Interpress News Service

Asean Environment: Wetlands for Disaster Resilience

28 May 2017 - 3:25am

By Ambassador Amado Tolentino
May 28 2017 (Manila Times)

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami originating in an earthquake in the sea off Sumatra in Indonesia devastated 12 countries, including Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. As an immediate response, the periodic Asian Wetlands Symposium held in 2005 (in India) recommended, among others, to “prioritize the natural coastal defenses through greenbelt/coastal ‘bioshield’ development…… In connection therewith, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) identified as one of four priorities the matter of ‘investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience’.”

Amado S. Tolentino Jr.

Not to be missed is the Asean Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (ADMER), which came into force in 2009 with the intention of providing “effective regional mechanisms to mitigate impacts of natural disasters….through concerted national efforts and intensified regional cooperation.”

Early this year, the Asean Institute of International and Strategic Studies, a consortium of Asean think tanks, concluded that one of the key challenges to Asean is “adapting to climate change:……Asean needs to be prepared for the real possibility that global mitigation efforts are not sufficient. Efforts to adapt to the effects of climate change and disasters will increasingly demand greater coordination and the pooling of resources.”

In the light of scientific information that natural disasters are projected to intensify in Asia, the ADMER could be utilized for disaster prevention and mitigation purposes even if the agreement leans heavily towards disaster preparedness and emergency response, i.e. faster movement of relief goods, better utilization of civilian and military response, etc. ADMER could serve as the basis for Asean’s active role at disaster risk reduction by incorporating effective wetlands management strategies for climate change resilience.

Disaster risk reduction, according to ADMER, means “a framework of elements considered with possibilities to minimize vulnerabilities and disaster risks to avoid, through prevention or, to limit through mitigation and preparedness the adverse impacts of hazards within the broad context of sustainable development.”

Wetlands, on the other hand are among the world’s most valuable ecosystems, providing so may benefits to people. As defense fortifications, wetlands, particularly mangroves, proved excellent defenses against the onslaught of typhoons and tsunamis as proven by the earthquake occurrence mentioned above. Scientists explained that the roots of vegetation in Asian mangroves and other forest wetlands helped to hold the sediments in place against the impact of strong winds, waves and currents. Additionally, wetlands are the “kidneys of the earth,” purifying water and waste from both natural and human sources. As “biological supermarkets,” wetlands provide a wide variety of flora and fauna. Wetlands act as natural dams, absorbing heavy rainfalls, preventing flood downstream; helps shoreline stabilization and erosion reduction. Wetlands help recharge groundwater aquifers too. Most important of all, wetlands provide livelihood to many people.

Aside from mangroves, wetlands include swamps, marshes, mudflats, floodplains, peatlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes and many more generally described as “where water meets land.”

ADMER is replete with provisions which could be used by Asean countries in refuting the claim that while emergency response is almost well attended to from the local to the national government level, much remains to be done in regard to a) cooperation in developing and putting into effect solutions to reduce disaster impacts; b) development of strategies to identify, prevent or reduce disaster risks and losses; c) prevention and mitigation legislation, regulations, policies, plans, programs and strategies; and d) raising public awareness about disaster prevention and mitigation.

In pursuit of this, Asean countries could very well incorporate wetlands for disaster risk reduction and build resilience in their legal agenda. For instance, the strategy of planting mangrove saplings should be a continuing year-round activity in the long and extensive coastlines of countries comprising Asean. Likewise, massive planting of high-quality and commercially productive variety of bamboo could be introduced in riverbanks/river basins and lakeshores as a technique not only to withstand environmental disturbances but also to preserve and rehabilitate freshwater sources and lakes and provide added source of income to people.

Take note that Asean is not only about economic partnership, trade liberalization and economic integration. It is also about environmental security. In that regard, Asean’s environment program, conceived in the early 1980s, has metamorphosed to include an Asean Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment.

Hosting Asean@50 gives President Duterte a historic opportunity to influence the future direction of Asean vis-à-vis disaster risk reduction, an area where Asean lags behind in terms of prevention and mitigation projects to better achieve climate change resiliency.

It should be borne in mind, however, that building a disaster-resilient Asean needs partnerships among governments, private sector, NGOs, LGUs, and other institutions with clearly defined roles not only in disaster response but also in disaster prevention and mitigation. To begin with, a program on the values and functions of wetlands for disaster risk reduction and onwards to consolidating resilience endeavors among Asean countries on the same track could be embarked on and, in the process, highlight also the need to scale up adaptation to climate change. Indeed, Asean-wide advocacy initiatives about wetlands for disaster risk reduction would do well to invigorate efforts in the region to give climate change resilience the priority that the issue deserves.

Hopefully, the recommendation is realized soon because Asean remains vulnerable to natural disasters. But through multi-stakeholder engagement, improvements can be made at a much faster pace so the region can have a much needed disaster-resilient system.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Britain Mourns While Sri Lanka Groans

28 May 2017 - 2:46am

By Neville de Silva
May 28 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

It was a week of tragedy and farce. Here in the UK death came suddenly and unexpectedly one night last week. The country went into mourning as the single biggest suicide bomb attack in the UK brought home a reality. Home grown terrorism is as alive here as transnational terrorism which has taken root in continental Europe.

For Sri Lankans who have lived through nearly three decades of terrorism, blood-letting and gory violence and mayhem, it seemed like déjà vu many times over. In my years of journalism in Sri Lanka I have visited many scenes of terrorist attacks and killings from the massacre of worshippers and monks at the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura to the indiscriminate shooting of Buddhist monks and samaneras at Aranthalawa, the shooting, hacking and dismemberment of farmers and their families in north central/ eastern province villages, to the bombing of the CTO, the Pettah bus depot and the explosions inside a passenger a train close to the Dehiwala station and other scenes of unbelievable gore.

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake


I have also reported on the gruesome killings of state officials, journalists and others in the late 1980s including several personal friends and escaped an attempt on my life too.

The type of terrorism perpetrated by youth born and bred in the UK or others who sought refuge here is rather new but not to Sri Lankans who have lived through years of daily fear not knowing when they and their families left home in the morning whether they would ever return home safe.

While most Sri Lankans will condole with the families of those killed and wounded in Manchester, their groaning and moaning today have little to do with that dastardly incident. It has all to do with the acute stomach cramps they unexpectedly underwent last week. What with our medicine men, some with black cloth tied across their mouths occupying space on the pavements instead of in the hospitals where they should have rightly been and so were unavailable to treat the needy, it was a torrid time for many people.

We now know what caused the indescribable pain. It was the consequence of a nation-wide outburst of side-splitting laughter. It spread faster than the dengue fever that a yahapalanaya administration, more interested in sorting out their duty-free vehicle permits, is still trying to eradicate.

It spread like a rash when news broke of the cabinet reshuffle which had gripped the country with great expectation for weeks. Would they rid the country of those who have been in the public eye for various shenanigans that are too well known to require reiteration here.

Having grappled day and night on how to shuffle the pack the great minds of the palanites came up with such a classic solution that even the irresistible Don Trump might wish to emulate. On hearing of the final solution Sri Lankans burst into paroxysms of laughter at what almost immediately earned the sobriquet the “Great Hoax”.

When some years ago an advertising copy writer, perhaps jokingly, called Sri Lanka the “Wonder of Asia” he little realised what prescient powers he possessed. If the copy writer still follows the haps and mishaps in what he called a wondrous land he too would add to this comic interlude that has at least brought momentary laughter to a people suffering under the multiple indignities and corruption they are forced to live under.

What better illustration of this farce than the appointment of the new foreign minister. Everybody and their kussi ammas knew that our great president who was last heard of exploring the wonders of Australia wanted to get rid of Ravi Karunanayake from the finance ministry under pressure or by choice.

He might be the wonder man of the Asia-Pacific region for “The Banker” magazine which had probably run out of nominees, but to President Sirisena and his motley crew a long time slogan had been “Ravi must go”. It is also known that Sirisena had sounded several ministers including one or two I know, for the job.

But they turned it down just as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s reported approach to at least four persons including I am told former high commissioner to Malaysia Rosie Senanayake for the post of High Commissioner in London were turned down just as those who Sirisena sounded for the finance ministry turned down the offer.

This reshuffle seems like the man they wanted out of the job was not being removed but provided with pre-Christmas goodies. Where in the world would you find a foreign minister given functions that have little or nothing to do with foreign affairs such as running lotteries.

It surely requires a tour de force of the imagination that institutions such as lotteries boards, mahapola scholarship funds and ancillary aspects of the plantations industries are connected with foreign affairs unless it is somebody’s dark humour to demean the foreign ministry.

If media reports that Ravi Karunanayake demanded – or is being presented with additional duties because of his exemplary performance as finance minister, whatever others might say I think it is eminently relevant that he be allocated such money-losing institutions like SriLankan Airlines which investors run away from at the first mention of the name of the national career.

It has also been reported that the new foreign minister – wonder of the Asia-Pacific – now handling (or perhaps manhandling as it could well turn out to be) a new ministry would also find the Securities Exchange under his belt which of course is a highly appropriate thing to have.

But why the Socratic thinkers who worked out such magic formula to appease the deities or whoever demanded that the pack be shuffled to remove some of the cards and card sharpers, did not gift Foreign Minister Karunanayake with overseeing the Treasury Bonds really is a cause for great worry. In fact he should have had the Central Bank attached to the foreign minister portfolio.

Those who are laughing their sides out at the Foreign Minister overseeing the lotteries boards have missed the point entirely. The fact is that he can now make use of the country’s diplomatic missions scattered around the world to sell the lottery tickets as one Sri Lankan jokingly (I hope) said the other day.

We know of course that little productive work is done in several of these missions. Capable and experienced officers are languishing in them because they have no work or no important work is assigned.

In his travels round the world Karunanayake would have realised this. It might be said for the now reassigned Mangala Samaraweera he knew what was happening in some of our missions but his hands seemed to have been tied.

Now Karunanayake can make use of officials sent to our missions to stand on the streets of their respective capitals and hawk lottery tickets. I mean they can earn their keep by doing something more lucrative than, for instance, being deployed to cut the grass in residency lawns.

It is reported that Foreign Minister-elect had asked for an immediate report on the composition of our missions even before he set foot in his Republic Square office.

Apparently it is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who has asked for the report. Surely in his frequent travels abroad Wickremesinghe who is fast earning the reputation of the most travelled PM in the shortest time, must know some of those who are heading our embassies, high commissioners and consulates.

Karunanayake will soon find some of them cosying up to him making requests for extensions of service for them or their junior officers who they have taken to their bosom. These things have happened in the past and will happen in the future as relationships with the minister are built or strengthened.

One wonders of course why our leaders want to know about our ambassadors and high commissioners. After all they are the very people who appointed them making some strange choices that should never have happened.

All they need to do is look at the cvs of our great diplomats that should be available with the high posts committee in parliament. How some of them got through that committee is another of the wonders of Asia. One always wondered what educational and professional qualifications some of them had.

One supposes that like so many of our elected (and non-elected) representatives they may not have gone beyond the GCE ‘O’ Level – that is if they got that far.

It appears that the report is also to look into other diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff in our missions. That would really require a thorough study not a cover up to appointments made and extensions of service given to undeserving persons sometimes two or three extensions in the same posting as has happened several times.

This deprives others deserving of overseas postings being sent out, a practice the minister should stop before it turns into a bigger joke. Among other issues perhaps the PM is trying to identify dual citizens and non-Sri Lankan citizens holding office or in various positions in our missions. That should reveal some very interesting facts and should not buried for the sake of protecting people.

It was said many months ago that Singapore would help restructure our foreign ministry. As far as I know Singapore does not recruit foreign nationals as confidential secretaries to their heads of missions because it is a sensitive position. I know this well from my personal interactions with high ranking Singaporean diplomats.

How could foreign nationals be permitted to handle confidential correspondence between a head of mission and the foreign ministry or between missions unless of course nothing confidential ever passes from the mission to the ministry?

There will surely be requests and appeals to the new foreign minister from lackeys, unqualified and unsuitable friends and relatives to be posted to our foreign missions. One hopes that he will not fall prey to this demeaning the quality of some of our missions still further.

This government is well known for appointing commissions and committees to inquire into various issues and calling for reports at the drop of a hat. Some of the reports of these appointed bodies seem to end up in the attic of forgotten things without the public ever seeing them.

If the report of our foreign missions now called for is to serve any purpose and the public is to be made aware of it, this report should not end up the same way. There are sizeable Sri Lankan communities in most countries where we have missions. It is not enough that these communities to be asked to help Sri Lanka and appeals are made for them to return to what was once their home if they are ignored when it comes to making use of their knowledge and experience in writing the report. After all they are people who interact with the missions on official business.

If they are denied such opportunities then Sri Lankans will have to resort to their right to information which this government made into law. So the report must be available for public scrutiny.

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

There Is More at Stake Than Freedom of Press

28 May 2017 - 2:36am

By Eresh Omar Jamal
May 28 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The notion of today’s press freedom is deeply rooted in the idea of freedom of speech and expression, intellectual freedom, liberty of thought, etc. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, given that the basis of a democratic government is “the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right [to freely express one’s opinions].” Because, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

Source: thelibertarianrepublic

Undeniably, the modern media has failed to fully inform the people to the extent necessary for many things to be set right. Also irrefutable is the fact that the media itself is partly responsible for this failure, resulting in people’s confidence in what is often referred to as the ‘mainstream media’, being at its lowest ever in certain parts of the world.

At the same time, however, placing the entirety of the blame ‘uniformly’ on the media itself would be a misnomer. First, because the environment in which the media operates varies from country to country. And second, because the ‘constraints’— an age-old problem faced by all those who have sought to convey a message that others had preferred to have kept hidden — that the media faces in regards to what it can and cannot disseminate vary as well (from place to place, situation to situation, etc.).

Despite the challenges, scholars, philosophers, journalists (in more recent times) and others have been fighting for the freedom to publish their work without the threat, fear or reality of being persecuted for centuries. The unfettered dissemination of information, ideas, etc., however, has always been opposed, in one form or another, by powerful sections of virtually every society. Mainly because ideas have a tendency to challenge the powerful and empower the weak.

Before the invention of the movable printing press by Johannes Gutenberg for example, it was the Catholic Church which almost entirely controlled the production of books. Gutenberg’s invention allowed the cheap production of books for the first time, challenging the church’s monopoly and allowing for different viewpoints to be heard.

When Professor of Theology Martin Luther posted his ’95 Theses’ on a church door in Germany, criticising its practice of selling ‘indulgences’ — paying the church in return for a reduction of one’s time in purgatory — the printing press spread his writings throughout the country in two weeks and most of Christendom in less than a month, launching the Protestant Reformation and challenging the power of the Catholic Church. In response, Pope Alexander VI, in 1501, issued an edict against unlicensed printing and in 1535 Francis I of France prohibited — under penalty of death — the printing of books altogether.

Similar attempts at censoring the free flow of information and the media have been made throughout the ages. What is sometimes different today are simply the means that are used. For example, authoritarian regimes have frequently used ‘anti-terror’ laws in recent years to crack down on journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported in 2013 that “The number of journalists jailed worldwide hit 232 in 2012, 132 of whom were held on anti-terror or other national security charges,” both setting new “records in the 22 years CPJ has documented imprisonments.”

What some may find surprising is that similar practices are shockingly taking place also in countries that proclaim to be the beacons of democracy. In 2014, a British High Court for example, ruled that journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner could be treated like a terrorist because he was trying to deliver leaked documents to reporters. Journalists and whistleblowers in the US too have recently been treated the same way and increasingly so.

Given the current climate, it should, therefore, come as no surprise to find journalists facing severe pressure to do their jobs in almost all corners of the earth. Rights organisation Article 19, in a report titled Bangladesh: Violations against journalists and online activists in 2016, revealed to have recorded “320 violations, including three murders, against 141 journalists, three online activists and three officials of a publishing house,” in 2016.

These violations included “attacks on physical integrity, including murder, attempted murder, serious bodily injury, abduction and attempted abduction, intimidation and threats, harassment through unwarranted application of laws, including criminal defamation cases, vexation cases, and the use of Section 57 of the ICT Act”, among others. All this combined has made journalism a dangerous profession in our country to say the least.

In its World Press Freedom Index 2017, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranked Bangladesh 146th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom — slipping two notches from the previous year — and warned of a “tipping point” for journalism, going as far as to say that “media freedom throughout the world has never been as threatened as it is now.”

What, however, needs to be realised from this is that, it is not only press freedoms that are under threat, but rather the basic tenets of democracy from which press freedoms are derived in the first place, that are currently under attack. And that is something that should concern everyone. Because it is not only the media that benefits from rights such as freedom of expression and thought, but rather all individuals in a democracy and democracy itself, which cannot function without a free press.

Once again, as Thomas Jefferson had said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Why? Because a government which does not tolerate a free press (or freedom of speech, thought, expression, etc.), surely isn’t going to act in ways that would be tolerable to those who aspire to be free human beings.

The writer is a member of the Editorial team at The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Asia: 260 Million Indigenous Peoples Marginalised, Discriminated

26 May 2017 - 1:27pm

Indigenous women join protests for land rights in Asia. Credit: IWGIA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 26 2017 (IPS)

Asia is home to the largest number of indigenous peoples on Earth, with an estimated 260 million of a total of 370 million original inhabitants worldwide. In spite of their huge number-equaling half of the combined population of Europe– they are often victims of discrimination and denial of their rights.

With its 4.4 billion inhabitants, Asia is, in fact, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. “Indigenous peoples live in all the Asian countries,” said to IPS Signe Leth, Senior Advisor on women and land rights in Asia at the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).

However, Asian indigenous peoples face problems such as denial of self-determination, the loss of control over their land and natural resources, discrimination and marginalisation, heavy assimilation pressure and violent repression by state security forces, she explained.

Signe Leth

“Several countries have legislations that to some extent protect the rights of indigenous peoples, like the Philippines, India and Nepal, Signe Leth said.

“These rights are, however, systematically watered down, often simply ignored or overruled.”

Asked about the Asian indigenous peoples knowledge and their contribution as custodians and protectors of nature, the IWGIA’s expert explained to IPS that they fight against forest degradation, protect biodiversity, and lead a sustainable life with respect for the surrounding nature.

“However, they are often fighting highly powerful forces trying to exploit their areas – even paying for it with their lives.”

The Copenhagen-based IWGIA on 25 April launched its report “The Indigenous World 2017,” which focuses on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The IWGIA report, elaboration of which counted on over 70 contributors from all over the world, was released during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting (24 April—5 May).

India’s “Scheduled Tribes”

In India, 461 ethnic groups are recognised as “Scheduled Tribes.” They are considered to be India’s indigenous peoples, according to IWGIA‘s independent authors.

In mainland India, the Scheduled Tribes are usually referred to as Adivasis, which literally means indigenous peoples. With an estimated population of 84.3 million, they comprise 8.2 per cent of the country’s total population.

“There are, however, many more ethnic groups that would qualify for Scheduled Tribe status but which are not officially recognized. Estimates of the total number of tribal groups are as high as 635.”

The largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven states of North-East India, and the so-called “central tribal belt” stretching from Rajasthan to West Bengal, according to the IWGIA Indian chapter’s independent authors.

“India has a long history of indigenous peoples’ movements aimed at asserting their rights”.

This Asian giant has several laws and constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth Schedule for mainland India and the Sixth Schedule for certain areas of North-East India, which recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to land and self-governance.

“The laws aimed at protecting indigenous peoples have, however, numerous shortcomings and their implementation is far from satisfactory.”

The International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs also reminds that the Indian government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the UN General Assembly in 2007.

“However, it does not consider the concept of “indigenous peoples”, and thus the UNDRIP, applicable to India.”

“Indigenous Peoples” in China

Meanwhile, China officially proclaims itself a unified country with a multiple ethnic make-up, and all ethnic groups are considered equal before the law, IWGIA notes quoting the independent authors of this chapter on China, adding that besides the Han Chinese majority, the government recognises 55 ethnic minority peoples within its borders.

According to China’s sixth national census of 2010, the population of ethnic minorities is 113,792,211 persons, or 8.49 per cent of the country’s total population.

“However, there are still “unrecognised ethnic groups” in China numbering a total of 734,438 persons (2000 census figure), according to the Copenhagen-based Group. Most of them live in China’s South-West regions of Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet.”

The officially recognised ethnic minority groups have rights protected by the Constitution, remind the IWGIA China chapter’s independent authors, explaining that this includes establishing ethnic autonomous regions, setting up their own local administrative governance and the right to practise their own language and culture.

“Ethnic autonomous regions” constitute around 60 per vent of China’s land area.

The Term “Indigenous Peoples”

Anyway, IWGIA clarifies, the Chinese (PRC) government does not recognise the term “indigenous peoples”, and representatives of China’s ethnic minorities have not readily identified themselves as indigenous peoples, and have rarely participated in international meetings related to indigenous peoples’ issues, say the independent authors of the IWGIA’s chapter on China.

“It has therefore not been clearly established which of China’s ethnic minority groups are to be considered indigenous peoples.”

“The Chinese government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) but, prior to its adoption, had already officially stated that there were no indigenous peoples in China, which means that, in their eyes, the UNDRIP does not apply to China.

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Time To Focus On ‘Hidden Hunger’

26 May 2017 - 12:13pm

Children, Kafue, Zambia. Credit: Brian Moonga/IPS

By Bev Postma
WASHINGTON DC, May 26 2017 (IPS)

As World Hunger Day May 28 approaches, it is time for us all to redouble our efforts to reach the goal of Zero Hunger by prioritizing the battle against micronutrient deficiency. If the international community pulls together this year to incorporate proven solutions such as biofortifying crops into the UN framework for sustainable development, we could reduce malnutrition on a truly global scale.

Previous UN-led efforts, including the Millennium Development Goals, and the current Sustainable Development Goals set targets for countries to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. With the support of multiple UN initiatives and partners, the number of undernourished people in developing countries has decreased by nearly half since 1990. This is encouraging.

However, one-third of the world’s population continues to suffer from ‘hidden hunger,’ caused by a lack of essential vitamins and minerals. Even if people have enough calories to eat, they can still suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ if their only food options do not contain the necessary micronutrients.

Zinc, vitamin A and iron are three of the more important micronutrients for health, according to the World Health Organization. Each of these nutrients play a critical role in normal body functions. A diet lacking in these nutrients presents a major threat to human health, potentially causing stunting, decreased cognitive ability, diarrheal disease, auto-immune deficiency, blindness and early child mortality. Around 375,000 children go blind each year as a result of a lack of vitamin A; and zinc deficiency causes 450,000 deaths annually.

More than 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger globally, and there is a ripple effect that has consequences for the entire population. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan malnutrition costs the country $7.6 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP annually. Likewise, the African Union estimates that Rwanda loses more than 11 percent of its GDP due to child undernutrition alone.

Countries with high levels of malnutrition must contend with these cumulative effects of high healthcare costs and lost productivity wherever they are in the world.

There are a number of solutions to address micronutrient deficiency, but crop biofortification can reach communities where traditional supplementation and food fortification potentially cannot. Growing more nutritious versions of everyday food crops is a simple, sustainable and cost-effective solution that does not place any undue burden on farmers. These biofortified crops are also widely accepted by consumers, as extensive research is done to ensure the crops look and taste similar to the traditional varieties.

HarvestPlus has spent the past 14 years working with leading research institutes to prove that biofortified crops, which contain greater quantities of vitamin A, iron and zinc than standard varieties, can reach communities that need them.

In India, iron-biofortified pearl millet provides children with 70 percent of daily iron requirements. More than a million Indian farmers have embraced the more nutritious variety, which is also high yielding and drought tolerant, providing farmers with a more stable income while simultaneously bolstering their family’s nutrition.

A study of iron-deficient women between the ages of 18 and 27 in Rwanda proved that eating biofortified beans high in iron reversed iron deficiency in just four-and-a-half months. In a region plagued by hot weather and drought, iron beans present the added benefit of being high yielding, drought resistant and heat tolerant.

Countries across the world are already embracing the science of biofortification. The government of Zambia launched a campaign to get schools to grow and feed their students vitamin A-biofortified orange maize, while Brazil is distributing biofortified crops to schools through its states’ school feeding programs.

In Uganda, five iron-rich bean varieties were released last year as part of the government’s strategy to tackle malnutrition and reduce anemia, especially in children and expectant mothers. These countries, among many others, have chosen to implement a proven, cost-effective solution to address micronutrient deficiency and they are relying on international organizations like the United Nations to provide additional support.

Earlier this year, HarvestPlus made a public commitment to work with UN agencies and member states to be part of the decade of action on nutrition. In line with our commitment, we are calling on all governments and institutions to help us scale up the introduction of biofortified foods by bridging the gap that exists between agriculture and nutrition.

If we can work with the UN, national governments and farming communities to encourage the adoption of this breakthrough innovation, we can help lift one billion people out of poverty and hidden hunger just by providing access to a diverse and nutritious diet.

Formalising Informal Trade – Good for African Women?

26 May 2017 - 6:25am

Rural women sell mango and sweet potato jam at the food processing shop in Bantantinnting, Senegal. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 26 2017 (IPS)

Women constitute the largest share of informal traders in Africa–about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts of this vast continent made up of 54 states, home to over 1,200 billion people.

Informal cross-border trading, in which transactions are not compliant with local tax and other rules, accounts for a large share – between 20 and a hefty 70 per cent– of employment in sub-Saharan Africa, says a new United Nations specialised report.

Africa’s vast but informal cross-border trade can contribute to improving livelihoods and increasing regional integration across the continent, according to the new report Formalization of informal trade in Africa.

Putting it on a regular footing can lift sustainable prosperity and markedly improve prospects for women, adds the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, which was released on 25 May coinciding with Africa Day.

“It is about harnessing rather than suppressing informal trade, it says, adding that which around half of all intra-African cross-border trade is classified as informal, indicating its large if officially invisible role.“

Simplifying the requirements for a business license, offering incentives to tax payers, and tackling official corruption are among the recommendations aimed to cut informal trade among African countries and boost economic prosperity, particularly for women, the study recommends.

Proactive policies that recognise such activity, tapping its potential with the aim of steering it towards proper regulatory status, are to be preferred over heavy-handed approaches to eradicate or seek rents from entrepreneurs, according to the UN specialised agency.

“Informal cross-border trade, often agricultural, is the result of poor access to government offices, a lack of administrative skills and improper understanding of import and custom-tax laws.

One of the main groups that would be affected by formalization is women, who constitute the largest share of informal traders – about 70 per cent in Southern Africa and more than half in other parts, says the report.

“Facilitating formalization is the only viable policy option for Africa’s transformation agenda to realize its objectives,” said Suffyan Koroma, FAO senior economist and lead author of the report.

The new report was presented at a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, which held as part of on-going FAO-supported work in the country, along with UN Women and other development partners, aimed at enabling women to benefit more from agri-food chains, a project geared to allowing women small traders access useful information as well as start-up capital.

Machakos District, Kenya – Kweka farmers group members display how seeds are stored between harvest and the next planting season to ensure food production will continue. Credit: FAO/Christena Dowsett


The UN leading specialised agency in the fields of food and agriculture also reported that local agricultural produce and livestock account for two-thirds of Rwanda’s exports, most of which are informally traded, with the bulk going to neighbouring countries, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda encourages informal small traders to form cooperatives as a step towards regularisation.

A Huge Role for Women

Women trading between the border posts of Kenya and Uganda and between Rwanda and Burundi prefer to use brokers who appear to shield them from what they perceive as unprofessional behaviour of customs officials, the report notes.

Informal cross-border trade activity is largely a second-choice option taken by people in the absence of clearly defined formal alternatives, says FAO. It consists of trade in goods and services, often agricultural in nature, and in times of food crises and other shocks has proven to be more responsible than legal channels.

“Off-the-radar economic activity, not all of it involving international trade, accounts for around 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa, higher than in Latin America or Asia.”

“The trade is rarely illegal,” the UN specialised body reports, adding that in most cases it is informal because practitioners have poor access to all the appropriate business licenses, administrative skills and knowledge of import and custom-tax laws to act otherwise.

Prey to Corruption

While such activity is an important source of household income, practitioners are often prey to corruption and their weak access to credit means their activities are rarely stable or sustainable.

Women constitute the largest share of such informal traders. In Tanzania, women dominate trade in manufactured products while men handle mostly raw or semi-processed agricultural products, whereas the opposite is the case in Cameroon, the FAO report found.

“Women and men tend to differ in which foodstuffs – fresh produce or commodity staples – they trade as well.”

Working with Catholic Relief Service, the UN agency has also organised open-door events on the Rwanda-Congo border where women cooperatives were invited to learn more about the cross-border tax regime directly from custom officials and government representatives.

“Rwanda has emerged as a model of best practice for cross border trade through its efforts to integrate the informal economy by easing trade channels for small-scale agricultural traders, “said Attaher Maiga, FAO’s Representative in Rwanda.

Key priorities to facilitate the formalisation of informal cross-border trading include the simplification of licensing requirements, tax incentives, fostering partnerships, radio, television and town-hall outreach to participants in the informal economy, and intensifying efforts to tackle official corruption, said the UN agency.

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In a “World of Plenty,” G7 Must Fight Famine

26 May 2017 - 2:28am

A child from drought-stricken southern Somalia who survived the long journey to an aid camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

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

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.

“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.

In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.

These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.

In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.

However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.

For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.

Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.

International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.

Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.

President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.

“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.

“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.

The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.

Why the G7 Must Fund Health & Nutrition

25 May 2017 - 5:42pm

By Grace Virtue
TAORMINA, Italy, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The G7 Summit, held annually among the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU), plays an important role in shaping responses to global challenges—theoretically at least.

The format of the Summit continues to be modeled off the first one, held in 1975 when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited his counterparts to an informal meeting in Rambouillet to discuss the economic crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973–1974. Leaders adopt a relaxed approach, discussing candidly the main issues on the international agenda.

Their aides (the so-called Sherpas) draft a joint declaration which is signed by the leaders and enshrined as high-level political pledges. Before and during, the Sherpas are lobbied fiercely by civil society trying to get their issues of concern in the joint communiqué released by the Summit.

This year’s Summit begins May 26 in Taormina, Italy. It is arguably one of the most charged and uncertain atmosphere for a meeting of traditional western democratic political leaders. The United States, which normally plays a leading role, is hamstrung by its government, led by Republican President Donald Trump, who, among his many challenges, is currently under investigation by his own law enforcement agencies to determine whether his campaign was complicit in Russian interference in the general election of 2016, which landed him a shock victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Outside of ethical and perhaps legal challenges, Trump, since his inauguration in January, has unleashed a set of policy proposals deliberately targeted at rolling back social justice gains under Barack Obama, his predecessor and even before. From proposed cuts to signature programs like the Affordable Care Act and food stamps for needy families, and hostile policies toward immigrants, the administration’s programs are causing deep uncertainty and anxiety at home and abroad. Trump’s lack of interest and understanding of the outside world, rounds off a list of flaws that justifies completely questions about his capacity or suitability to lead the free world toward any progressive end.

This year’s summit also comes with the shadow of Brexit—the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union; a French President, the youngest in the country’s history and a mere three weeks in his presidency; looming elections in the UK and Germany; a continued migrant crisis as desperate people flee wars and famines in Africa and the Middle East, and this week’s horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, England. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity like we have not seen since the height of the Cold War, are the watchword of this G7 Summit.

So, when the leaders gather at their hilltop hideaway tomorrow, there is much that is new and worrying to be discussed and great energy will likely be consumed navigating these new and unpredictable dynamics. This does not augur well for those concerns that are so devastating but so old and entrenched, that they are not news anymore—no longer sexy enough grab the headlines, if they ever were. I speak here of diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and chronic starvation and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In 2015, 10.4 million people were sickened with TB; 1.8 million of them died—more than HIV and malaria combined. Tuberculosis is the world’s only airborne drug-resistant epidemic and is responsible for one-third of the world’s antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths. By 2050, estimates show drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) will claim an additional 75 million lives at a global economic cost of US$16.7 trillion.

Since its establishment in 2002 by G7 countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has saved more than 20 million lives through its support for AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria programs in countries and communities most in need. Vulnerable communities, including migrants and refugees, are at increased risk of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS because of overcrowded living and working conditions, poor nutrition, and lack of access to care. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all G7 countries signed on to, called for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030.

To achieve this, G7 leaders must continue to invest in the Global Fund. Concerned civil society groups like ACTION global health partnership in Taormina advocating to the end, are hoping they will. Other major ask of G7 leadership include accelerated efforts to eradicate malnutrition and ensure proper nutrients for every child, particularly in the first 1000 days of life. Coupled with the inability to access proper healthcare by the world’s poorest people, malnutrition is one of the greatest barrier to human development and global prosperity

It is obvious that there are many complicated issues facing the G7 leaders, but, investing in health and nutrition should not be controversial—it should be fundamental.

Big polluting lobbyists may be forced to declare interests at UN talks

25 May 2017 - 11:02am

By Rabiya Shabeeh
ABU DHABI, UAE, May 25 2017 (IPS)

Is the presence of the fossil fuel industry necessary in global climate change negotiations, or does their presence in these talks represent a conflict of interest and undermine global progress?

Offshore Oil Rig Drilling Platform. Credit: Bigstock

The push from developing countries to force fossil fuel lobbyists taking part in UN climate talks to declare conflicts of interest won one significant battle during an agreement made at COP23’s preliminary session earlier this month in Bonn, Germany.

A recent report by the US-based non-profit Corporate Accountability International (CAI) revealed that fossil fuel representatives are extensively represented in the associations that participate in UN climate talks.

While companies cannot participate in the talks themselves, membership-based business and industry non-government associations (BINGOs) can and they have been using backhanded tactics to stop key climate policies in their tracks, says the report.

Policies under the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) allow organizations with ‘observer status’, which include the likes of the National Mining Association, FuelsEurope, the World Coal Association, and the Business Council of Australia (of which members include Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP), to sit in meetings where delegates discuss policy options to avert climate disasters.

These organizations represent corporations with hefty track records of climate change denial and a portfolio that includes decades of profiting at the expense of the planet.

The UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement has locked in a crucial commitment to keep global temperature warming to “well below two °Celsius”, but also to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5 °C by 2018
“A transparent and clearly defined policy is essential if we are to truly protect the spirit and the goals of the Paris Agreement and if we are to have a fighting chance of limiting climate change to under 2° Celsius,” writes Mrinalini Shine, Environmental Law Researcher at the University of Cologne, Germany.

Many developing nations – collectively representing nearly 70 percent of the world’s population – have been fighting to incorporate a conflict of interest policy in the convention where such groups will be legally obliged to declare any and all conflicts.

For instance, in May 2016 at a meeting in Bonn, the Venezuelan delegate stated that UNFCCC’s Paris agreement was an ‘instrument between states’ and made a ‘moral request’ that lobbyists declare conflicts of interest.

However, these demands were met with fierce resistance from richer nations, with the US, EU, Norway, and Australia leading the battle.

During one panel discussion in Bonn this month, Norway’s delegate stated that excluding companies based on their interests would be ‘counterproductive’ while Australia’s delegation head said that the private sector was a key part of financing the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Some of the companies being alluded to as the polluters of policy will be the providers of the biggest and best solutions,” said Australia’s delegate. “And you could look at some of the statements coming out of ExxonMobil and Shell recently to underline that point.”

An investigation conducted in 2015 by Inside Climate News, a non-profit environmental news organization, exposed that ExxonMobil knew of climate change from as early as 1981 but only to spend millions of dollars in the years that followed to promote climate denial.

CIA’s report, in addition, revealed that the US Chamber of Commerce has been receiving millions of dollars from ExxonMobil for ‘public information campaigns’. To top it off, the Trump administration in the US, in its full-scale attack on the US environmental policy that includes dismantling the Clean Power Plan, also recently installed Exxon Mobil’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, as secretary of state.

“With so many arsonists in the fire department, it’s no wonder we’ve failed to put the fire out,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuels, CAI’s international policy director, in a statement.

This, however, does not imply that there is no role at all for the fossil fuels industry to play in slowing global warming, states CAI’s report.

The report elaborated that the industry must transform its business practices to align with the commitments made by the global community to rein in the crisis, embrace the solutions created by the scientific community to minimize further devastation, and strive to meet global social and economic progress.

UNFCCC’s newly negotiated agreement commits to enhancing ‘openness, transparency and inclusiveness’ and calls for stakeholders – any person or group affected by climate change or policy to submitt their views on how that could be achieved.

“As a global community, we have an unprecedented opportunity to solve the climate crisis head-on at the precise moment when everything people, justice, and the planet hangs in the balance,” said a sppokesperson for CAI in a statement.

Activists, pressure groups, and even government bodies from developing countries that are now actively seeking justice for the planet and its people must keep pushing towards the solutions the convention has agreed to seek.

The convention is accepting suggestions on how to address the issue from member nations, and aims to take them up next year.

Africa – More than Just Conflicts, Corruption, Disasters

25 May 2017 - 9:17am

A woman in El Fasher, North Darfur, uses a Water Roller for easily and efficiently carrying water. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, May 25 2017 (IPS)

Natural and man-made disasters, armed conflicts, widespread corruption and deep social inequalities have been so far a dramatic source for most news coverage when it comes to Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, which hosts 54 states spreading over 30 million square kilometres that are home to over 1.2 billion people.

Nevertheless, an often neglected fact is that this vast continent with huge natural resources –which have been systematically depleted by private –and also in cases, state-owned corporations— registered an economic growth of around 4 per cent in 2014, “creating one of the longest stretches of uninterrupted positive economic expansion in Africa’s history,” according to the United Nations.

As a result, a growing number of Africans have joined the middle class each year.

May 25 has marked Africa Day, an annual commemoration of the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on that very same date on 1963, when 32 independent African states signed the founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In 2002, the OAU became the African Union.

Just three weeks ahead of Africa Day, a new UN atlas charting data from 54 African countries revealed the continent’s energy potential; showing that investment in renewable energy would strengthen its economic advancement.

Credit: United Nations

“The Atlas makes a strong case that investments in green energy infrastructure can bolster Africa’s economic development and bring it closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, Director and Regional Representative of the Africa Office for the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

As such, she continued, it is an important policy guide for African governments as they strive to catalyse national development by making use of their energy resources.

The Atlas of Africa Energy Resources, released by UNEP and the African Development Bank at the World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, shows both the potential and the fragility of the continent’s energy resources, which are at the heart of Africa’s socio-economic development.

While Africa is richly endowed with both renewable and non-renewable energy resources, its current energy production is insufficient to meet demand, it says, adding that about a third Africa’s population still lacks access to electricity and 53 per cent of the population depends on biomass for cooking, space heating and drying.

According to UNEP, energy consumption on the continent is the lowest in the world, and per capita consumption has barely changed since 2000.

The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. A kettle boiled twice by a family in the United Kingdom uses five times as much electricity as a Malian uses in a year, UNEP reported.

The Big Challenges

According to the United Nations, climate change poses a significant threat to economic, social and environmental development in Africa. “There is strong evidence that warming in Africa has increased significantly over the past 50 to 100 years, with clear effects on the health, livelihoods and food security of people in Africa.”

Then comes corruption, which remains the “most daunting challenge” to good governance, sustainable economic growth, peace, stability and development in Africa, according to the international organisation.

Africa is richly endowed with energy resources, both renewable and non-renewable. The poorest African households spend 20 times more per unit of energy than wealthy households when connected to the grid. Credit: UNEP


“While corruption is a global phenomenon, the impact is felt more in poor and underdeveloped countries, where resources for development are unduly diverted into private hands, which exacerbates poverty. In many corruption perception surveys, Africa is perceived as the most corrupt region in the world, as well as the most underdeveloped and backward region…”

All this amidst the dramatic fact that Africa is also home to around half if the more than 4o conflicts worldwide, from South Sudan to Nigeria through Somalia.

The challenges posed by protracted conflicts and longstanding disputes on the African continent has been a major focus for the international community. In fact, already in 1960 the first peacekeeping operation in Africa was deployed in the Republic of the Congo to ensure the withdrawal of Belgian forces and to assist the government in maintaining law and order.

Since then thousands of peacekeepers have been deployed in nearly 30 peacekeeping operations to African countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi and Sudan, and the Central African Republic, among others.

Decolonisation, Women Advancement

Another often-neglected fact is that at the end of World War II in 1945, nearly every country in Africa was subject to colonial rule or administration. Following the founding of the UN in 1945 and its massive decolonisation effort, Africa is now virtually free from colonial rule. In 2011 South Sudan became Africa’s newest country when it gained independence from the rest of Sudan.

Meantime, it would be needed to remind that in 11 African countries, women hold close to one-third of the seats in parliaments. Rwanda has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, according to the UN. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest regional female entrepreneurial activity rate in the world, with nearly a third of businesses having some female ownership.

Africa’s Agenda 2063

An additional fact is that in January 2015 the heads of state and governments of the African Union adopted Agenda 2063, with visions and ideals aiming at serving as pillars for the continent in the foreseeable future.

“The Agenda is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. Its builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development,” according to the Africa Union (AU).

The guiding vision for Agenda 2063 is that of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena,” the AU states.

The seven “African Aspirations”, which were derived through a consultative process with the African Citizenry, are: a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance, and an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Also a peaceful and Secure Africa; Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics, an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children, and an Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner.

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Slow Growth Stalls SDGs’ Progress

25 May 2017 - 2:49am

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The world will not be on track to eradicate poverty by 2030 if current growth trends continue, a UN task force found.

Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, briefs journalists on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

The Inter Agency Task Force, comprising over 50 international institutions, launched a report assessing progress on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a global framework on development financing to help implement the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Though there has been some progress in development financing, slow global economic growth and decreased trade and investment growth since the 2008 financial crisis has hampered progress on the SDGs, including the eradication of poverty by 2030.

“Despite expectations of improved growth in 2017 and 2018, the current global environment bodes poorly for the achievement of the SDGs,” said Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.

In 2016, the world economy grew at its slowest rate since the crisis and the global GDP is projected to grow at less than 3 percent over the next two years. Such rates are likely to leave almost 7 percent of the world’s population extremely poor by 2030. Least developed countries (LDCs) will fall the farthest behind, Hongbo stated.

Though the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars per day has decreased dramatically in the last few decades, the decline largely relied on strong economic growth in developing countries, the report notes.

Low economic growth is also contributing to rising levels of unemployment. The International Labor Organisation estimates that there will be 3.4 million more unemployed people in 2017 than in 2016, and further increases are expected in 2018.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Director of the Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies Richard Kozul-Wright noted that these trends are partly due to the failure to develop sustainable growth strategies.

“A lot of people expected that the post financial crisis that there will be a serious reflection on the kinds of growth strategies forged prior to the crisis which were clearly unsustainable and not inclusive, but that hasn’t really happened,” he said.

Weak investment is another major challenge hindering the achievement of the SDGs and thus growth, he added.

Between 1 and 5 trillion dollars of additional investment is needed for infrastructure alone, a key element to help sustain growth in developing countries. Transportation infrastructure enables trade and economic development, which is particularly important in land-locked developing countries, while energy-related infrastructure is essential for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

However, public and private infrastructure investment has declined globally. Though official development assistance (ODA) increased by almost 9 percent in 2016 from 2015, escalating humanitarian needs have led to significant short-term and long-term financial gaps.

Uncertainty in key policies of major countries only heightens risks in the global economy, including the U.S.’ proposals to cut foreign aid and climate finance.

Hongbo noted that the creation of national policies that align with the SDGs as well as international cooperation to boost sustainable and inclusive growth is crucial.

“Many of the challenges that countries face, including slow economic growth, climate change, and humanitarian crises, have cross-border or global repercussions and it cannot be addressed by any one actor alone,” he stated.

The launch of the report coincided with the second annual forum on financing for development which brought together member states and international organizations to discuss the pressing issues laid out in the report and its potential solutions.

Participants reached an agreement on SDG financing, calling on governments to increase and adhere to their ODA commitments and improve tax policies, including international efforts to fight tax evasion, while urging development banks and private sector actors to help mobilize catalytic resources.

“We will have our voice heard whenever we can, we will speak loudly for the LDCs and the vulnerable countries and its people,” Hongbo concluded.

Q&A: “It’s a Crime” that 35 Million Latin Americans Still Suffer from Hunger

24 May 2017 - 6:33pm

Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 24 2017 (IPS)

The fight against hunger has been “remarkably successful” in Latin America and the Caribbean, but “it is a crime” that 35 million people still go to bed hungry every day, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.

Berdegué, who is also assistant director-general of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), with decades of experience in matters related to rural development, said during his first interview as the new regional representative that the biggest challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is inequality, which “is present in every action and contributes to many other problems.”

In the FAO regional office in Santiago, Berdegué, from Mexico, discussed with IPS issues such as obesity, “in which we are losing the fight,” the weakness of rural institutions, which facilitates corruption, or the weakness of the social fabric, which drug trafficking mafias in many countries depend on, as well as the need to address the question of water scarcity which is here to stay due to climate change, and where the key is the transformation of agriculture, which uses 70 per cent of all water consumed.

IPS: What do you consider are the greatest debts of the region in the agri-food sector?

JULIO BERDEGUÉ: We unfortunately still have very high levels of rural poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of the rural population is still living in poverty conditions and almost 30 per cent in extreme poverty. There are 58 million rural poor and 35 million living in conditions of indigence, who are not even able to feed themselves adequately.

IPS: This is happening in the region that has been the most successful in reducing poverty and hunger in this century…

JB: We have a problem with malnutrition and hunger, which even though they have been notably reduced, still stand at 5.5 per cent, which in human terms means that 35 million Latin Americans are still going to bed hungry every day, and six million children are chronically undernourished… Which is a crime. And of these, 700,000 children suffer from acute and chronic undernutrition… that is terrible.

IPS: In that context, which will be the priorities of your administration?

JB: The main thrust has been continuity, and I want to adhere to that. FAO’s mission and strategic objectives are clearly defined in a medium-term work plan discussed and approved in May in Rome (at FAO’s global headquarters).

The first objective has to do with hunger…undernourishment and malnutrition will continue to have a central role in the agenda. The second has to do with greater sustainability of agriculture, contributing to global food security, in a sustainable manner.

The issues of rural poverty, where unfortunately family agriculture is included, beyond what people might think, are not yet lost, but we still have a long way to go. Also the importance of food systems, which have experienced in the past 25 to 30 years a radical shift in their depth and speed, and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change.

IPS: And what are the regional assets available to carry out these tasks?

JB: We must not lose sight of the fact that Latin America is a great contributor to global food security. What our region does in this matter is very important, and we must take advantage of this strength.

This is also a region with enormous biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity the region is a player of global importance and whatever we do well or badly affects each person on this planet.

IPS: Has there been progress in the political and social spheres?

JB: The question of peace in the region is another asset. What has happened in Colombia (with the peace agreements that came into force in late 2016) is exciting for all of us, and is of utmost importance. In the last 20 years there has also been heavy spending in rural areas, on roads, electrification, telecommunications, and access to basic services, education and health. The educational levels of our rural people under 35 are far higher than that of their parents. These are assets that we need to mobilise.

IPS: And what are the weaknesses you perceive in these same fields?
JB: In rural areas, government institutions are very weak, in most countries in the region… The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand… and they are weak because they are outdated, because there is much corruption, patronage, use of public budgets for particular interests, and that weakens the government and public action for the benefit of society as a whole. It makes our job difficult.

IPS: Apart from that difficulty, what other challenges does the region face?

JB: The rural social fabric has been weakening in some countries. The penetration of drug trafficking, of violence, which often goes hand in hand with corruption, makes life very hard for the inhabitants of those rural areas and makes it very difficult to bring political solutions that would increase their opportunities and well-being. The situation in some Central American countries is extremely concerning. In my own country, Mexico, the situation worries all Mexicans. The levels of violence in Venezuela… There are countries where the weakening of the social fabric is a warning sign.

IPS: Latin Americans are facing a new and growing problem, obesity, without yet having solved that of chronic malnutrition…

JB: Malnutrition is a crime. The fact that more than half of the rural children in Guatemala suffer from chronic undernutrition is unacceptable in the 21st century, but obesity is killing us. Not long ago, Mexico’s minister of health, Dr. José Navarro, who until recently was the provost of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reminded us that obesity kills more people than organised crime in Mexico. Obesity is definitely killing us.

IPS: Do malnutrition and obesity have anything in common?

JB: First, let me say in what they differ. We have greatly reduced undernutrition. In this, Latin America has been remarkably successful, even at a global level. We are the only region that has met its Millennium Development Goals. But in terms of obesity we are losing the fight badly. Every day there are more overweight and obese people.

What they have in common, from FAO’s perspective, is a radical change in Latin America’s food systems. The world in which we had local markets and people ate locally produced food, where many people went home to eat, has disappeared forever.

Today our food systems are globalised, the bulk of the distribution of food products is through supermarket chains, most of what we eat are ultra-processed foods. Even our farmers eat mostly purchased food: processed and ultra-processed.

IPS: But this is a global phenomenon, as you say, not only regional…

JB: The point is not the transformation of the agri-food systems. That transformation can also be observed in Norway, Canada or New Zealand. They have the same patterns of urbanisation, of eating outside the home, purchasing in supermarkets, ultra-processed foods, etc. The difference is that in those places there are public policies. Ours is a transformation that responded to market forces without public policies. The market achieves important things… today food products are much cheaper, but with enormous consequences, one being obesity and the erosion of public health in all aspects that have to do with what and how we eat.

IPS: So, what public policies are needed in the region to tackle obesity?

JB: What has to be done is to ‘redirect’ these transformation processes of the food systems, bearing in mind that we have public objectives. Redirecting means setting certain limits. For example, what is being done in Chile and to some extent in Mexico with sugary beverages, and labeling. There are healthy and unhealthy foods, and consumers have to know this.

Redirecting also means putting greater emphasis on public education with regard to healthy eating. It means that if there are places with less access to a more varied diet, to fresh fruit and vegetables, we cannot leave it to be solved by the market.

IPS: Another problem that is creating conflicts is water, its scarcity and its uses. What should be done from the agri-food sector?

JB: We have a terrible problem here, which is that agriculture is consuming 70 per cent of our planet’s fresh water. This is not sustainable and has no future. If I were president of a given country in 30 or 50 years, and they told me: ‘To produce potatoes you are using 70 per cent of the water and people have no water in the cities because of climate change,’ as president I would say: ‘well, we will import potatoes, and stop growing them.’

Between giving water to the people or producing potatoes, lettuce or asparagus… we are going to lose that fight. Our farmers fight, they organise to get more water, and it is good that they do that. We make dams and reservoirs, that’s great. But we have to start thinking how we can practice agriculture using less water, how we can produce the same amount of food without using 70 per cent of the water, and using half of that instead. We cannot talk about ‘zero water’ agriculture, but it should be much less than 70 per cent, and this is something that we are not thinking about.

We are used to using water almost without restrictions, and climate change is putting an end to that. We will not be able to go rapidly from 70 to 35 per cent water use in agriculture, but we better start now because otherwise climate change will win the race.

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Nutrition Key to Developing Africa’s “Grey Matter Infrastructure”

24 May 2017 - 5:56pm

AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina adressing delegates at the nutrition event while Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation, listens. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
AHMEDABAD, India, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Developing Africa’s ‘grey matter infrastructure’ through multi-sector investments in nutrition has been identified as a game changer for Africa’s sustainable development.

Experts here at the 2017 African Development Bank’s Annual Meetings say investing in physical infrastructure alone cannot help Africa to move forward without building brainpower.“We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” --Muhammad Ali Pate

“We can repair a bridge, we know how to do that, we can fix a port, we know how to do it, we can fix a rail, we know how to do that, but we don’t know how to fix brain cells once they are gone, that’s why we need to change our approach to dealing with nutrition matters in Africa,” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, pointing out that stunting alone costs Africa 25 billion dollars annually.

Malnutrition – the cause of half of child deaths worldwide – continues to rob generations of Africans of the chance to grow to their full physical and cognitive potential, hugely impacting not only health outcomes, but also economic development.

Malnutrition is unacceptably high on the continent, with 58 million or 36 percent of children under the age of five chronically undernourished (suffering from stunting)—and in some countries, as many as one out of every two children suffer from stunting. The effects of stunting are irreversible, impacting the ability of children’s bodies and brains to grow to their full potential.

On a panel discussion Developing Africa’s Grey Matter Infrastructure: Addressing Africa’s Nutrition Challenges” moderated by IFPRI’s Rajul Pandya-Lorch, experts highlighted the importance of urgently fighting the scourge of malnutrition.

Laura Landis of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the cost of inaction is dramatic. “We have to make an economic argument on why we need action,” she said. “The WFP is helping, in cooperation with the African Union and the AfDB, to collect the data that gets not just the Health Minister moving, but also Heads of State or Ministers of Finance.”

The idea is to get everyone involved and not leave nutrition to agriculture and/or health ministries alone. And panelists established that there is indeed a direct link between productivity and growth of the agriculture sector and improved nutrition.

Baffour Agyeman of the John Kuffuor Foundation puts it simply: “It has become evident that it is the quality of food and not the quantity thereof that is more important,” calling for awareness not to end at high level conferences but get to the grassroots.

Assisting African governments to build strong and robust economies is accordingly a key priority for the AfDB. But recognizing the potential that exists in the continent’s vast human capital, the bank included nutrition as a focus area under its five operational priorities – the High 5s.

And to mobilise support at the highest level, the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative was launched last year, bringing together Heads of State committed to ending malnutrition in their countries.

As a key partner of this initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation foresees improved accountability with such an initiative in place. “ALN is a way to make the fight against malnutrition a central development issue that Ministers of Finance and Heads of State take seriously and hold all sectors accountable for,” said Shawn Baker, Nutrition Director at the Foundation.

However, African Ministers of Finance want to see better coordination and for governments to play a leading role in such initiatives to achieve desired results. “Cooperation and coordination are key between government and development partners,” said Sierra Leone’s Finance and Economic Development Minister Momodu Kargbo. “Development partners disregard government systems when implementing programmes whereas they should align and carefully regard existing government institutions and ways of working.”

Notwithstanding the overarching theme of Africa rising, Muhammad Ali Pate, CEO of Big Win Philanthropy, says, “We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” He pointed out the need to close the mismatch between the continent’s sustained GDP growth and improved livelihood of its people.

With the agreed global SDG agenda, Gerda Verburg, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement Coordinator sees nutrition as a core of achieving the goals. “Without better nutrition you will not end poverty, without better nutrition you will not end gender inequality, without better nutrition you will not improve health, find innovative approaches, or peace and stability, better nutrition is the core,” she says.

Therefore, developing Grey Matter Infrastructure is key to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa. But it won’t happen without leadership to encourage investments in agriculture and nutrition, and more importantly, resource mobilization for this purpose.

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The Ocean Conference: An Integrated Vision that must be Delivered

24 May 2017 - 12:23pm

Jan Kellet is Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Risk Management, UNDP

By Jan Kellet
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 2017 (IPS)

In March 2015 at the Sendai World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, the then President of Kirbati, Anote Tong, made it very clear how vulnerable his country was to climate and disaster risk, when he informed the room (which was sadly less than half full) that his country had purchased land in Fiji.

Credit: UN Photos

The reason was simple: the threat that climate change to every aspect of life and living of his country, and that belief that one day, should the world not change its path on emissions that it might simply disappear under the waves.

At the Ocean Conference (scheduled to take place 5-9 June) in New York, nations will gather to discuss how best to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. This event is critical because it will, for perhaps the first time, focus the international community on how critical our oceans to our life and livelihoods.

Even a glance at the targets and indicators of this goal make that clear: the Ocean SDG is about poverty reduction, economic development, adapting to climate change and protecting the environment, not just the health of the oceans and those who depend on it. Delivering on SDG 13 will help deliver on the other 16 and they in turn will be essential to its delivery.

For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, this integrated approach is not just important, it is critical. On the one hand their ocean environment provides them with critical needs, with communications, transportation, livelihoods, trade and more. But it also makes them vulnerable in many inter-connected ways.

Logistics, transportation and communications are complex and expensive given these island nations’ distance to other nations and distance between their own islands. Their income is vulnerable, with often middle-income status masking very narrow productive sectors, such as tourism. Often lacking in fossil fuels themselves, they import heavily and in some cases access to energy remains poor. And these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the increasing disaster and climate risk, the growing threat of cyclones and the seemingly every-rising sea-levels.

We can look across a diverse set of small islands to see this in practice. The Federated States of Micronesia (and its ‘associated states’) has a population of just over a 100,000 consist of 607 separate islands of just over 700 km squared within waters of more than 2,600,000 kms.

Tourism accounts for a very high percentage of GDP for small islands, making these nations very susceptible to climate and disaster risk; in the Maldives, for example, it accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of its foreign exchange receipts. The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu meanwhile, have at times drawn close to half of their entire national income from international development assistance. Palau has been increasing the percentage of its population that have access to energy and has reached nearly 70% but despite significant potential for renewable energy it still relies on almost all of its power generation on the import of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, climate change is an existential threat, and not only to Kiribati; the Maldives, the Marshall Islands as well as Kiribati all have more than 90% of their population living below five metres above sea level. In these and many other small island nations, sea levels are already eroding land, significantly threatening tourism, making agricultural land untenable, increasingly infiltrating fresh water wells, while storm surges and extremely hide tides are in some cases increasing in both number and severity.

Given the multiplicity of inter-connected vulnerabilities and risks that face SIDS in particular, the ocean conference has the task of delivering a thoroughly integrated vision for not only achieving on the significant ambition of SDG 13; it can and it must ensure a message of integration is at the heart of its deliberations, and especially its solutions to the complex inter-related issues of SIDS.

Tackling economic development, poverty reduction, coastal erosion, agricultural adaptation and more, can only be successful if it is thought of as a single inter-connected problem, to which must be applied integrated solutions.

The Samoa pathway developed by SIDS in 2014 makes such an integrated approach clear when it states that ‘promoting the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports, inter alia, economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration, restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges’ is key to sustainable development.

With Fiji both the co-chair of the Oceans conference and current president of the climate negotiations, there is no better opportunity to deliver on this challenging ambition, an ambition that binds actors together in a vision to deliver on all their global commitments -Sendai, Paris, the SDGs – at the country level. It is here where UNDP works, and here that the commitments to act, integrated, need to be delivered.

Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanization

24 May 2017 - 11:27am

125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

Mideast: Growing Urbanisation Worsens Water Scarcity, Food Imports

24 May 2017 - 9:47am

Egyptian countryside south of Luxor, Egypt. In the background: the village of Al Bayadiyah. Photo: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Conflict and insecurity remain the key barriers to development progress in the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, about half the population—around 40 million people—require humanitarian assistance. Across the region, countries depend heavily on food imports. As their populations urbanise and grow, the need for imports will increase.

These are some of the Middle East and North of Africa related key findings of the 2017 Global Food Policy Report, which was issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on 24 May at an international experts meeting in Cairo.

Dealing with the major challenges facing the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) social and economic development, the Cairo international experts seminar focused on food import dependency in a region rife with population growth, urbanisation and conflict.

Organised by IFPRI and the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University under the theme “Rapid Urbanisation Challenges Food Security in Egypt” the meeting examined the situation in Egypt, where “the combination of high domestic population growth and swelling refugee and migrant populations is adding stress to an already vulnerable food system,” according to Shenggen Fan, IFPRI’s director general.

Clemens Breisinger

In an interview to IPS, Clemens Breisinger, economist and senior research fellow based in IFPRI’s Cairo office, said that rapidly growing populations and the related increase in food consumption are likely to increase MENA countries’ dependence on food imports.

Countries with sizable agriculture sectors, such as Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia, generally have a low food import dependency ratio of between 10 and 20 per cent—that is, food imports account for 10 to 20 per cent of food consumption, he said.

Food Imports Dependency

Nevertheless, the food imports dependency ratio of all other MENA countries exceeds 30 per cent, with Iraq, Mauritania, Oman, and Yemen reaching about 50 per cent, and Gulf countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates reaching up to 70 per cent, said Breisinger.

According to the researcher, scope remains for increasing agricultural output in the region—but additional land and water resources for crop production are limited; climate change is expected to reduce crop yields; and fast-growing cities are encroaching on (often fertile) agricultural land.

“To ensure future food security, MENA countries should be prepared to import more food from international markets in the near future.”

Asked about the growing water challenges in the region, Breisinger said to IPS that water scarcity is projected to get much more severe in MENA, but there are technical and policy options to avoid disaster.

The food security challenges place an added burden on the available water sources over and above the higher demand brought about by population increases, he said, while informing that by 2050, projections show that global per capita renewable water resources will fall by 25 per cent.

“These pressures vary greatly across different regions of the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, further declines, estimated from 778 m3 to 506 m3 per capita per year, are expected to severely constrain livelihoods and economic development.”

According to Breisinger, possible solutions to mitigate climate change impact on water scarcity include: increasing water use efficiency, and investing in alternative sources of water.

The former can be achieved through investing in improved irrigation schemes and improving wastewater reuse, while the latter includes investing more in desalination technology, water harvesting, groundwater extraction, he explained.

Breisinger added that the share of people living in urban areas is projected to overtake the share living in rural areas in most MENA countries by 2030—with the notable exceptions of Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

“In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanisation can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods. This likely trend provides an opportunity for agroindustry-led economic transformation in the MENA region to generate employment opportunities, improve food security, and reduce poverty.”

Credit: IFPRI

The Double Burden of Malnutrition

Asked about the “the double burden of malnutrition” in MENA, i.e. “over-and-under-nutrition,” he said this has been particularly prevalent in middle-income countries and especially those in the region.

“Egypt faces relatively more pronounced instances of the double burden of malnutrition than other developing countries. For instance, almost every third Egyptian child under five years of age is chronically undernourished, while 78 per cent of all (non-pregnant) ever-married women 15–49 years of age are overweight.”

According to the researcher, addressing these challenges through the reform of existing policies and programs can be expected to make a critical contribution to accelerating the country’s economic and social development.

Economic and Social Safety Net Reforms in Egypt

Many of the economic challenges that Egypt is facing today have for decades been deeply rooted in the country, he said. “To tackle these longstanding issues, such as slow progress in economic diversification and persistently high levels of unemployment and poverty, Egypt recently embarked on a historic economic reform process.”

The year 2016 witnessed several of these reforms, including the imposition of a value-added tax (in August 2016), the floatation of the Egyptian pound (in November 2016), and further reductions in energy subsidies (in November 2016, following the 2014 partial removal of the subsidy,) explained Breisinger.

The Egyptian government estimates current population growth rate of 2.4 per cent, which is double the average of other developing countries. Much of that growth is concentrated in urban areas, with the Cairo metropolitan area expected to grow by half a million people by the end of 2017, more than any other city in the world.

In addition, armed conflict and drought in the region are exacerbating the challenges high growth and urbanisation bring, by adding displaced migrants and refugees to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations, according to the report.

To meet the challenges of feeding these ballooning populations, IFPRI’s director general stressed the importance of connecting rural and urban areas.

“Improving rural-urban linkages can decrease hunger and malnutrition, and bring growth and prosperity in both rural and urban areas,” he said.

“Connecting farmers to cities provides farmers access to large markets where they can sell higher-value crops, and can provide city dwellers with access to more healthy and nutritious foods.”

IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyse alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups. It is member of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvador

23 May 2017 - 5:32pm

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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Menstrual Health and Vitality: Breaking the Silence, Stemming the Flood

23 May 2017 - 5:17pm

A large section of people from the Mithapukur region, over 300 people, young girls and women, female and male teachers and local and national media attended the 'Labonno' project training and capacity building workshop. Credit: News Network

By Archana Patkarv
GENEVA, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. But it still matters so much more to women and girls, who have historically been asked to bleed in stoic silence so that no one even knows they have their period.

It is slowly but surely becoming socially acceptable to start talking about periods, a biological fact as old as womankind itself— even as the United Nations commemorates Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.

Society is finally coming of age and suddenly everyone is coming out about their vaginas.

At the Women Deliver conference in 2016, Jessica Biel bemoaned the world’s reluctance to talk openly about women’s bodies. “[Body talk is] very shameful, and that’s the problem — why is it so shameful?” she asked. “I feel completely embarrassed talking about this stuff, even with my gynecologist, and why is that? It makes no sense. I am here because I want to pull the stigmas off female reproductive everything.”

For every celebrity willing to break the silence, slow and steady web chatter is successfully whittling down those deep prejudices and walls that we have built at the intersection of multiple biases. Take male sexual identity and preference and add a monthly period to it, and what do you get? Even transgender guys have to deal with their periods at some point or another. And yet, it’s not something we talk about — most of us are ashamed. This shows that silence and shame are not the prerogative of the feminine. Stigma and shame also creep into men’s worlds all the time and everywhere.

In order to truly break the silence and ensure that periods are moved from the shameful to the shared, we must do more than stem the flow, we can actually run with it, red with glory. Musician and activist Kiran Gandhi recently ran the London Marathon in 2015 while bleeding freely .

Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer who finished fourth in the women’s 4X100 metres medley relay at the Rio Olympics, made headlines for telling the world she was on her period. The more we are open about it, the more normal it will be, but it will take more than a handful of celebrities to spread the word.

So why this personal blood rush? In 2004, perplexed by the reluctance and deep resistance to speaking the ‘M’ word, I thought long and hard of a practical, action oriented entry point to simply take stock of who was finally talking about menstruation in their day to day work? What was preventing us from doing something about this shocking silence and injustice? How could we continue to see girls stay away from school, just because they had their monthly period?

I coined the term Menstrual Hygiene and Management as a practical mix of information and practices that would together could ensure a safe and dignified menstrual period. Fast forward to a fabulous confluence of evidence and action, champions, policies and practices, media, and businesses that have joined in to break the silence and stigma on periods.

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore reminds us that the denial of rights is a learned behavior, and therefore can just as easily all be unlearned. This won’t be easy. Centuries of silence, shame, restriction, coercion and injustice will need to be banished from our psyches. Is every teacher, parent and peer listening? Can we make sure that we unlearn these stereotypes without building new silos in their stead?

The development community is used to working in strict boxes – some ‘do’ HIV; some do ‘gender’ and others ‘do’ WASH, health, education, jobs, or sexual reproductive rights. Instead, let’s do away with all prejudice, amnesia and blindness.

Human beings come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Coming out of the ‘bloody closet’ is a pathway for us all to talk more about our bodies in all their glory and therefore with all the intendant travails. Maybe we can better acknowledge the leaky closet, together with the wonders of stress incontinence during pregnancy or post-menopausal leakages?

Maybe we can add a healthy dose of fresh, clean mindsets at home, and have open conversations around the intimate and the personal. And maybe, since this requires no special funding, no projects, no extraordinary professional training or academic rigour and since it is so super simple—maybe, just maybe we can embrace humanity in its glorious diversity for generations to come.

Whether in sign language or braille, Wolof or Mandarin, it is not difficult to take the pledge, break the silence, and make sure that we replace the stigma and shame of menstruation with dignity and pride.

What does it Take to Solve a Statelessness Crisis?

23 May 2017 - 3:11pm

Credit: Amnesty International

By Robin Guittard
MEXICO CITY, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Three years ago today, authorities in the Dominican Republic passed a law seeking to address a statelessness crisis that has effectively stripped thousands of people off their Dominican nationality and with it,  denied them a range of human rights.

The crisis exploded in 2013, after a ruling by the Dominican Republic’s top Court that retroactively applied to anyone born after 1929 to undocumented foreign parents. In practice, it disproportionately affected Dominicans of Haitian descent in a context of an island shared by two nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The largest statelessness crisis ever seen in the Americas was unleashed, with four generations of people being legally erased from the map and turned into ghost citizens, with no rights and no future – unable to enroll in school, apply for regular jobs or facing difficulty in seeing a doctor. An international outcry followed.

Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

In response, in 2014, Congress passed Law 169-14 that divided people in various categories.

Group A included around 55,000 people born in the Dominican Republic and whose births were registered in the civil registry, but were arbitrarily deprived of their nationality by the Court’s ruling.

According to the latest available data, 12,000 of them have been so far able to re-access their Dominican identity documents. However, there have been reports that the original birth certificates of some of them are being cancelled and their cases moved to a separate civil registry, which is creating chaos and fear of possible discriminatory practices in the future.

Group B includes those born in the Dominican Republic but whose births were never registered. A so-called Naturalization Plan was put in place between July 2014 and February 2015 to give this group a path to naturalization.

According to the government, only 8,755 individuals were able to register out of an official estimate of 53,000 potential people who belong to this group. According to the 2014 Law, they had to wait two years for the naturalization process to start. The deadline is coming to an end soon and we still don’t know how many of them have had their files approved, neither what process will be followed. The ordinary naturalization process as it currently stands requires that a passport and a birth certificate from the origin country to be produced, and it is not clear if and how their nationality will be restored. No need to say that stateless people don’t have such documents and the authorities have failed to provide any solution for this.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.
Today, they have no available avenues to get their Dominican nationality back.

In 2014, President Medina showed courage and great political will by putting forward the Naturalization Law. But the plan fell short of solving this urgent crisis and did not comply with the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international law. Last year Medina was re-elected for a new four-year mandate, which provides a renewed opportunity to put an end to the largest statelessness crisis of this continent.

The roadmap to resolve such a complex situation may not be easy, but every day that authorities continue to turn a blind eye to it, and more children of stateless people are born  into “ghost citizens” in the country, the more intricate the situation becomes.

As a matter of urgency, the authorities in the Dominican Republic must deliver identity documents to all individuals in group A, immediately facilitate the restoration of nationality of the 8,755 people of group B through an expedited process and provide a clear and simple path to restore the nationality of all those who were unable to enroll in the Naturalization Plan and were previously identified with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

An independent mechanism should also be established, with the participation of Dominican human rights organizations, tasked with oversighting this processes. By the end of this year, the mechanism should be able to produce a first independent evaluation of the initiatives carried out since 2013 to address the statelessness crisis, including specific recommendations to the authorities to restore the nationality of those affected and prevent any future arbitrary restrictions to the right to nationality.

The statelessness crisis that has shaken the Dominican Republic since 2013 has shown the tremendous impacts of discriminatory policies on people’s lives and rights. The country that was once seen by many as a tropical paradise has become the home of the largest stateless population of the Americas.

Why are the Dominican Republic’s authorities insisting in denying its youth from going to university and integrate in society, and to deny the right to receive adequate medical care for those in need? Why do they insist in trapping in endless poverty those already excluded and marginalized and for all the stateless to be able to realize themselves as individuals and help their country to advance towards progress?

Three years after Law 169 was passed, much more needs to be done to solve the statelessness crisis that still affects thousands of people in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican political leaders and all sectors of Dominican society must be ready to act now. The above mentioned roadmap can be the first steps towards ending this crisis and ensuring the rights of everyone in the country.

International Finance Governance Undemocratic

23 May 2017 - 1:01pm

Current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Why is it so difficult to achieve meaningful coordination when everybody agrees that it is desirable, if not necessary? President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal of the US from and hence termination of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 confirmed the end of the post-war Golden Age. This led to slower growth, greater volatility, more instability, and reduced progress in raising economic welfare, among other consequences.

Multilateral governance compromised
The Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs) — World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — were initially conceived as part of a post-war system of multilateral governance to ensure the conditions for peace, growth, development, employment and prosperity. Today, however, their governance arrangements are very different from those of rest of the UN system, despite all its variety, and this is part of the problem. In New York, the UN is governed by ‘one country, one vote’, at least at the General Assembly.

The role of the BWIs and their relationship with the rest of the UN system have also changed significantly over time. Europe is over-weighted in the BWIs while developing countries are under-weighted by the formula for determining voting weights. These governance arrangements have created a sense of exclusion as developing countries feel they have not been fairly represented, especially after decades of dilution of the weight of the ‘basic vote’.

For example, in the mid-1940s, there were 44 members, with the weight of their collective ‘basic votes’ totaling 11.4 per cent. Today, there are 189 members, so if the weight of the basic vote remained the same, the total weight of the members would be just under half (189/44 x 11.4%). A few years ago, total basic votes only accounted for 2.2 per cent, or less than 5% of what they should have been!

Governance vacuum

While the IMF is undoubtedly influential in various matters under its jurisdiction, there is no overall governance mechanism for finance comparable to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for trade. Through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), it has been the WTO which has been facilitating, without supervising, financial services liberalization.

Besides the WTO, the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the Financial Stability Board and other international organizations have limited jurisdiction in other cross-border financial matters. Meanwhile, important UN initiatives, e.g., the Financing for Development (FfD) conferences, have been largely stymied and ignored in various discussions on international financial reform as the governments of OECD economies prefer the grossly undemocratic decision making arrangements in the Bretton Woods institutions to those of the rest of the UN system.

North Atlantic divide

Such governance issues inevitably undermine legitimacy, and thus constrain more effective global coordination, but of course, there are other problems as well. For many years, there have been some important differences across the Atlantic, arguably since the 1960s.

During the recent crisis, the European approach initially relied on long-standing ‘automatic stabilizers’, arguing that Europe did not need the big fiscal stimuli which the US and the UK – untypically — advocated in 2009. Later, the European Central Bank warned incessantly of the threat of inflation, while the IMF inconsistently shared the view of the rest of the UN system, that the bigger threat was that of deflation and stagnation.

Instead of providing a desperately needed, coordinated, counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus to the world economy, under the leadership of the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the G-20 committed to a huge capital infusion for the IMF. It would have been better if the G-20 had provided this capital boost on condition that the IMF reforms itself to pro-actively revive and sustain global economic growth and to better serve developing countries. Without sufficiently reforming itself, the IMF has continued to suffer from legitimacy and credibility problems, undermining its ability to provide more effective leadership.

From G-7 to G-20
Although current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired, there have been some modest and generally unsuccessful efforts to improve the situation. For instance, there were some efforts to improve coordination by the G-7 as well as in Europe at the annual IMF-World Bank meetings in October 2008 and soon afterwards as well, but these efforts did not achieve much.

Meanwhile, then President Sarkozy of France initiated an unprecedented G-20 summit to be held at the UN with Secretary-General Ban. US President George W Bush later insisted on hosting the summit in mid-November 2008 in Washington DC. (The G-20 group of Finance Ministers had been meeting for a decade after it was created by then US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin after the 1997-1998 Asian crisis.) In the following month, the G-20 heads of government met for the very first time, and have continued to meet since with limited consequence after 2009.

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