar is home to at least six distinct groups of Muslims including the Indian-descended Muslim community of Rangoon, the Panthay who are Burmese Chinese Muslims and Zerbadi Muslims, descended from inter-ethnic marriages between Muslim men and Burmese women. Rohingyas are one such, although they are not recognised by the Myanmarese government. The official country puts the total Muslim population at around 4.3 percent, but as a 2006 US State Department report pointed out, the census may have underestimated the country’s Muslim population. The Rohingya population, which is not enumerated, consists of about half of the total Muslim population of Myanmar. Myanmar on the other hand claims that the Rohingyas are ethinically Bangalees, who crossed over and so not deserving of citizenship.

To say that religion is not a factor is wrong. As it is wrong to claim that religion solely drives the hate. There is a recent historical basis for Muslim–Buddhist conflict in Myanmar, but the case of the Rohingyas is distinct. And their plight is worse, because unlike other Muslim communities, they are not officially “citizens” of the country. Ethnicity is a crucial factor which drive the Myanmarese narrative—that of refusing to acknowledge Rohingyas as an ethnic group and claiming they are Bangalee immigrants.

Muslims have lived in what is Myanmar today for centuries now—and at times, the Buddhists, the majority, have coexisted peacefully with the minority population of Muslims who had started settling Myanmar from at least the ninth century. There are confirmed reports of Muslim colonies—which grew up over time from the Muslim sailors who settled in Myanmar, children of Muslim men who married Burmese women, mercenaries and migration—between the 13th to the 16th century. (Moshe Yegar, The Muslims of Burma)

At times Indian Muslims were very important to the administrative apparatus of Myanmar and held key positions in the ports and the court. Of course, there was tension at times, but there was harmony and coexistence for longer. Just take two examples which Moshe Yegar writes of in his book. Firstly, that of King Mindon who built a hostel in “Mecca for the comfort of Burmese Muslim pilgrims and at his own expense sent Burmese Muslims with money to erect the building …” in the second-half of the 19th century. In 1937, we find the Muslim Free Hospital and Medical Relief Society. A significant portion of its financing came from Zakat contributions for specific care of Muslims patients. In order to cater to all religions, the hospital started levying a fee, “a symbolic sum, upon the Muslim patients for the treatment they receive, for a Lillah (to God) Fund earmarked for the treatment of non-Muslim patients.” When it comes to the history of Myanmar, Moshe Yegar notes that Muslim persecution during the rule of one king in the 18th century was an aberration in the “background of tolerance.”

Of course, by the time Myanmar gained independence in 1948, the usual suspects of colonialism’s divide and rule policy had set in. Historically, tensions existed between those who lived in Rakhine, which was once independent from Myanmar, and the Burmese, but not along religious lines. World War II added to the discord when the two made different alliances. After Ne Win’s military take-over of the country in 1962, this hardened further. The pre-coup government of U Nu had recognised the ethnic identity of the Rohingyas, but since 1962, their claim to citizenship has been systematically denied. If one looks beyond the official Myanmarese narrative, one finds that in 1974, the government used the issues of “race and religion to consolidate its declining support.” (Imtiaz Ahmed, The Rohingyas: From Stateless to Refugee) Imtiaz Ahmed further writes, “Although in the entire matter, the government was selectively targeting the Arakanese Muslims or Rohingyas, it was not long before that the Arakanese as a whole (both Buddhists and Muslims) realised that such activities were intended to create a wedge between the majority Arakanese Buddhists … and the minority Rohingyas.”

The infamous Operation Naga Min of 1978¬–79 is reported to have been directed against both the Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine. The Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh, hoping for shelter from their co-religionists. Between 1978-1983, military atrocities like those of today resulted in the deaths of 1,725 and the rapes of 2,715 Rakhine Buddhists. During the time 437 Rohingyas were killed and 1681 Rohgingya women were raped.

In 1990, the military government refused to hand over power to a democratically elected government, and had killed a few monks who were protesting. As Imtiaz Ahmed puts it: “The targeting of the Rohingyas in November 1991, therefore, fulfilled the double-task of consolidating the Buddhist majority and, at the same time, wrecking the unity of the Arakanese.” This time, pandering to populist sentiments, the main targets were the Rohingya Muslims, who were made targets for being of a different religion and ethnicity. Like right-wing populist leaders we see today, demonising an “other”, the military government wanted the support of Buddhists throughout Myanmar. Placating of hard-line monks meant increased tension between Buddhists and Muslims. The spectre of an “Islamisation” of the country and constant state propaganda created a narrative of the Myanmarese community as distinct groups. Tun Khin, a human rights activist and president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, summarised to Newsweek recently: “Rohingyas are a different ethnic group, they have a different appearance and religion.” They were easy targets.

The point of this short and incomplete summary is to show how communalism appropriates religion. The state-military promoted this until the doctrine of hate against “outsiders” had become normalised.

Hearing of the horrors the Rohingya faced from those who survived, it is easy to fall prey to that same sentiment. Worse still, are those who intentionally use the horrors against the Rohingya to strengthen their brand of hate. The Buddhists of Bangladesh are not complicit to the crimes of Myanmar, as all Muslims should not be targeted for the crimes of those who intentionally misrepresent Islam. After all, the same Buddhists from Bangladesh have decided to refrain from their Prabarna Purnima festivities this year protesting the atrocities in Myanmar and have decided to distribute the money for the refugees.

The background to the ethno-religious violence against the Rohingyas and the combined effort of all communities in helping the refugees should be an antidote to the hate Myanmar preaches. We must remember that what we are doing to help the Rohingyas and speak up for them stems from a shared humanity, it rises above the communal politics of Myanmar.

Moyukh Mahtab is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post Guarding Against a Communal Narrative appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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